Sunday, March 18, 2007

The Cop Around the Corner

The cop around the corner is akin to the bandit in the bushes. That is where most Malaysian traffic cops usually are - hidden, in subterfuge, when they are not conducting traffic. Behind a blind corner, a lush leafy bush, beyond the horizon of a small hill. That is their modus operandi, their stratagem which really is no different from that of thieves. Catch the unsuspecting offender by surprise and red handed. It is not uncommon to see an operasi going on in areas where traffic is thick, fast and merciless and a swarm of cars by the side of the road with their attending police next to the cars, ready to write that ticket or pretend to do so. Which you get really depends on whether they are doing it to maintain an acceptable statistic for their superiors that month or whether they are looking for a meal or short of cash that month.

I have always thought this methodology to be immoral and wrong if used as a standard operating procedure for daily or regular operations. If it is to be used at all, it should be limited to those special and difficult kind of crimes. This stems from what the function of the police is. Their function is to prevent crime, or where a crime has been committed, to catch the offenders and bring them to justice. So clearly if and when they know a crime taking place, their job is to prevent it from occurring. A cop standing at a strategic spot on the road is worth ten of them in the bushes. The subterfuge method should only be used where the nature of the crime makes it difficult if not dangerous for the usual kind of surveillance and methods i.e. infiltrating and collecting evidence against triad gangs, or bribes, as examples. Or in war.

Let us now take one of the most common traffic operations carried out rather often - speeding. It is a fact that if there is a police car patrolling the area or is reputed to do so, the people in that area will be more mindful of the law and abide by it. You can see this happening on the highway all the time. There will be a car tearing down the highway being a total bastard tailgater but comes to a screeching slow down the moment the driver spots a police car in front. Therefore, if the traffic cops were really serious about limiting the occurrences of speeding they should just patrol the area. What they should not be doing is not doing any patrolling and then, whenever the sense of duty overwhelms them, conduct an operasi over the space of a week nabbing as many offenders within that period in the full glare of the press.

The present method carried out by the traffic cops sends the wrong message. It tells people that the law is just about punishment instead of prevention. It lets people know that unless there is an operasi on, you can pretty much break the law without any repercussions, or can get away with a small bribe. It also tells us that the cops are not doing their jobs. Prevention of crime requires eternal vigilance, not ad hoc operasi carried out whenever it is convenient for the cops. It is also an inefficient use of resources because one patrol car with two cops in it can do the job of ten or fifteen cops with their speed guns, barriers, multitude of transportation and tickets used. Then there is the economic cost of it all - assuming tickets are issued, postage costs, court proceedings, petrol, time wasted in court (which could be spent on economically productive activity), the attendant jams caused by the operasi, the higher risk of accidents. There is also the loss of goodwill against the cops because people who are fined by them (especially when the law is enforced so selectively) form a negative psychological and emotional view of the police. This may hamper them in the long run if more and more people feel this, because they are losing a vital source of crime prevention information.

That they persist in this manner has only two explanations for it: corruption and/or incompetence. You will only know which one you will have to face the day you are pulled over by the cop around the corner who just might be a bandit in the bushes.

No comments: