Dear Corruption Watch
I was stopped in my car last weekend and threatened by a policeman – not a traffic cop – who wanted me first to get out of my car and then to drive (with him in the car) to get my blood tested far from where I was stopped. He was verbally abusive and rude. I had not been drinking, was alone (a woman) and was afraid. What are my rights in this circumstance? I did not pay a bribe, but was tempted to do so! Signed, Still trembling
The police are entitled to ask you to stop your car and to give them your name and address, and to see your license plate.
However, as a matter of law, a police officer may not arrest you unless he has a reasonable suspicion that you have committed an offence, for example that you have been driving under the influence of alcohol. If there is no reasonable suspicion that you have committed an offence, there can be no reason for depriving you of your liberty.
Since you had not been drinking, and assuming there was no basis for suspecting that you had committed any other crime, you could not be lawfully arrested in the circumstances you describe.
Regrettably, your legal rights are not always a guarantee of what will happen in practice. We receive many reports of police officers who disregard the legal and constitutional rights of people they arrest.
However, many police officers are just trying to do their job in difficult circumstances. You should therefore be polite and civil. When a police officer genuinely has pulled you over due to a reasonable concern, for example, perhaps because you were lost and had been driving erratically, a polite explanation will often do the trick.
But if the police officer persists in being verbally abusive and insisting on your driving to the police station, we recommend taking one or more of the following actions:
- Use your cell phone to call 10111, and inform the officer that you are doing so. All 10111 calls are recorded, and the officer will then know that there is a record being kept of your interaction.
- Phone a friend or family member immediately to tell them where you are. You may also be able to ask your attorney to come to the scene and assist you.
- Ask to see the officer’s identification and make a note of his details. You should try to keep as much information about the situation as possible, including the officer’s name and police ID number, the registration plates of his car, and the time and date of the incident.
- Tell the officer that you are willing to go to the nearest police station, but that you are not comfortable driving with him in your car. Insist on driving your own car to the police station alone.
You should NOT:
- Struggle with or swear at the police officer, even if he has made a mistake.
It can be difficult to find a balance between asserting your legal rights and keeping yourself out of danger. In a situation such as the one you were in, your first priority is always to protect yourself.
The best way to do so is to be polite but firm, and to make sure that the police officer knows that there is a record of his behaviour. Hopefully this will deter him from acting unlawfully.
Take a stand and report corruption. This article originally appeared in the Sunday Times Business Times on 15 April 2012.