Howard Dembovsky writes:
Once again, the role of social media in revealing the locations of roadblocks set up by the Metro Police is in the spotlight, this time involving allegations that an entire list of planned weekend roadblock locations has been “leaked” on a WhatsApp group.
According to the Sunday Tribune, the Acting Chief of the Durban Metropolitan Police Department, Steve Middleton on Friday evening, instead of adopting a professional policing approach in investigating the alleged crime and handling it in accordance with internationally applicable policing protocols, taken to Facebook to level threats against the alleged perpetrator.
“Hand yourself over or risk arrest” he allegedly demanded of “P Pillay” in his Facebook post.
What’s truly terrifying about this matter however is how Middleton is quoted as saying “We will open a charge of defeating the ends of justice with the police” and then saying “We will then liaise with the state prosecutors to see exactly what information and what evidence will be necessary to get a conviction”.
Surely even the most junior junior policeman would or should, if he is unsure of what the elements of a crime are and what evidence is required in order to secure a conviction, ask a state prosecutor to clarify the matter before taking any action which could come back to bite him and/or the Metro later? Failure to do so can only be described as reckless behaviour and often results in law suits which are ultimately settled out of court by insurance companies the Metros engage to provide them with “professional indemnity insurance”.
The fact that a so-called “Metro Police Chief”, who is the most senior of all people in Metro Police structures can have the audacity to admit to a journalist that he has no idea of what the legal test for a charge of “defeating the ends of justice” is, bears testimony to the utter incompetence of the top brass in many Metro Police structures. And we then wonder why it is that the rank and file of Metro Police Departments similarly demonstrate gross incompetence and tend to suffer from “Rambo syndrome”?
As Mr Middleton will no doubt find out, the legal test for a charge of “defeating the ends of justice” is stringent and merely informing a group of individuals you may or may not know but have no knowledge of whether they are involved in a crime or not of the location of one or more roadblocks does not even come close to meeting that test.
After all, even Google Maps, which is freely accessible to anyone with a smartphone references “police activity” when used to navigate the route with the least delays to your destination. I use it frequently, even when I know exactly where I am going and especially at this time of year when ridiculously long delays are caused by the showy roadblocks established to demonstrate to us all just how much the authorities “care about our safety” over the festive season.
Since I am making this admission in public and am referencing Google Maps, are charges now going to be brought against me and Google Inc for “defeating the ends of justice”?
I don’t drive drunk, in fact, I don’t drink alcohol or use drugs at all but if I did I think that knowing that there are roadblocks around would sway my decision in favour of using a “take me home” service, Uber or a taxi instead of risking arrest. If just one person were to be so swayed by the “leaking” of roadblock locations, then it would have the effect of preventing a crime and possibly even preventing injury or death – in other words, it would have the exact opposite effect to “defeating the ends of justice”.
This is not to say that I find the concept of sharing legitimate and lawfully constituted roadblock locations on social media to be in the interests of public safety, more especially when those roadblocks are utilised to detect criminals transporting contraband and/or to establish vehicle and driver fitness, but from my observation relatively few roadblocks are established for this purpose.
You see, numerous, if not most roadblocks established by Metro Police and other traffic authorities have little or nothing to do with crime prevention, road safety and/or assessing vehicle and driver fitness and some actually constitute a danger to road safety because of how and where they are set up.
Allegedly, on Sunday 26 November 2017, the Ekurhuleni Metropolitan Police Department set up a roadblock on the R21 freeway in Kempton Park and this had the effect of causing what can only be described as ridiculous delays to motorists on that freeway.
The apparent sole purpose thereof was to execute warrants of arrest against motorists who had failed to appear in court and the operation could not have yielded more than a handful, if any such arrests. If it had, it would have been plastered all over the media by the EMPD as they have done in the past when they managed to execute a remarkable sixteen arrests over a period of two and a half hours, whilst simultaneously causing undue and unjustifiable delays to thousands of motorists heading to and from OR Tambo International Airport.
Allegedly, a woman driving with her young children in her car spent 100 minutes (almost two hours) reaching the front of the queue, only to be waved through without so much as a single, let alone second glance at her or her vehicle and apparently because her number plate did not trigger an alert with respect to a warrant.
She was, as I can only assume others were, extremely annoyed by this grossly unreasonable delay and given the fact that she was nothing more than an innocent party for whom the Metro Police have no regard caught up in this abusive practice, she tweeted the location of this roadblock. Apparently, the not-so infamous PigSpotter with more than 534,000 followers did the same.
A couple of years ago, the PigSpotter was regarded by the Johannesburg Metropolitan Police Department as being “public enemy number one” and people like Wayne Minnaar engaged in a slew of threats to track him down and prosecute him for “defeating the ends of justice” as well as for crimen injuria for calling Metro cops ugly names.
What became of that? Blow all, except for his astronomical rise to stardom, a phenomenal growth in his Twitter followers and the eventual registration of a company by the name of PigSpotter (Pty) Ltd through which Cliff Pinto gets to sell PigSpotter memorabilia.
The Durban Metro Police Department has apparently learned nothing from this phenomenon and what’s worse is that its so-called “Chief” apparently thinks that it’s clever to take to Facebook to vent his frustrations over his own glaringly obvious failure to implement sufficient internal controls to prevent the leaking of confidential information from within the very organisation he heads. He even goes so far as to publicly admit that this was “not the first time that information has been leaked”.
Just whose fault is that? After all, he is the so-called “Chief of Police” and is ultimately responsible for each and every action and incident arising from within the Metro Police Department.
If I were Middleton, I would have quietly investigated the origin of the leak, gathered the requisite evidence to convict the staff member responsible and made damn sure to plug the hole in the system. There’s also another option – to put out hordes of false information in order to deter would be “drunken drivers” and encourage them to use public transport as has been done by some Metros in the past, or to engage in “random roadside breath alcohol testing” as is currently being practiced in the Western Cape if your sole purpose is to catch “drunken drivers”.
The very last thing I would have done, if I did it at all, would have been to take to social media to throw a hissy fit and publicly identify and threaten a member of the public with arrest.
For as long as I can remember, KwaZulu-Natal has had a “zero tolerance” policy yet it has consistently managed to deliver the most catastrophic road death statistics in the country. Perhaps it’s time for it to consider adopting a less tolerant approach to incompetence within its law enforcement entities, or is this simply asking too much?
Howard Dembovsky is the Chairperson of Justice Project South Africa
See also: “Can you be arrested for flashing lights warning other motorists of speed traps?” by Advocate Johan Jonck here.