And if that makes me any less of a man, so be it.
This phobia might be blown out of proportion all in my head, since the only experience I’ve had with a JMPD officer was a check of my vehicle licence, but still, the horror stories make me cringe.
I think it’s safe to assume that most of us think that the sole reason for the JMPD’s existence is to be law-enforcing tyrants on the road.
Not so. Five of the JMPD’s nine functions, as listed on its website, pertain to risk and high-crime areas, in which they do preventative policing, provide signs to alert pedestrians and tourists of said areas, ensure effective street lighting, form partnerships with private-security providers and businesses and run family and community programmes.
Firstly, it seems like I am one of the fortunate few who don’t live in a high-risk area, because our street lights never work.
Secondly, the JMPD has provided signage alerts that warn you about dangerous areas (or at least some of them), but that’s a one-time job.
Now I can’t pass judgment on whether or not the JMPD has a constant presence in what I consider high-risk or high-crime areas, because I never find myself there.
To the rest of us though, it would seem that the JMPD consider our streets and highways the sole high-risk and high-crime areas in Johannesburg.
Last Monday, there were roadblocks holding up peak traffic in Conrad, Jan Smuts, Woodmead and Hendrik Potgieter, along with various speed traps.
Obviously, there’s nothing wrong with setting up speed traps, although the sight of them does bring out of the very worst of emotion in us. You also can’t fault the inherent purpose of a roadblock; people with invalid driver’s or vehicle licences need to be caught and fined. Same goes for the greatest of sights on our roads: their very prominent presence at night, especially during weekends. They are there to catch the drinkers-and-drivers.
What we deduct from this then is that the JMPD’s cause for its constant ‘patrol’ is simply to make sure that drivers obey the law.
But bad experiences with the JMPD have become as common a crime itself: either you’ve been a victim of it, or you know someone who has been. Usually, a police presence will instil some feeling of security, just because the protectors of us citizens are there (whether they are any good or not). That doesn’t seem to be the case with the JMPD - quite the contrary, in fact. I’ve never heard - or can imagine hearing - anyone see the JMPD and say, “Oh goody, there’s the JMPD. I feel so safe now.”
This is why I can’t figure out whether the actual inherent intent of these roadblocks and patrolling is as noble as that.
I can’t think of a way to put this next statement less bluntly, but it seems that the overall consensus nowadays is that the words ‘JMPD’ and ‘corruption’ and go hand-in-hand, with few exceptions. Bribery is rampant and although some motorists do this voluntarily, it doesn’t make it any less forgivable.
At one of these roadblocks last Monday, a driver was pulled over for a check on his driver’s licence and plates. He was escorted to a van where he was given a ‘print-out’ of his outstanding fines and told to go pay the R1 500 at another van. However, the only detail that matched the print-out was the pronunciation of the individual’s surname. To ice this cake, the piece of paper was an old photocopy.
The situation has turned us into such pessimists and I, being one of them, can’t help but wonder at which point in the chain of command the smell of the coming day’s massive revenue is being greedily inhaled first. Or to explain that metaphor more explicitly: is there some supervisor that provides the ground officers with the loads of fake unpaid fines? Is the actual reason for the roadblocks being set up during peak traffic - where they pull over and scan every single commuter - simply because that’s when they’ll make the most money? It’s also needless to say that the department is completely oblivious to the fact that the traffic hold-up it creates does actually affect the economy negatively. Maybe just by an hour, but it does and it adds up.
The other great factor in our hatred of the JMPD is that it takes the law into its own hands (quite literally). I also ponder then whether the traffic officers get commanded to ‘punish’ citizens who don’t ‘obey’ them with such violence. Or do they decide in their pre-shift huddle that that would be their mission for the day.
It must be kept in mind, though, that not all officers are bad apples. There have been citizens who have openly praised the JMPD for being kind and helpful. Unfortunately, these cases have been greatly overshadowed by the rest of the debacles.
So to put this all into perspective: the JMPD has turned into a violent, corrupt and untouchable juggernaut that is virtually unstoppable. The destructive treatment of the very people it’s supposed to protect is wiped under the rug, they can extort money for the department or themselves without any repercussion (let alone legal repercussion) and orchestrate the biggest traffic jam in Africa. And no one can do anything about it. Now that is a powerhouse.
Well done, fellas.