Cops harassing you? Know your rights

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874146 INLSA Picture: Dumisani Sibeko

Our roads are full of predators of women driving alone. But it seems the people they fear the most are those in uniform, officers of the police, metro departments and government units – the very people who should be serving and protecting them.

In recent months, staff on The Star’s Verve have heard or read about women being raped, sexually assaulted, slapped, solicited or intimidated into paying bribes, and having money stolen from them by those in uniform.

Admittedly much of this is hearsay and unproven allegations, and doubtless most officers have integrity and do their job conscientiously. We just don’t hear or read about them.

We read of scary situations, such as happened to 28-year-old Natalie Saunders, who laid a charge against a Johannesburg Metro Police Department (JMPD) officer for verbally and physically sexually harassing her at a roadblock. Her case showed just how vulnerable women are in the presence of unscrupulous officers.

After failing to blow hard enough into a breathalyser, Saunders was told she would be taken to the police station, and was asked if she had a boyfriend to bail her out. She started crying, and this quickly turned into the officer fondling her and trying to kiss her.

Sexual advances have been a twisted modus operandi of crooks in uniform for a few years now, and soliciting for bribes is so common as to almost be expected.

The best weapon against it is knowing your rights. Here are some common scenarios and their solutions, provided by Howard Dembovsky of the Justice Project of SA (JPSA) and the Automobile Association’s Gary Ronald:

You’ve had three glasses of wine at a friend’s house and get pulled over on the way home. The breathalyser shows you’re just on the limit.

Three glasses of wine is above the limit in most instances, and you can be arrested immediately and your car impounded.

Know that the alcohol breath (and blood) limit is not, in fact, the “limit”, only a reading below it is the limit that is “acceptable”.

The limits are: blood – below 0.05g/100ml of blood sampled; breath – below 0.24mg/1000ml of breath exhaled and sampled.

You are entitled to call a lawyer. It is your right under the constitution. But don’t try at that moment to litigate the matter with the officer concerned. You will probably just escalate the problem beyond your capability to handle it.

Justice Project SA instituted its “priority assist” service at the end of last year to deal with situations like this on your behalf. Once you subscribe, you are provided with the telephone number for the JPSA call centre and will be able to call at any time.

Their staff will either deal with the situation there and then on the call, or will dispatch a response unit to the site to deal with the situation. It can also organise a family friend or relative to pay bail.

To subscribe, go to their website at www.jp-sa.org/pa.asp.

You’re pulled over by a SAPS vehicle with flashing blue lights. They want to search your car.

The Criminal Procedure Act states that a search without a warrant is permitted only if the officer reasonably suspects that your vehicle has been used in the commission of a crime, for example, to transport drugs.

That said, if you refuse a search, the officer concerned may arrest you. The officer must say what he/she is looking for. Watch them very closely. A friend found R100 missing after a police search recently. Also, your handbag may only be searched by a woman officer.

If money is stolen from you, or any other breach is committed, lay a complaint with the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID), the police watchdog body, at 011 220 1500. If you don’t, these offences just keep on happening.

You’re pulled over and a JMPD officer asks you if you have a boyfriend, then starts making sexual advances. What do you do?

Open your eyes wide and memorise everything you can – the number plate of the vehicle, the name and physical characteristics of the officer, etc. If there is more than one officer, don’t try to remember all of them – one is enough.

To the question “Do you have a boyfriend?”, say “Yes, I do. Should I call him now?”. If sexual advances are made, say “NO!” loudly. If he persists, it is sexual assault at best and rape at worst.

Remember that in a threatening situation, you have two choices – fight or flight. If you can’t flee, then you may have to be prepared to fight. First, think “evidence”, and use your smartphone if you can to take pictures or recordings.

Don’t tolerate sexual abuse. If an officer sticks his tongue in your mouth, don’t just pull away – bite as hard as you can.

If he wants to lay a charge of assault he will have to explain his actions.

As soon as you can, get away and call 10111 immediately and report an attempted rape.

Again, the JPSA’s Priority Assist can help. Afterwards, lay a charge of indecent assault with the SAPS, and also phone the JMPD anti-corruption line (011 490 1703) which operates 24/7, and lay a complaint there too.

Also, lodge a complaint with the IPID (whose mandate includes Metro Police).

The officer who pulled you over is seeking a bribe. What do you do?

“It’s hot today” or “I’m thirsty” are common prompts for a bribe. Another is the officer telling you some exorbitant fine amount and/or demerit points that apply to the infringement you have just committed, and then saying, “so what should we do about this?”

Don’t go there. The answer is, “Well, then, you are just going to have to give me a ticket”.

If the officer refuses to, or hums and haws about it, then say “May I go now with a warning?”.

Don’t pay a bribe. No matter how small it is, it just leads to bigger ones and/or the solicitation of sexual favours – if not for you, then someone else.

Tell every single person you know to do similar. Bribe attempts should be reported to your nearest police station. Try to gather evidence as well (number plates and vehicle service number – the number painted on the side of the vehicle next to the precinct name).

The community forum eblockwatch’s Police the Police service provides you with the ability to record a conversation or bribery attempt, and send a message to four of your closest friends that you may be in trouble and report the incident to your local police station.

To register (free), go to www.eblockwatch.co.za. When you’re pulled over, you can dial 082 236 0003, which will take you to a line that records your conversation as long as the call is held.

It will also send an SMS to four friends or relatives who can listen to the recording and determine if you need help. Even if you are not a member of eblockwatch, the conversation will still be recorded.

At a roadblock the officer prints out a list of unpaid fines, then tells you to get out of your car and get into an official van.

It depends on under which Act the fines were issued – AARTO or the Criminal Procedure Act (CPA). But under no circumstances may you be forced to pay outstanding fines at the roadside.

The CPA allows for warrants of arrest to be issued if a summons was issued and served on you and you don’t pitch up for your court case.

The AARTO Act does not cater for warrants of arrest at all – it has other, administrative mechanisms to deal with unpaid fines. At worst this includes the issue of a civil warrant of execution (attachment order).

So if there is no warrant of arrest under the CPA, stay in your car. If you are told to get out of your car and go and sit in one of their vans until you pay your fines, this constitutes unlawful arrest – even if they don’t tell you that you are under arrest.

Once again, JPSA offers Priority Assist, which definitely helps in these circumstances.

But remember, the best way to avoid being stopped for outstanding fines is not to have them in the first place.

Any AARTO fine not issued to you in person must be issued within 40 days of the alleged offence. These must then be sent by registered post or delivered in person.

You’ve left your driving licence at home and get pulled over. What can you expect to happen?

The officer can issue you with a fine of R1250 for driving without a licence. An alternative charge of failing to carry your driving licence with a R500 fine should also be on this infringement notice. You will only have to pay the alternative charge fine amount if you do have a licence but forgot it at home, but you will need to make successful representation on an AARTO 08 form first before this becomes the fine payable.

Under what circumstances can a JMPD officer arrest you?

Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs; driving at a speed of more than 30km/h over the speed limit in an urban area; and driving at a speed of more than 40km/h over the speed limit outside of an urban area or on a freeway.

You are, however, entitled to ask for the arresting officer’s appointment certificate (looks like a credit card with a picture). If it is not produced, the officer has no right to arrest you.

FINES YOU CAN EXPECT

l Your licence disc has expired – R1000.

l You don’t have a triangle in your car – R500.

l Your tail-light is out – R500.

l You can pay fines for some metros on the internet at www.paycity.co.za



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