Toward a Traffic Police into the Open?

An intersection in Phnom Penh. Photo: Cambodianess

In my free time, I liked watching from my balcony the game of the police officers who, from their hiding place under a tree set back from the street, would jump at the last second to stop a motorcycle or a car going in the opposite direction on the street on which they had to a certain extent the concession.  

Sometimes, this went smoothly, the guilty driver accepting as inevitable to submit to the police authority that was taking him to a small table to pay the required fine. But once in a while, things would come close to an accident when a motorcycle driver, surprised by the brutal assault by the policeman, nearly lost his balance. It also happened that this would nearly turn into a drama, the driver turning around in a rush at full speed at the risk of knocking down an unlucky pedestrian being at the wrong place, at the wrong time.

While automatically keeping tab of the number of “catches” of this team of policemen whose only concern regarding the respect of traffic regulations was limited every day to expanding their scoreboard and their fine booty, I was fulminating against this behavior unworthy of police officers.  “How can we hope the essential improvement of traffic safety if the officers tasked with enforcing traffic regulations only inspire in drivers disapproval if not outrage in view of this corruption of a public servant wearing a uniform,” I would keep on thinking, silently ranting and raving every day, from my balcony observation post.                

Beyond a tragicomic farce, I was seeing in this cat-and-mouse game eternally repeated a metaphor of the absence of a genuine rule of law implicitly authorizing the public servant to serve himself instead of serving.    

And I was telling myself: The day when, from my balcony, I will only see these police public servants jump and seize someone having committed an offence like poverty plaguing ordinary people, then, maybe, a new wind will be blowing in the administration of public matters.    

And believe it or not, this has happened.

Well, let’s not get carried away! But at least, since Monday (Sept. 4), the “trap” that had been in place for years below my balcony has been removed! The police officers are still on duty, but they seem to now be there in position of observation.

This has taken place following an order issued one week ago by the Phnom Penh police chief to district traffic police officers to the effect that police officers had to stop hiding and then jumping on unsuspecting motorcycle and car drivers to impose fines for violations of traffic laws. They could not continue, this major general said according to the media, “this activity because it looks very bad and affects the force’s honor and dignity.”

It was time that this was said. And especially that this had an effect.

One hopes that this newfound dignity will enable traffic officers to be credible and respected in the exercise of their functions, and that the fines they will impose from now on with full transparency will have a punitive effect on reckless drivers but especially educational and preventive effects without which the lack of safety on the roads will persist.   

Some no doubt believe that, before long, old habits will come back. Their caution is based on experience. 

It’s up to the new authorities to prove them wrong. 

As for me, from my balcony, I remain on standby.

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