GODFREY CHILABI, Lusaka
THE traffic section of the Zambia Police Service is one important unit which not only enforces law and order on the roads, but also keeps the wheels of the economy moving.
By keeping you moving on the roads, they also propel the movement of goods and services in the country.
After hours, traffic police officers are on hand to make sure that you get home to your loved ones at the earliest possible time.
However, there is a lot of blurred information about the nitty-gritty of the traffic section, resulting in officers not receiving the much- needed mutual partnership from members of the public or vice versa.
The article therefore looks at the basic functions of the traffic section and its legal mandate. It also brings out what the Zambia Police high command is doing to curb corrupt practices and unethical conduct in the service.
Where does the department draw its legal mandate?
In line with article 193 (b) of the Republican Constitution, the functions of the Zambia Police, among others, include protecting life and property; preserving peace and maintaining law and order; detecting and preventing crime; upholding the Bill of Rights and ensuring the security of the people.
Maintaining law and order, among other things, includes bringing sanity on our public roads by enforcing the Road Traffic Act number 11 of 2002 and other pieces of legislation.
In line with section 21 of the Zambia Police Act cap 107 of the Laws of Zambia, the Zambia Police is mandated to keep order on public roads and control traffic.
The Zambia Police Act mandates any police officer of or above the rank of inspector, if he/she deems it necessary, to place a cordon on any road or street.
Further, the Criminal Procedure Code chapter 88 section 23 of the Laws of Zambia states that any police officer may stop, search and detain any vessel, aircraft or vehicle in or upon which there shall be reason to suspect that anything stolen or unlawfully obtained may be found. The police officer may seize such a thing which is suspected to be stolen or unlawfully obtained.
FORMATION OF THE TRAFFIC SECTION
The genesis of the traffic section in the Zambia Police is traced way back to April 1924 during the era of the then Northern Rhodesia Police Force. The traffic section is established at all police stations and some police posts. At station level, the section is headed by the traffic officer (TO). At the provincial level, the overall supervisor is called divisional traffic officer (DTO), while at national level, the overall supervisor is called service traffic officer (STO) and is based at the Zambia Police Service headquarters.
TRAINING AND SPECIALISATION
Traffic officers undergo various specialised courses both within the country and abroad. The first one is called basic traffic officers’ course and then there is an advanced traffic officers’ course offered by the Lilayi Police Training College. These courses help traffic officers specialise in the following fields: road traffic data processing and analysis, road traffic accident investigations, and road traffic management and education. In its quest to promote efficiency and professionalism, the Zambia Police Service has continued with staff development programmes by conducting in-service training, targeting 10,000 officers. So far, 5, 016 officers from the traffic section have undergone either basic or advanced traffic courses.
DUTIES OF TRAFFIC OFFICERS
Zambia Police traffic officers ensure the safe and free flow of traffic on public roads, as well as enforcing laws and regulations pertaining to road traffic. They investigate, conduct arrests and process traffic offences like causing death by dangerous driving for court proceedings. It is also the duty of traffic officers to assist pedestrians and other road users. However, it should be clarified that every police officer, regardless of their department, is mandated to perform these duties. During ceremonial functions or procession or assemblies, traffic officers ensure free flow of traffic to prevent obstructions on public roads and streets.
Enforcing road traffic laws and especially controlling traffic is quite strenuous and physically involving. A traffic officer has to spend most of his/her time standing for long hours. Unfortunately, in certain situations traffic officers encounter various forms of harassment from some motorists. It should be noted that performing these duties demands moral support from the general public, motorists inclusive. The men and women in uniform are always the first ones to arrive in central business districts (CBD) at about 06:00hrs to take positions in strategic traffic congested.
This requires a police officer to report for work early, which is an essential ingredient for social and economic development of the country. Equally, traffic police are the last ones to leave the CBD around 19:00hrs. They make sure that the outward-bound traffic is quick and smooth to enable people to reach their homes in good time.
SNAP CHECKPOINTS AND ROADBLOCKS
The points of duty for traffic officers include snap checks and roadblocks. A snap checkpoint is mounted temporarily on public roads and is usually mobile in nature. Roadblocks are permanent in nature and are mostly done for security purposes, involving officers from different sections of the Zambia Police. Some roadblock points are static in nature, like the one at the Kafue Road bridge and in the Chisamba area.
Traffic offences can either attract impoundable (of motor vehicle) or non-impoundable penalties. It should also be noted that there are driver-related offences and vehicle-related offences. In impoundable offences, the vehicle can be taken to the police station and be parked until the matter is fully and legally processed. This includes traffic offences like driving an uninsured motor vehicle, lack of certificate of fitness, unlicensed motor vehicle and driving a vehicle under dangerous conditions. The rest include unlicensed driving, overloading, reckless or dangerous driving and driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Non-impoundable offences include offences like careless driving, exceeding the speed limit (as indicted by road signage) and using a hand-held mobile phone while driving.
According to the Road Traffic Act, an erring motorist is required to pay the admission of guilt fine for such offences as obstruction of roadway, careless driving, reckless driving, failure to obey traffic signs, exceeding speed limit and obstruction of the vehicle. In these cases, the offending motorist is given a Notice of Intended Prosecution (NIP) within 14 days, and failure to pay the fine results in one’s prosecution in a court of law.
The Zambia Police Service highly upholds accountability, professionalism and integrity in all its endeavours. The institution is alive to the fact that corruption hampers development. The fight against corruption in all its forms is key to promoting good governance and integrity. The institution will remain resolute in combating this vice in all its workplaces. It is for this reason that the service has devised various strategies aimed at eradicating corrupt practices in its services to the public. One such measure is the Direct Deposit Payment System (DDPS) and its prescribed fees for fines, including traffic offences. The DDPS was officially launched in December 2017. It was piloted in Lusaka Province and was eventually rolled out to Copperbelt and Central provinces. It will soon be introduced in Southern Province. For traffic fines, erring motorists are required to deposit the fines direct into the bank. In short, the system does not allow police to receive cash from members of the public.
In addition, the police high command formed the Legal and Professional Standards Unit within the service. This unit receives complaints against police officers from members of the public. The department investigates the complaints and if a complaint contains allegations of criminal behaviour (corrupt practices inclusive) or there is a possibility of criminal charges being levelled against an officer during the process of investigation, the erring officer could be arrested and charged according to the law.
Being honest and consistent in doing the right thing is a significant ingredient in enhanceing professionalism and integrity. Further, the police high command introduced the Zambia Police Code of Ethics, which outlines broad behavioural standards and the ethical conduct of every police officer. It is for this reason that the police high command formed the Integrity Committees and focal persons in various police formations. The committees have been sensitising police officers on matters of professionalism and morality.
And to promote transparency and accountability, the police high command introduced Service Charters for matters to do with traffic offences and accessing police bond. Further, officers are required to display their name or service number tags while on duty to make them accountable to the people they serve. Similarly, most police vehicles have labels of police formations and this can help to track the police station where the vehicle belongs. This system can help members of the public to identify police officers and their stations.
WHAT THE PUBLIC SHOULD DO
It is evident that the Zambia Police high command has put up measures aimed at eradicating corrupt practices and promoting professional and ethical conduct. For these measures to be fully achieved, the cooperation of the general public is cardinal. The much-needed support that the Zambia Police Service needs is for members of the public to report any form of unprofessionalism of police officers. Aggrieved members of the public can report such cases to any senior police officer or any other independent oversight body or commission. The Zambia Police Service maintains an open-door policy in all its rank and file or structures starting from the office of the Inspector General of Police to that of the officer-in-charge of a police post.
In addition, motorists or the general public should seriously note that bribing a public officer contravenes the Anti-Corruption Act and is therefore a criminal offence. Yes, there is an idiomatic phrase that it takes two to tango. However, the Zambia Police Service firmly believes that police officers have no justification for accepting bribes or involving themselves in corrupt practices.
In an event where a motorist has committed a traffic offence, it is important that they follow the laid-down procedure and pay the fines. After paying by DDPS, a motorist should demand for an official government receipt. Motorists should also make sure that whenever they embark on driving on public roads, their vehicles are roadworthy and all statutory requirements are in place.
GODFREY CHILABI, Lusaka