Corrupt policing costs lives

HARARE - Under normal circumstances, police resort to high speed chases only in hot pursuit of suspects in serious crimes such as murders, bank robberies and cash heists.This is true whether the chase is being staged in real life, in the movies or in television series such as MacGyver or the A-Team.

Via the miracle of television, one of the most watched real-life highway dramas involving law enforcement agents and a suspect was what has come to be known as the Bronco chase which took place in the United States in 1994.

Viewers across America and the world were glued to their television screens as a fleet of police cars pursued a white Ford Bronco along Interstate 405 in Los Angeles.

In the Ford Bronco was Orenthal James “O.J” Simpson, who was a suspect in the murders of his wife Nicole Brown and her friend Ronald Goldman.

Simpson had slipped out through the back door of his lawyer’s residence and the police were determined to do everything possible to stop him from escaping under their noses.

With news helicopters following the chase from above, the hide-and-seek game eventually ended after an hour when the Bronco pulled into Simpson’s driveway. He was immediately arrested and his subsequent prosecution became one of the most celebrated murder trials of the decade.

It would be totally absurd for a police force anywhere in the world to resort to a similar elaborate operation or technique to go after people suspected of committing petty crimes such as,for example, jaywalking, not having a television licence, driving a vehicle that is not roadworthy or one that is not registered or driving without a licence.

Not in Zimbabwe apparently.  

The police here seem to have no qualms about engaging in pursuits that are illogical, counterproductive and that endanger the lives of citizens they are supposed to protect as long as there are rich pickings involved.

About a week ago, my life and those of 17 other passengers travelling by commuter omnibus into Harare city centre were put at great risk when a police traffic patrol car chased the kombi at a hair-raising speed.

Upon noticing through his rear view mirror that the patrol car was tailing him, the youthful driver unwisely decided to try to dodge the cops by making a detour into a narrow suburban back road.  

The police seemed to regard that sort of reaction as a personal insult and  provocation.
They immediately seemed to view the hapless driver as a hardcore criminal to be taught a lesson. He had to be netted at any cost, including the lives of his passengers.

By the time the patrol car overtook the kombi in this incident, the passengers were screaming in terror because the two vehicles came close to  colliding sideways  several times as they raced along.

But once the commuter omnibus driver had been cornered, the two police officers assumed the high moral ground.

Prodding the visibly terrified driver in the ribs with a baton stick, one of the officers
shouted; “You think you are clever, eh? You have put the lives of all these people in danger and if anything had happened, you would have been held responsible.”

With that the driver and his conductor were hauled into the patrol car to be taken to a police station while their kombi was triumphantly driven away by one of the officers, supposedly to the Vehicle Inspection Department.

The passengers were left to find other means to reach their destination.

It is true that the kombi driver should just have submitted to being by the ubiquitous traffic police instead of trying to evade them.

But it takes two to tango and the officers were equally to blame for escalating a hazardous scenario that put the lives of passengers at grave risk.

In fact, the law enforcement agents were more blameworthy because they are supposed to know better.

Giving rise to unnecessary accidents during policing that is supposed to reduce road carnage and safeguard the safety of  passengers does not make sense.

The usual police complaints about kombis is that most are not roadworthy, have faulty  brakes, worn out tyres and are driven by youthful and inexperienced drivers some of whom do not have licences.  

In view of this, the question the law enforcers should answer is whether these are the kind of vehicles to be chased at breakneck speed  for whatever reason? Surely not.  

It is no secret why traffic police persist with their counterproductive approach.

The word on the street is that the mounting of the countless makeshift roadblocks that are now a common  feature on Zimbabwe’s roads  has more to do with raising revenue than promoting safety.

This explains why traffic has become the single most intensely policed beat in the country. If the attention paid to traffic was given to all other aspects of policing, all the known  unsolved murders, bombings, corruption and political violence cases would be a thing of the past.

It is telling that the intense police traffic exercise, which has been underway for a number of years, is punitive and vindictive rather than being educational and awareness-raising.

The idea seems to be to keep it going for as long as possible so police can make a killing in the form of bribes and spot fines that mostly  find their way into the pockets of individual officers.

Commuter omnibus operators have publicly complained numerous times about being hounded by the police who nevertheless allow their unroad worthy vehicles to remain on the roads as long as they pay bribes.

This corruption has become an institutionalised way of endangering the lives of those Zimbabweans who depend on public transport to get from one point to another. - Mary Revesai 

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