Wednesday, August 9, 2017

A (Police) Code for Corruption

Don't talk back! If this kid being arrested talks back
to the junior cops, it could cost him.
You can insult the president, your grandma or even a priest - but disrespect a cop and you'll pay for it: 657,000 pesos, according to the new Codigo de Policia.

Keep you mouth shut and cooperate! Police evict
booksellers from a downtown sidewalk.
No matter that 'disrespect' is a vague term, inevitably left up to the cop's own judgement - and that speaking one's mind about the police seems like a basic civil right.

And don't urinate in public, either, because that means a 736,000 peso fine.

And if you're brutish and prejudiced enough to insult a member of the LGBT community, you might have to shell out 657,000 pesos. But insulting anybody is bad, so why should LGBT people be singled out, when insulting someone for being fat, female, black or Armenian seems just as wrong?

The new Police Code, which went into effect on Monday, may be well-intentioned. But its fines seem arbitrary, out of proportion and destined to increase police corruption.

Had too much fun at the local bar, and cop spotted you pissing against a tree on the way home? Maybe that's a bad thing, except for the nitrogen-starved tree - but what's the likelihood that you'll be willing to pay close to a million pesos for your transgression? Instead, you'll reach in your pocket for a 20,000 peso bill and hand it to the notoriously malleable police officer.

And is urinating in public really twice as bad as publishing someone's intimate photos on the Internet without their consent, which means only a 325,000 peso fine? Publishing such a photo can ruin someon's career, while urinating just makes a doorway stink.

Practicing the oldest profession on a central Bogotá plaza
outside of the designated red light district.
And then there is the odd 'crime' of 'obstructing expressions of affection' (not including sexual ones), which I suppose is intended to protect LGBT people's rights to display public affection. But don't conclude that the new police code is about free love, because having sex in public and practicing prostitution outside of designated areas are also subject to fines.

Not that the new codigo is all bad -.if it were only enforceable. For exampole, selling cigarrettes to minors now carries a fine. But that's been illegal for years - as is selling loose cigarrettes - yet every corner seems to host a street vendor eager to sell a smoke to anybody with a few coins in their hand.

Colombia is not Singapore, and unless penalties are realistic, they'll only feed corruption and disrespect for the law, rather than a more ordered country.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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