Taking the police to the police...

This morning was not like any others. Today we, the civilians, were
the police.

While I've been in Mozambique, Dad and I often go to the gym in the mornings. This morning he decided to stop on Av. Mao Tse Tung and buy some bottled water on the way. While Dad was in the shop, two security policemen that had been stationed outside a bank nearby approached and asked for the driver, I told them he'd be right back, so they waited. When Dad returned, one policeman informed him that he'd made an illegal turn before parking, and that the fine for it was 1500 meticais. He asked for Dad's driver's license, and told him that since it was a foreign license, they had to go to the police station and pay the fine. He also explained that it was in their own interests to ensure that the fines were paid because they as policemen would receive 30% of it. Dad confessed he had not seen the sign but acknowledged that he had indeed broken the traffic-law and was willing to pay the fine. However, the policeman's arguments sounded incredibly strange - Dad even asked if they were supposed to be doing these jobs since they weren't traffic police. He insisted, and told Dad he should pay him right away. When Dad again said that he did not think this was the right way to handle things, he asked Dad to speak with the second policeman, who he called his boss. So the second policeman repeated that Dad he had to go to the police-station to pay the fine - or pay them directly. And we both knew that there was no chance we were going to give these policemen money here on the street. So Dad asked them to get into the car and escort him to the police station. After a few moments of hesitation and quick exchanges between them in Shangaan, they got into the car.

As we drove, the second policeman told Dad he had to pay 1000 meticais. Naturally we responded, "But the first policeman told us it was 1500," to which he replied, "No, no, you can just give us 1000." Dad refused, and asked for directions to the police-station. As they guided us through many turns, left, right, straight, round and round, they tried to convince us that they could bring down the fines to 500 if we just paid them right away. Again, Dad refused and simply said that we were going to sort it out at the police-station. At this point they started to get very anxious, telling him to stop the car, that they pardoned the fine and that he should just let them go. Dad merely said, "You don't have the right to simply pardon my fines. We're going to sort this out properly at the station." When we - finally - got to the station, Dad walked right up to one of the officers there, Carlos M Teresa, and said he had a complaint to make against corruption. All four of us were ushered into his office, and Dad told him the entire story. The officer asked the two policemen if the story was correct, and they agreed. He made us a sincere apology, saying that the complaint had been noted, and asked if Dad could simply forgive them so that we could all just forget about the whole situation. Once more, Dad refused. There are countless stories of corrupt police asking for bribes on the sides of the road, we ourselves have been through it lots of times before - and now we were sick of it! Dad said that he was fully aware of the fact that he had done something wrong and was willing to pay the fine - and that these policemen were corrupt, had asked us for money several times, and must also take their own consequences! He asked the officer several times what the official protocol was in these situations. What are your rules as policemen; what is the procedure when these things happen?

At this point it seemed the officer did not want to take care of the situation any more. We were all taken to the next office and the head of the police-station took over. We told our story once more, and after a long discussion he told us that he, as head of the traffic department, had the right to pardon our fine. He informed us that this was the traffic department and that these two policemen were from the security department, and then agreed that we were to take up the case of police corruption with the two policemen's superior. As we arrived at the security department, the two policemen were stripped of their guns, and we proceeded to tell our story once more to the head of security. When asked their side of the story, the policemen told a quick, simplified version of it, which did not include any of the allegations. The officer then scolded the policemen and asked, first of all, why they left their post as security outside of a bank, and secondly, why they started asking for money as they, the security-police, do not even have the papers and receipts to charge fines like the traffic-police! They were only to get involved in traffic matters if the offender was in risk of causing an accident, or any other such serious situations. He brought in two police witnesses, one of which handles disciplinary action among the police, and said to everyone that the right course of action here is to start the procedure of disciplinary action, which eventually could land in court. He asked if everyone was in agreement, and everybody agreed.

As we were filing an official complaint for extortion, with the other police witness typing everything into a report, it initially seemed that he did not like putting his colleagues in trouble. But when we were all asked if the report was correct and if we all agreed on what had been written, it seems his opinions changed. The two policemen suddenly changed their story! Despite already having confessed to two other officers, they now claimed that they had merely told us to go to the station and pay our fine - and blatantly denied ever having asked us for money. The police witness gave them a tongue-lashing, telling them that they just made their situation even worse by lying, but agreed to write down their denials, and warned them that this would be even worse in court if they were found guilty. He even asked, "Ok, so if you in fact did not ask them for money, then why are you all sitting here?!" to which they had no answer.

We were asked if we wanted to drop charges or continue and take legal action. Naturally we wanted to do just that - especially because they had just accused us of lying! One of the policemen kept looking at us and making gestures, pleading for us to forgive them and drop charges, but now we were determined. We are tired of hearing stories of extortion, of corrupt police asking people for money, and people paying them! It is obvious that, while people keep giving the police money at roadsides, the police will keep doing what they do. It is an easier, quicker, and cheaper alternative than going to the station and paying the fines. But at what cost is it really? The police are supposed to be the ones we can trust; they are supposed to be the ones taking care of the people in the city - not the ones breaking the law themselves!

If you are stopped and asked to pay a fine - insist that you go about the procedure correctly. Don't simply give money - because then you are the one corrupting the police. Furthermore, in Mozambique, police in grey suits are not traffic police, and are therefore not entitled to fine for traffic offences. In many cases, they are not even allowed to leave the spot where they are posted. Today we ended up taking the police to the police - and I hope that others hear about this story and realise they can do the same.

  1. Don't give the police money without a proper receipt.
  2. If the police insist, agree to go to the station all together.
  3. At the station, ask about the legality of the policeman's actions.
  4. Ask for the proper procedure in this situation - and follow it through.