To stop or not to stop. That is the question many motorists face when flagged down by an unmarked vehicle or faced with a roadblock, particularly if it’s very late at night or they are alone.
Howard Dembovsky, director of the Justice Project SA, said that over the past few months the organisation had noticed a substantial increase in reports of corruption when police pull motorists over.
This included reports of police being abusive, not following procedure and soliciting bribes, he said.
Added to this are media reports of criminals posing as police before robbing or hijacking motorists, which can make motorists wary of pulling over.
“Knowing your rights is very important, but enforcing them is a very different thing,” said Dembovsky. He said observation was the best weapon when being pulled over, and advised recording the registration of the vehicle stopping you.
He said motorists had the right not to stop, but could drive slowly to the nearest police station. However, sometimes that isn’t possible – when, for example, they don’t know where it is.
“The key here is never, ever, ever pay a bribe,” said Dembovsky.
Joburg metro police spokesman Chief Superintendent Wayne Minnaar said that if a roadblock was set up with officers in uniform and marked patrol cars, motorists had nothing to fear. “If they are suspicious about people posing as officers… they must drive to the closest police station.”s
But he said the metro police also used unmarked response cars, which could pull motorists over for traffic offences.
“People who do wrong things must not take advantage. If the person has committed a crime and they get ordered to stop, they must stop, or the officers could take action to get them to stop.”
He said they had had instances of motorists arguing that they felt unsafe as an excuse to try to avoid the consequences of breaking the law.
“When it’s officers at a genuine roadblock, the public must give their co-operation,” Minnaar said.
The driver and occupants must get out of the car if requested to do so, and must allow the car and all possessions to be searched. Women may not be physically searched by a male officer, but if the officers require the name and address of the driver and occupants, they must give their details.
Minnaar said that if the driver or passengers suspected something was wrong, they should take down the officer’s badge number, name or registration number. He said this was necessary for investigation purposes as there had been reported incidents of criminals operating in what appeared to have been metro police uniforms. To report corruption in the metro police call 080 020 3712 or 011 490 1703 during office hours for corruption and general complaints.