Saturday, May 31, 2008

Run-in with the police...

Two weeks ago, as Anna and I were going back to the center after paying a visit to some of the children we referred to Children’s Hospital, we had a little run-in with the police. Just after we turned right onto the main road, a police officer motioned for us to pull over. Our (local) driver was somewhat hesitant and asked what was wrong. The police woman was quick to say that we had driven up a one-way street the wrong way. Our driver said he didn't think it was one way but the police woman strongly disagreed. Hmmm. I can’t say I noticed a sign, but I also wasn’t looking out for it. She then pointed to our car insurance sticker on the windshield and said it had expired. She was right. Oh no, I thought. Is this happening? The woman demanded to ‘see’, meaning ‘take’, our driver’s license; he wasn’t too happy about that as he didn’t want to risk losing it. But he had no choice. He wanted to negotiate but she wouldn’t budge. She was going to take us to the Central Police Station. ‘Unlock the door’, she said, and then got in the car, next to me.

Driving down Kissy Road, heading towards the police station, I still didn’t know if we did or did not break the law. According to the officer we committed a ‘serious offense’. I wasn’t convinced. I decided to call our manager and check on the insurance. I soon found out we had renewed it but that seeing as our windshield was cracked and needed replacing, someone had decided not to stick the new sticker on the windshield. I quickly told the police woman that we had renewed the insurance. She wasn’t interested. We still drove up the one-way street the wrong way and that could only be settled at the station. As our driver and the officer were negotiating in Krio, thinking that Anna and I couldn’t understand, I was wondering what we should do. They were obviously talking about money. How much would it take for her to let us off? 10,000? 30,000? She said a minimum of 30,000. At this point I wasn’t sure what our policy was on these situations but I couldn’t call our manager about it, because I didn’t want the police woman to follow my conversation. So I called my mom, in Dutch, and we discussed the matter. This is one of the first times I was excited about being able to speak Dutch and no one else understanding it!

As we got to the Police Station, the officer did not want us (white girls) to get out of the car; only the driver. As they walked off I wondered to myself, ‘will this take seconds or hours?’ Well, within seconds our driver walked back to the car. My first question was ‘how much did you pay her’? ‘Ten thousand’, (=$3) was his reply. He then told us he had been instructed to tell us nothing about the money exchange, because the officer was afraid she might lose her job. Well, that told me enough. No offense committed. Just a police officer trying to make a few extra bucks. If she is so afraid to lose her job, she better think twice about pulling over expatriates. But I suppose she triple her day’s wage playing this game a couple of times per day. Needless to say, she disappeared quickly; possibly back to the same ‘one-way’ street.

Unfortunately, incidents like this occur; everyday, everywhere. And unfortunately, at times, it seems as everyone is involved. Poverty leads to bribery some say. But I would say it is happening at all levels of society. It all feeds into corruption. And again, unfortunately, there is a lot of corruption in Sierra Leone. It starts with the small bribes…

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Yeah the police tend to do that a lot. I think it's just silly that police officers cannot issue tickets at the scene instead you have to drive all the way back to the police station, that is just not very efficent. SLP need a technology makeover. Your Driver should have just gotten out of the car to begin with and talk to her before she even got into the vehicle, solving the problem. Also I suggest that you become familiar with the head of the police station close to you, it pays to be able to call their names when situations like this happen, because the police officer will not know what sort of relationship you have with that person and might be scared about doing something wrong and losing their job. just a thought. anyway sandra good to see you back in SL I enjoy reading your blogs. Shiek.

~ Act Justly. Love Mercy. Walk Humbly. micah 6:8 ~