How we caught cops red-handedComment on this story
Johannesburg - He was so close that photographer Chris Collingridge believed the policeman was about to pee on him.
The constable was urinating just metres from where Collingridge lay hidden photographing a roadblock.
“For a moment I thought the officer would pee into the hole I was shooting from,” said Collingridge.
Luckily, the cover of The Star team wasn’t blown.
We were that close, and that was why we were there.
From behind the old wall we could watch the police on Durban Deep Road in Roodepoort conduct their roadblocks just 10m away.
Community members had told us about this place. The police always set up roadblocks at the same spot, they said.
The bribery was so bad they claimed that even the children in the area had seen it and were talking about it. The joke was that children wanted to become police officers because they made lots of money.
But being so close also had its disadvantages. We could easily be spotted, or one of the officers might even hear the click of the camera.
So we had to improvise. Collingridge built several hides along the wall, using wood and shade cloth. He wanted a dark background so as to make it harder for someone to spot him if they happened to look at that section of wall. Some of the holes were also taped up.
We waited. When the police did arrive, the action usually only lasted 20 minutes. We quickly realised that surveillance work isn’t as easy as they make it out to be in the movies.
Motor vehicles and people have a habit of getting in the way just when you are sure the transaction is about to go down. There is also a lot going on – bribes are offered and accepted quickly.
“The problem I had was that I had to concentrate on one officer, that was my field of view. If a bribe happened at another vehicle I missed it,” said Collingridge.
We did see money change hands, but getting it on film proved difficult. Sometimes a policeman would walk from a car and place his hand in his pocket. Money, we were sure, had been given.
The cops were ultra-careful when accepting money, they hid their transactions.
Later on the roadblocks became fewer and we suspected that someone might have tipped them off about us.
Spending days watching police supplement their income with “cooldrink money” and not getting a photo of this left us both frustrated and angry.
“For these guys it just appeared to be another day at the office,” Collingridge said.
Collingridge did get a photograph of a policeman with what appears to be a rolled-up R20 note in his hand. But it wasn’t the money shot.
That shot did happen – and it was unexpected.
We were close to calling it a day on the afternoon of Friday, November 29, when we noticed a metro patrol vehicle pull up.
It wasn’t at the usual spot, the car was about 100m up the road.
It was much further away than the other roadblocks.
Two officers began stopping vehicles.
Collingridge suspected that something was going to happen when the traffic cop pulled over a white Nissan bakkie.
“I observed the guy reach into his pocket, and I started to fire (off photographs),” said Collingridge.
He wasn’t sure he had got anything until he went through his images on his view finder.
There was the frame. The metro cop with a R10 note folded in her hand.
It was time for a high five.