What to do if a Policeman Asks for a Bribe?

It’s sad to say that South Africans are no strangers to bribery. We seem to be flooding with reports of wide-scale corruption throughout our institutions and agencies. Perhaps most commonly, this corruption takes the form of smaller bribes demanded by police officers and commonly paid by many citizens. Many of us may even see it as just another part of life. But is it really your only viable choice? What to Do if a Policeman Asks for a Bribe?

According to Section 4 (1)((a-b)) of the Prevention and Combating of Corrupt Activities Act of 2004, it is illegal for either a police officer or a citizen to offer a bribe in order to waive a penalty. Additionally, it is illegal for either party to accept such an offer.

The current laws state that when dealing with a police officer –

  • You must not offer to pay a bribe to the officer
  • A police officer may not ask for a bribe
  • You must not pay a bribe to an officer if he/she gives you that option
  • You should report any instances of bribery or attempted bribery to the relevant authorities
What to Do if a Policeman Asks for a Bribe?
What to Do if a Policeman Asks for a Bribe?

Well, that’s pretty cut and dry, huh? Well, not exactly, just because the law prohibits something, it doesn’t mean that it won’t happen, and according to the data available, it seems that bribery throughout the policing system is alive and well in South Africa.

According to a 2016 Survey on Bribery in South Africa, less than half of South Africans report that they have never been asked for a bribe. Meanwhile, 40% of those who have been asked accepted the deal and paid the bribe. Additionally, just last year, hundreds of officers were arrested in cases relating to corruption.

What Happens if You Refuse to Pay a Bribe?

As mentioned, if you commit a violation and an officer offers you a bribe, they are committing a crime. In such cases, you are encouraged to refuse the offer, receive the appropriate punishment, and report the officer at a later date.

This is how things should proceed in an ideal world, in reality though, you’re already dealing with a crooked cop, and, depending on the extent of their corruption, things might go very differently.

Indeed, some people are even arrested when they refuse to pay their bribe. Even in these cases, anti-corruption agencies still suggest that the citizen remains calm and reports the allegation of corruption to them.

How do you Report Bribery in South Africa?

If you encounter a crooked cop who asks for a bribe, you may be wondering how to report them seeing as how they themselves are the enforcers of the law. After all, asking the officer to arrest themselves for corruption probably won’t work.

While you can technically report the incident to the local police station, in these scenarios some individuals may prefer to report the officer via the anti-corruption helpline or by filling out an online form.

What to Do if a Policeman Asks for a Bribe?
What to Do if a Policeman Asks for a Bribe?

If you don’t have much hope when it comes to government responses, there are multiple independent agencies you can contact including –

Can you be Asked to Pay a Bribe even when You’re Innocent?

Sadly yes, many online complaints have noted that they were asked to pay a bribe even when no violation was committed. In these cases, the police officers often made up allegations to scare the individual into paying up. This is perhaps the best incentive for people to read up on the law so that they know exactly when they can be fined or arrested.

Those who refused to pay such fines were either released or further accused of allegedly bogus crimes.

What is the Punishment for Paying a Bribe?

It’s generally assumed that small-scale bribes go largely unreported, after all, if an officer offers one and you agree to pay, it is in the best interest of both parties to avoid getting found out as both have committed a crime.

What to Do if a Policeman Asks for a Bribe?
What to Do if a Policeman Asks for a Bribe?

Additionally, many people may pay bribes because they think that the payment is part of the legal process, thus removing the factor of intent from their ‘crime’.

That said, if you are caught knowingly offering or accepting a fine, your punishment will be determined after the court considers the original infringement as well as the extent of the corruption. For most people caught bribing a traffic officer at a roadblock, this will usually entail a fine but could potentially include a prison sentence of a number of years.

More severe incidents of bribery can even lead to sentences of 10 years or more.

How much are Traffic Bribes in South Africa?

It goes without saying that the cost of a bribe will heavily impact whether or not it is challenged. Many motorists who have committed an infringement wouldn’t think twice about spending a couple of hundred bucks to get out of a ticket, but if the officer wants a couple thousand, most others would probably refuse.

According to a 2017 CorruptionWatch report, the average traffic bribe asked for by corrupt officers is at around R205, whereas all bribes average out to around R1 500.

With this in mind, it makes sense that many South Africans who experience this type of extortion on the roads usually leave the scene while flashing their lights at oncoming cars to warn them of the situation. Some people may even do this if they’ve been caught at a lawful roadblock and experienced no corruption whatsoever. But is this sort of practice legal?

What to Do if a Policeman Asks for a Bribe?
What to Do if a Policeman Asks for a Bribe?

At the time of writing, there is no direct legislation that prohibits warning people about such roadblocks by flashing your lights or posting about it on social media.

That said, the context of this action may play a role in determining if a crime has been committed.

For example, if the roadblock is set up legally for the purpose of catching a wanted criminal or apprehending drunk drivers, there is a chance (albeit a small one) that warning people about the roadblock could be seen as defeating the ends of justice

Obviously, a roadblock or traffic officer that is coercing people into paying bribes can’t reasonably be viewed as ‘justice’ and thus informing others about its existence wouldn’t be seen as a kind of obstruction, although, once again, it would be better to report these instances to the relevant authorities and helplines before posting about it on social media.

Know the Law – What to Do if a Policeman Asks for a Bribe?

One recurring theme in these incidents of bribery is that many victims are not even sure that they’ve been involved in extortion. This is due to the fact that they don’t fully understand the laws of the country and thus, when an officer asks them to pay a fine, they believe that such a thing is the standard legal practice. This is also why so many officers can ask for bribes when the law hasn’t even been broken.

The remedy here is for each and every citizen to read up on the law and make sure that they are prepared to challenge corruption when they encounter it.

It's wise to be well versed in the law - always be prepared!
It’s wise to be well versed in the law – always be prepared!

In Conclusion – What to Do if a Policeman Asks for a Bribe?

Both the acts of knowingly offering a bribe and accepting to pay one are criminal offences, thus, if an officer asks you to pay a bribe and you pay it (knowing it to be a bribe) you are both committing a crime and can both be fined and arrested.

In such scenarios, if the individual has committed a crime, it is suggested that the citizen should refuse to pay and instead demand a formal ticket to be written up with regard to their offence, or they may be formally arrested if the offence entails such a penalty.

If the citizen has not committed a crime they should refuse to pay the bribe and politely ask to be released if no criminal charges are forthcoming.

Once done, the individual is encouraged to report the corrupt official to the appropriate authorities, this can include the local police station, the government helplines or the many online anti-corruption groups.

Corrupt officials may attempt to intimidate you into paying a bribe or may use a lack of understanding of the legal process to trick you into accepting. It is for this reason that everyone should try to garner at least a basic understanding of the law so that they may know their rights.

Disclaimer LAW101: All of our posts are for research purposes only. Law 101 aims to assist its readers with useful information on the laws of our country that can guide you to make decisions in line with the South African Governmental Laws currently in place. Although in many instances, our posts cite the constitution, they are intended to assist readers who are looking to expand their knowledge of the law. Should you require specific legal advice we advise you to get in touch with a qualified legal expert.

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