Only the joint efforts of the authorities, NGOs, media and the civil society will bring visible results in the fight against widespread bribery by traffic police in the region, experts say.
By Tzvetina Borisova for Southeast European Times in Sofia -- 13/08/13
A survey by the Belgrade Centre for Security Policy identified traffic police as a source of corruption. [Nikola Barbutov/SETimes]
Experts said bribery in the police is a common problem in the Balkans, where salaries in the government sector are low, and offering small sums to police in return for being forgiven for a violation is almost a tradition.
According to the recent survey conducted by the Belgrade Centre for Security Policy, respondents identified traffic police as the most corrupt part of the police in Serbia.
"The members of the police unions in Serbia share the same opinion as citizens on corruption within traffic police," Sasa Djordjevic, a researcher at the Belgrade Centre for Security Policy told SETimes. "The very common corrupt behaviour is defined as taking bribe from citizens."
In Croatia, one third of citizens pay bribes to traffic police, according to a United Nations 2011 report on corruption.
The internal security department of Bulgaria's interior ministry revealed an unofficial price list of bribes for various violations of traffic rules in 2011. According to the list, the citizens have been paying up to 3,000 leva (1,500 euros) to the police to avoid a fine.
To reduce the risk of bribery, authorities in Bulgaria have launched several projects: They have increased the number of police officers up to 10 in traffic police groups and installed cameras along Bulgarian roads, including highways.
Still, the problem remains and there are several reasons behind it, experts said.
"In some cases, it [bribery] could be triggered because of low pay, in others because of infiltration of organised crime, lack of oversight or proper training," Mark Pyman, programme director at Transparency International UK, told SETimes. "In general, however, police corruption starts with a series of small acts and escalates from there. Once it has become the culture of the police force, then the pressure to fit in with the prevailing culture is often overwhelming."
Experts said that eradicating corruption in the police is a time-consuming and difficult process requiring strong will and determination.
Professor Petrus C. van Duyne, a criminology professor at Tilburg University in the Netherlands, named three short-term measures that can help bring corruption levels in the police forces down: "change the top, raise the pay and encourage citizens to complain of corrupt cops."
Authorities and experts agree that the active participation of citizens is the most effective tool in the fight against corruption in traffic police and urge them to report facts when they were asked to make an unregulated payment instead of going through the legal procedure. Special telephone lines, websites and agencies have been set up to receive such signals. Media coverage of corruption will also have a positive impact in the fight against bribery, experts said.
"For the culture to change the approach needs to be systemic, with a strong leadership over a period of years, and including external oversight by others, e.g. by civil society or respected experts," Pyman said.
What would you do if you were asked for a bribe by a traffic police officer? Share your thoughts below.