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Police should be policing, not spot-fine-shopping

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For the second time today – and easily the sixth time in two weeks – I saw my new pet peeve: A “Police ATM” (Read road block where police hussle combi drivers and other motorists out of money for “spot fines”) within about 100 metres of a set of non-working traffic lights.

Now, neither of these things, the police road blocks or the out of order robots, are new or unusual occurrences in Harare. But what irks me is the proximity of the police to an obvious, present problem needing their intervention, which they are not acting on. Anyone who’s driven in Harare knows how frequently accidents happen at intersections where the robots are out of order. Particularly during the morning and afternoon commute, motorists back up, get frustrated and then try and barge their way through oncoming traffic – and regularly end up in accidents. Pedestrians trying to work their way across these intersections, including school children, face even more problems.

The helpful presence of a police officer or two directing traffic, signaling to motorists when to stop and when to turn, effectively acting as a human traffic light in the absence of a working automated one, could do a lot to ease tensions, prevent accidents, and make our roads safer. But instead of policing these intersections to help traffic flow smoothly and safely, the police literally turn their back on these accident traps, preferring to persist in the task which can get them more money in fines and bribes.

This year numerous government officials have spoken out against corruption, promising that graft is being fought at every level in the police force. If this is the case, the police should prioritise the public safety elements of their work – particularly in cases where there is such a glaring, obvious need for their helpful involvement – instead of blatantly looking for bribes.

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