Sunday, June 14, 2009

"Sorry, officer, but my car is private property!"

As you sweat in the morning trying to beat the nightmarish traffic gridlock that has become a daily feature on your way to work, the agitated, burly and seemingly well-fed police officer advances to your car or matatu spitting expletives.


Banging the bonnet of your car with a baton, the aggressive man in blue compares your ears to those of a Neanderthal, calls you monkey, dunderhead, pumbavu (foolish), scatterbrain and all those other adjectives he picked up from Wole Soyinka’s The Lion and the Jewel in his high school days.


Before you try to figure out what is the cause of all this energy-draining drama that has called the attention of everybody around, the swaggering traffic policeman signals you to open your car door and in seconds, he thrusts his weight beside you. “Drive to the police station,” he orders you as he talks on his walkie-talkie.


When you try to find out what has gone wrong, he retorts: “Twende kwanza, utajulia mbele” (Drive on, you’ll get the explanation when we get there).


In case you are in a public service vehicle, the officer orders all the passengers to alight and take a different vehicle.


He gets into the matatu, and asserts his powers by projecting his well-built elbow through the window before he orders the driver to head to the police station with no-nonsense zeal. They hardly get there because the matatu man, knowing that he can spare himself more trouble and loss of business, parts with a bribe and resumes work.


Such police conduct has become business as usual on Kenyan roads despite the fact that it is illegal. The officers have been exploiting your ignorance to trample on your rights with horrifying impunity.


For starters, it is wrong for a police officer to enter into your car without your consent. An advisory by the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs warns motorists against allowing police officers to get into their vehicles. Your car is private property and technically the police require a search warrant to enter it, says a statement by the Ministry of Justice, Law and Order Reform Programme.


This means that the officer should produce a warrant before he searches your car boot or enters a motorist’s vehicle in such a manner. And before the officer replenishes his rich repertoire of insults, demand that he or she identifies him or herself through an appointment certificate or through the name and number normally pinned on police uniform. In case of any resistance, politely remind the officer that he is not doing you any favour— he is required to do so by the same law he is mandated to enforce.


Equally identify yourself by a driver’s license, national identity card or passport. And never, yes the word is never, allow a police officer to take the keys of your car from the ignition — it is illegal. But perhaps least known to many motorists being charged with a minor traffic offence, is the fact that the paper work can normally be done on the spot in form of a bail bond or police bail.


You don’t have to miss your much awaited job interview because of the time wasted in driving to and filing statements at the police station, ten or so kilometres from where you were alleged to have committed a minor traffic offence. You can make a cash payment and get an official receipt, which is also a notice to appear in court on a future date. If it cannot be issued on the spot, insist that you follow a police car — remember there is no room for an officer in your vehicle — to the nearest station and then ensure that the bond is issued there.


All minor traffic offences in Kenya are eligible for “bail bond” or “police bail” and there is absolutely no justification for you to be locked up at a police station. The ministry’s statement reinforces another one issued earlier by the Diplomatic Police Unit. And in case you encounter what you consider police harassment on the road, you are advised to call the hotline number: 0735 356 506.

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