ZRP’s tattered image: a far cry from smart cops of old

Back in the old days, schools used to advise children to approach police officers for directions and whenever they wanted to know something.

“Only a police officer can help you. It is easy to pick out a police officer because he or she wears a distinct uniform, is very smart and has shiny boots. Police officers walk energetically and they are the most dependable people,” the teachers would say.

If a teacher were to tell this to her class today, she would get puzzled or disbelieving looks. Talking to people in the streets, the prevailing perception is that police officers have become so untrustworthy, it is difficult to believe they were once held in such high esteem.

The latest menace are those officers who operate roadblocks. Their ubiquitous presence has become a subject for impassioned debate in kombis, bars and even churches. Citizens have become resigned to the sight of police officers, clutching pink traffic offence fine books and menacing baton sticks, ready to pounce on hapless motorists and pedestrians.

Police chiefs have defended the increase in the number of officers on our roads, saying it is necessary as a measure against errant drivers. But from an ordinary citizens’ viewpoint, this is more for fundraising purposes than bona fide duty.

The police officers are uncompromising, arrogantly ordering motorists to pay spot fines for all sorts of offences. What irks those who fall victim to these corrupt cops is that they openly declare that they have daily targets set by their superiors, as though there is an unwritten law that people will have to commit traffic offences every day.

Worse still, the amounts asked for are too high, ranging from $10 for small offences to more than $100. If you produce your driver’s license, registration book and show them proof of insurance, they will battle to find a crack on your windscreen, a slightly worn tire, or an extra passenger.

What is even more baffling is that they sometimes mount roadblocks a few metres from an intersection where robots are not functioning. It is clear that they are more concerned about raising money than controlling the traffic.

The Police Commissioner, Augustine Chihuri, was recently ordered to stop making people pay spot fines, but traffic cops are still insisting on motorists paying the fines. Several people who talked to The Zimbabwean expressed dismay at the increase in the number of roadblocks.

“I appreciate the police efforts to sanitize the roads but I think there is a better way than having roadblocks at every turn. Imagine being asked to pay $40 on the spot; that is unjustified,” said Dexter Marombedze of Highfield in Harare.

“There is also confusion in the schedule of fines because at one roadblock I was asked to pay $10 for not having a fire extinguisher and on the next they demanded $20 for the same offence.”

Charity Gase of Mufakose, who commutes to work in town every day, is irked by the delays the roadblocks cause.

“Between Mufakose and the city centre, which is just a distance of some 15 km, there can be up to three roadblocks and kombis are always stopped,” she said.

While roadblocks seem to be sprouting everywhere on a daily basis, with some being separated only by 8km stretches such as on Seke Road that connects Harare with Chitungwiza, the police are not matching this zeal with protecting citizens from criminals.

It has become commonplace to see vulnerable women being robbed in full daylight in the city centre with police officers on duty failing to do anything. On one occasion, a reporter from The Zimbabwean approached a uniformed police offices to ask why he had chosen to walk away from an accident scene.

‘‘I have just finished my shift and am rushing home to sleep. Don’t worry, the accident scene will be attended very soon,’’ said the untidy and grumpy officer as he walked way.

Police regulations state that officers are supposed to dress properly and behave decently in public, but this is no longer the case. They are often dressed in oversized uniform, with collars that jut out of their jerseys, dusty boots and mixed dress orders. There is also an alarming increase in the number of the police officers who drink beer or smoke while in uniforms in direct breach of The Police Act.

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