Wed | Dec 19, 2018

Orville Taylor | Batman - the vigilante wrecker man

Published:Sunday | August 19, 2018 | 12:00 AM
A masked worker on a wrecker in downtown Kingston as it tows a vehicle that was illegally parked.

Masked, he moves with incredible speed, but he is not The Flash. Obviously, he cannot see the driver standing by the motor vehicle or entering. He must be Daredevil, the blind Marvel comics superhero, or, perhaps based on how he pumps his right arm in disdain, he must be from Wakanda, the Black Panther.

He and his sidekick take no talk; they do not pussyfoot when doing their 'rerk'. His identity is unknown, but like a DC Comics vigilante, he sneaks around the back, bends over and pushes his apparatus under the rear bumper of a parked car. He must be Batman, although the bat wrecker has no identification marks.

It is a parking violation. The operator of the motor car is by the vehicle. Batman comes and it looks as if he comes robbing. He does not identify himself; he does not advise the motorist of his breach, he does not tell him to remove his car. It is a forced grab as the masked men seem hell-bent on filling a quota. Police officers on another operation see them and are aware of standard operating procedures.

Something very sinister or unusual is occurring. I am like J.J. Jameson, Spiderman's antagonist, the journalist who hates the idea of masked people operating outside of the law. Law-enforcement officers, or persons deputised to function as their auxiliaries, must show a higher level of compliance with law and standard policing practice. And so did the well-thinking police officers who were in plain clothes and fully aware of the provisions of the Road Traffic Act and policing.

Officer Dibble raises his hand, shows his identification, and attempts to stop the tow truck. Rebuffed! The wrecker driver barely acknowledges him. Worse, the sideman, with his face totally obscured, speaks scornfully. "We no wuk wid police; wi no tek instructions from police." Once he crouches behind the bumper, this Batman "nuh tek back chat!".

If a police officer merely identifies himself, you are bound under Section 56 of the Road Traffic Act to comply forthwith. For the record, all public spaces are under the control of the police, which is why the constabulary is responsible when it is a humongous party spills over and blocks a public thoroughfare. Once you get the raised hand, "the motor vehicle shall be immediately stopped and kept stationary so long as may be reasonably necessary."

 

MUST OBEY

 

It might be surprising, but the open hand is a powerful tool not only in the hands of the police. This might seem like a lot of bull, but if a cattle herder steps out in the road and signals the driver to halt, he must obey. The same applies if it is any other animal, including chickens or duck, and to ignore is to run afoul of the act, although the current fine is a 'poultry' sum.

The authority of the police is reiterated in Section 58, which expands the commands of the police officer to include other signals, as well as oral instructions. Suck your teeth if you are upset, but obey the agent of Babylon.

Employees of municipal corporations are not laws unto themselves. Traffic wardens, and I imagine anyone who gives authority to wrecker drivers to operate, are engaged under the jurisdiction of the police.

Thus Section 117 (1) of the act reads: "... A local authority may appoint persons to discharge in aid of the Police functions normally undertaken by the police in connection with the control and regulation of road traffic or with the enforcement of the law relating to road traffic."

These persons, defined by the section as "traffic wardens ... under the direction of the commissioner of police, for other purposes connected with the control and regulation of road traffic or road vehicles; and ... to act as parking attendants at parking places on roads provided or controlled by the local authority".

 

NO OTHER DUTIES

 

Importantly, wardens are not to be assigned other duties than those for which they are lawfully assigned. Given that they are acting on behalf of the police, the act requires that they be suitably trained by the police before undertaking their duties.

Having scrupulously read the Road Traffic Act, I cannot find anything that empowers a police officer, or anyone acting with powers delegated by the commissioner, to forcibly remove a vehicle from its owner for parking when he is present and willing to comply with an order to move. Under the act and other statutes, a police officer has the power to seize a motor vehicle if it is operating contrary to its road licence, such as 'robot', route and hackney carriages do.

Thus, a private motor car moonlighting as a taxi is fair game for the constable. If your motor vehicle registration has expired and you have exceeded your one-month grace period, Corpie can put your brand new Benz on the wrecker. A vehicle can also be impounded if a motor vehicle examiner finds it defective.

For parked vehicles, the parish council can independently delegate anyone to remove a vehicle that is in a no-parking zone. Wardens or police officers can give tickets for illegal parking of obstruction, whether the driver is still in the stationary vehicle or not. However, unless there are breaches such as outlined above, there is no legal authority to take away a person's vehicle. The removal of the offending car and the issuing of a ticket, though related, are two separate actions.

When police officers are seizing a motor vehicle, they do so without masks, and properly explain to the offender why it is being done. This is not a backing of undisciplined people who flout the law and park wherever they wish. It is about reinforcing the fact that law enforcement must be done lawfully. The vigilante action by masked crusaders could result in grave consequences for Batman.

There is no Riddler here, but he may run into someone who knows his right, has the power to defend it, and is no Joker.

- Dr Orville Taylor is head of the Department of Sociology at the UWI, a radio talk-show host, and author of 'Broken Promises, Hearts and Pockets'. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and tayloronblackline@hotmail.com.