EDITORIAL COMMENT: Jail for bribe-taking cops to instill discipline

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The High Court has just confirmed a jail term for a traffic police officer who was sent away for six months on September 19 last year for taking a bribe.

The traffic section of police has given the police force as a whole a very bad name that is clearly undeserved. They have gained a reputation for dishonesty, one that we don’t expect of persons who must be paragons of personal and professional integrity.

The malcontents have made it their business to extort money from motorists, threatening to impound their vehicles or impose hefty fines if they resisted.

Their job of enforcing law and order on the highways has become a mere façade which they need to hide their criminal conduct.

However, in an important response to this big national problem, Justices Nokuthula Moyo and Martin Makonese ruled this week that cops convicted of accepting bribes will be handed custodial sentences with no option of a fine or community service.

They said this while dismissing an appeal by Loveridge Chikowore who was jailed by a Gokwe magistrate, Mrs Sithembile Zungula, for accepting the bribe.

Chikowore was arguing that the jail sentence was excessive but the judges declared that police officers who accept bribes are not suitable candidates for community service.

“There is an upsurge of corruption crimes committed by uniformed forces especially traffic police. Our duty as the court is to serve justice and we cannot let such people get away with community service,” said Justice Makonese.

Justice Moyo said:

“If we do not imprison police officers who accept bribes at roadblocks then who will be given custodial sentences? It should be clear that we do not encourage bribery in our community.  We therefore think the magistrate did not err in passing the sentence. Therefore this appeal is dismissed.”

In his notice of appeal through his lawyer Mr Prayer Muzvuzvu from Mugiya and Macharaga Law Chambers, Chikowore argued that he was a first offender who should not have been jailed.

However, the High Court confirmed Mrs Zungula’s assertion that any lesser punishment was going to trivialise the offence.

Any motorist in our country knows how hard it is to drive on our roads with the bribe-demanding cops prowling around. They apportion strange “crimes” on motorists and their vehicles, all in an effort to force the road users to cough up money.

Drivers of public service vehicles, especially kombis in urban areas are particular targets.  To be able to continue operating, they actually have daily budgets to be paid to traffic cops at checkpoints and roadblocks on their routes. We have heard stories that the kombi crews are made to pay $2 in the morning to have safe passage and another $2 in the afternoon.

If they don’t pay the cops always find fault on the kombis, impound them or fine the crews heavily.  To avoid such inconveniences the kombi drivers are left with no choice but to pay the bribes.

In some unfortunate cases angry drivers have fought back physically or sped away with cops hanging on their bonnets. Accidents have occurred in these clashes and people have been injured or killed. We unreservedly condemn such reactions on the part of public service drivers, but at the same time regret to say that such dangerous responses are often triggered by a sinister application of the law by the cops, only meant to create conditions for the driver paying a bribe.

Chikowore’s imprisonment must send a message to the traffic section and the force at large that any untoward activities can get them in deep trouble. We, therefore, expect them to take heed of this message.

We acknowledge efforts by police commanders to use internal mechanisms to fight this scourge.  For example, they, from time to time, issue notices which provide their contact details which the public can use if they encounter a bribe-demanding cop anywhere. Many motorists have effectively made use of these and culprits accounted for.

However, broadly speaking, the problem hasn’t been eradicated. Some bad apples are still demanding and taking inducements, making huge sums of money through this. Those who were caught just went away with a fine, or a few hours of community service.

But, with the High Court endorsing the jail sentence on Chikowore, we are hopeful that the bad apples will mend their ways. Furthermore, we are hopeful that more culprits would be brought to book for this is a national challenge.

It is noteworthy that our criticism of the minority that behaves badly among our police force does not in any way suggest that motorists must commit crime on the roads with impunity.  No.

They must drive roadworthy vehicles; they must pay all requisite licences before driving on the roads. They must carry their fire extinguisher, red reflective triangle, jack, usable spare wheel, wheel spanner and other important tools in their vehicles.

In addition, they must always drive with their driver’s licences on them. They must not speed.  They must obey road rules and regulations.

If they do this, they remove conditions that some cops take advantage of to then extort money from them. If they don’t, they must happily take their just punishment, not pay a bribe.

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