Editorial | Citizens undercover!
It is a fact that many law-abiding citizens are bothered by the scale of recklessness displayed by motorists, especially those who operate public passenger vehicles. Indeed, more than 250,000 traffic tickets have been issued already this year for various breaches of the Road Traffic Act.
Minibus drivers and taxi operators who earned the bulk of those tickets regularly menace other motorists and pedestrians as they pile passengers into their vehicles and hurtle along roadways.
This alarming scale of infraction has also led the Government to install more than 500 cameras at various points in Kingston and St Andrew. Policemen are often posted at well-trafficked intersections, during peak hours, yet the recklessness continues. From time to time, members of the public are stirred to capture the worst examples of this recklessness.
A Kingston bus driver got his comeuppance this week when he decided to make an illegal turn at a pedestrian crossing on Constant Spring Road and was captured on video. The video was shared with the police. The bus operator was identified and apprehended, his bus seized, and he pleaded guilty and was fined. Sure enough, he was also fined for an offence for which a warrant was issued.
Now the police would like to see more citizens using their electronic devices to record reckless behaviour and share it with them. The citizen would also be required to submit some sort of report about the incident. The idea of citizens actively making videos and sharing evidence will draw into play a wider segment of the population. Someone may feel good about capturing an egregious safety breach and knowing that his action contributed to the offender being punished.
While we recognise the potential value in the concept of citizens helping the police to fight crime and maintain public order, we urge caution in this attempt to exploit what looks like sheer citizen activism. The idea cannot be to encourage a generation of undercover citizens who feel empowered to capture anyone suspected of wrongdoing, for that would have serious implications for one’s right to privacy.
When the video is shared with the police, what happens to that data? The fact is, the video may be of a bus wending its way through traffic in an erratic manner, but there may be other subjects captured at the same time, and we assume that this may now form a part of the police’s database.
The other concern is about the need for the person capturing the image to make a report. What guarantee is there that such a report will not be leaked to the errant motorist? These are matters to be carefully considered.
The Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) and various stakeholders desperately want to see the number of road fatalities reduced and the adoption of a culture of safety on our roads. It has not been an easy journey, for lack of compliance is the greatest obstacle they face. This means that the JCF has to be continually assessing new approaches and new tools.
By all means, try new things, but we urge the force to be cautious. We are convinced that the JCF will not win many friends among legal and human rights advocates and urge them to avoid escalation whereby the idea of capturing road traffic abusers becomes a mechanism for citizens to spy on each other.