Justice Project South Africa says it has withdrawn its endorsement of the ‘blue light protocol’, saying that it appears to be helping traffic police abuse motorists, instead of helping them get to safety as originally planned.
The blue light protocol is a procedure that motorists can follow when pulled over by traffic police, that enables them to move from an area they feel to be unsafe.
Motorists are required to do the following: slow down, put on your hazards, indicate to the blue-light vehicle behind you to follow, and then calmly drive no faster than 40km/h to the nearest police station, or public space with CCTV coverage (typically a service station forecourt).
The procedure was developed by JPSA and the Road Traffic Management Corporation in 2013, specifically to combat the prevalence of criminals using easily acquired blue lights and other police equipment to pose as law enforcement authorities.
When the protocol was first implemented, motorists were warned that they should not act erratically or react in kind to being shouted at by police officers who follow, to avoid escalating things, as police are still the authority in the situation, and it remains a criminal offence to not stop.
While the protocol was approved and communicated to all traffic authorities and the South African Police Service, new CCTV footage has emerged showing a woman being violently manhandled by Tshwane Metro Police Department officers at a petrol station on the night of 5 December, after she allegedly failed to stop for them in a poorly lit area.
JPSA said this incident has shown that the protocol is not being adopted by police officials, and is now putting motorists’ lives at risk.
JPSA head Howard Dembovsky said that “blue light gangs” had been committing violent crimes ranging from robbery, hijacking and kidnapping to rape and murder for many years, but police had failed to effectively tackle the problem.
“Despite this fact, numerous police and traffic officers are wholly insensitive to this issue and incorrectly believe that they are empowered by the law to abuse members of the public who try to protect themselves from violent crime,” he said.
“In some instances, people have been beaten up. In others, they have been shot at and even been killed by overzealous law enforcement officials.
“This cannot go on and if, as it appears to be, the Blue Light Protocol is contributing to this abuse, JPSA can no longer endorse it,” he said.
Dembovsky said that the National Road Traffic Act requires a motorist to immediately stop for a traffic officer in uniform. Police are also included in the definition of a traffic officer in terms of the Act.
Although failure to stop is a criminal offence, Dembovsky said that if a motorist feels unsafe, he or she should immediately call 10111 to verify the authenticity of the police stopping them and prepare to flee if anything goes awry.
“Should it turn out that the individuals stopping a motorist are criminals posing as police, the motorist should, where possible, institute civil and criminal proceedings against the culprits and the police, the latter of whom are constitutionally obliged to protect them from criminality,” he said.
“In this case, it is our view that the officers concerned should be prosecuted for assault, since it is clear that the woman was merely trying to guard against falling victim to violent crime and was not fleeing from police,” he said.
The Tshwane Metro Police Service said it is investigating the incident.