Readers' Submissions

Police Flexibility

  • Written by Jules
  • December 31st, 2003
  • 12 min read




Following on from Stick’s column on 28th December about problems with police I would recount some of my experiences over the years with our boys in brown.

The reason for the police being flexible on minor crime is that they are under funded and underpaid. The last time I checked a junior policemen receives around 5,000 Baht per month.

Out of this small amount he will of course not pay tax as he is just on the threshold of being liable for income tax (which of course he would pay like the rest of us honest citizens) but he will have to pay his and his family’s living expenses and will have to buy his own uniforms and weapons. (If you are that way inclined you too can buy a uniform at one of the shops in Sutthisarn).

Whilst the range of police services you can purchase in Thailand is extensive I will outline a few common motoring services, which often provide a light hearted and inexpensive moment in the daily grind of traffic.

A policeman can buy an assignment to Traffic Division. My landlady, who is an ancient poo yai, tells me that paying traffic cops did not start as a way of avoiding the inconvenience of a ticket but more as a way of helping those less fortunate who would not dream of giving such important people a hard time. (She may have been referring to the days of elephants.)

And less fortunate they indeed are. They spend all day outside, maybe in the sun which Thais commonly detest, amidst noise, dust and fumes dodging pickup trucks and guiding motorists back and forth. The majority of traffic cops will suffer at some point from hearing, respiratory or skin ailments if they are not run over first. I actually feel sorry for them though I may be in the minority.

With the lowering of the social barriers to vehicle ownership the ability to hand out tickets to lesser mortals increased substantially and it became customary to give money to avoid a ticket or a trip to the station.

If you want to go to the cop shop and pay your fine, please do so. The policeman actually keeps part of the fine money and until recently I think he got 50% of the first 4,000 THB of the month’s issued tickets but the monthly limit has been increased recently. Anything over this and he does not get a dime which discourages the handing out of tickets towards the end of the month.

Instead of behaving in full accordance with the laws of Thailand I prefer bribery. I am too lazy to go to the cop shop and as my license always seems to be out of order I tend to pay some small sum at the roadside. I have never been extorted at the roadside, maybe I have been lucky, it has always been an exercise of free will.

I have from time to time disputed the allegations, the last time being a friendly dispute at a toll booth over whether an insurance sticker was fake. The cop stopped around 20 vehicles to give examples of stickers on other windscreens, which were indeed different to mine. Eventually I got the drift that he was honest in his belief and concern that I might have an accident without insurance but probably mistaken so I paid him off, we had a laugh and a joke and I went on my way. I did not make trouble for him and he did not make trouble for me.

The range of transportation services on offer range from fixing parking tickets to allowing overloaded trucks to bypass weigh bridges. Did you know Thailand is a world leader in the manufacture of extra heavy duty tires for overloaded trucks?

I got a parking ticket once in the 3 minutes between running out of petrol and getting a bottle of unleaded from the petrol station 50m away. The local cop shop buried it after myself and the Police Captain in charge had a chuckle about how efficient his officers had suddenly become.

I was once stopped taking a short cut up a one-way street to get to a pub. A policemen was coming the other way who explained politely that it was inadvisable to drive the wrong way. I thanked him, shot back in reverse, quick U turn and was gone. When I parked outside the pub two minutes later (having gone around the block) he was still standing there, saw me, gave a cheery wave and drove off. Nice chap, must have happened all the time to him.

I knew a chap some years ago who had a standard response to being stopped, he would say nothing and sit in his car with the doors locked. He would not respond to Thai, English, French, Khmer etc. and would just wait until the police got tired of him and waved him on. Amazingly this worked but God knows how, presumably they did not want to tangle with a weirdo farang.

A few years ago there was a crackdown on littering with a 2,000 Baht fine on Sukhumvit Road which may still exist. One night in Sukhumvit 20 a newbie friend put his cigarette out down a grating. Zooooom up came two cops on a motorbike and demanded the 2,000 Baht. One even had the full text of the regulation in Thai and English, which put me on to their scam immediately. Having guessed they were off duty and not assigned to Litter Division I gave them both a cigarette and we had a light hearted chat about the law and got away for a 50 Baht on the spot fine.

The double jeopardy rule came into play one Saturday morning when I jumped a red light. The arresting officer on finding my license was expired gave a great laugh and said, “ Ah, double, double, ha ha“. Hell, he got me. We had a good laugh and two red ones slipped into his mia noi fund.

A lady friend once had a minor prang with a very drunk driver in a big pickup truck with the big wheels, roll bar etc. who made the mistake of driving off and “fleeing the scene” after learning she had insurance. After chasing him through the streets on a motorbike taxi (her own car abandoned) she stopped him at a major intersection and started beating on his bonnet. He tried to run her over which incensed her even more. Fortunately the motorcyclist went to the junction’s police box and the cop came with his gun to arrest what turned out to be a Chinese illegal immigrant. (By the way, I do NOT advise this, she was a headstrong 5 foot nothing karate chopping Asian lady, anyone else would just get run over)

On being taken to the nearby cop shop my friend insisted he be imprisoned then thrown out of the country etc. The guy’s extended family turns up and a major argument ensues. In time honored tradition the police wanted no part of it and think a small cash payment should settle her beef. She refused until the sum became 40,000 Baht, which she accepted and promptly gave to the cops for their help. Smiles all round, everyone happy (except Chinese illegals who are told to beat it) and first name terms ever since with the police at that station.

One concern for anyone unused to these shenanigans is when to bribe? I believe in settling the principle first, (was I wrong) and then confessing and throwing myself on their mercy. If there is any humor in the situation, such as when I did an illegal right turn into Nana in front of 3 policemen standing under a sign saying no right turns that they were pointing to, I exploit it. Once they realize you are not a threat and co-operative they will take the easy path. If they do not let you go with a laugh and instead start to write up your ticket suggest you “pay now”. In the unlikely event he carries on writing don’t push it or get pissy.

The earlier you pay them off the better, the more cops involved and the higher up the more difficult and expensive it becomes. You will reach a compromise very quickly, time is money.

When I first arrived I struggled with the concept and tried to cheat them. I would get 10 Baht notes, about 5 or 6 of them, and roll a twenty around them, which look very similar at night. Instead of negotiating I would show this wadge of notes and say, “You want?”. As they tend to hide the money under their book they wouldn’t realize for ten minutes, enough time for a getaway.

I now realize this was selling myself short as a stingy cheap farang. If the cop suggests a starting figure based on your wealth of 50 Baht insist he take 100 Baht because he must think you are poor. If he wants 1,000 Baht start laughing with him, you are not rich.

My wife keeps a wallet in her expensive Italian car with 2 no. 50 Baht notes in it. When she gets stopped she shows the wallet and swears it is all she has to buy food for her three children but he should take it anyway, sniff, sniff. Interestingly whilst some take 50 Baht the others let her go, not one has ever issued the ticket or taken the 100 Baht.

My maid’s husband in his beat up manky last legs pickup truck pays 20 Baht max, upcountry even less, but for a minor offence an ordinary Thai may pay 50 Baht. As a rich foreigner I would expect to pay 100 to 200 Baht for each offence for each policemen dealing directly with me but anything over 500 Baht in total and I would have to have been really criminally stupid. I don’t care that this is dual pricing or that maybe I pay too much, I just want respect and if they are local cops they probably know me and will not believe my cries of poverty.

By the way it is quite acceptable to pay one policemen and ask him to share it with the others and if you do not have any change, ask him to break a 500 Baht note for you.

These are of course only a few stories and I suppose anyone who drives in Thailand will have some. If no one is hurt you can get away with some terrible driving in Thailand.

And what is terrible driving? Some examples of gross stupidity where I think I was the only driver taking exception. Pulling a wheelie on a cut down 150cc bike for 100m between lines of cars along Rama IV Road in evening rush hour? Driving head on at traffic on the wrong side of the road to save a few minutes? Weaving between lanes of head on traffic on your bike? When approaching a junction with two lanes each way forming a third lane so you can overtake and get through the lights? When turning right slow down, pull over to the left and then turn right without signaling? Ride a motorbike with 4 or 5 passengers? Any Tuk Tuk manoeuvre?

And what have I been nicked for? No seat belt, crossing a solid white line, using the wrong side of the bridge (hey, come on I was following the twenty cars in front), wrong way on a one way street, failing to stop when ordered (actually I am still on the run from those), illegal turn, jumping red lights, parking offences, expired license, no license, no insurance, out of date car registration, fleeing the scene etc. Actually enough to be disqualified in the West several times over but I AM THE BEST DRIVER I KNOW and I think I pay only about 300 to 400 Baht per year in on the spot fines.

And my new license is valid for 6 years, not 1 year as previously, so no worries about paying 3,000 Baht to the embassy for a letter which says they do not know where I live but I have told them an address which they cannot verify. This letter is very important as a foreigner does not have a house registration but I had taken to altering the date on a photocopy of the original each year anyway. Last time I asked for a motorcycle license as well but the ladies at the Land Transport Department said they needed a real original not the photocopy they had just accepted for my car license renewal. Figure that one out.

My advice is, if you are in the wrong or not, behave responsibly and politely and patiently and you will probably be OK. If you have a license and insurance, no problem. If you are drunk without insurance or a license but no one is hurt, no problem, you may be due for a trip to the station but that is what money is for. If you have no license, no insurance, no visa and are drunkenly belligerent when you hurt someone, get a good lawyer for when they move you out of the hospital wing into your cell.

ON A MORE SERIOUS NOTE

Sometimes I have been stopped for serious police work (i.e. not traffic violations). Stick reports stop and searches for drugs as if they are new but the first time I was stopped was seven years ago at a well co-ordinated night time road block in Din Daeng and I have been searched or seen searches for what I presume are drugs performed in the street or by the roadside around Thailand on many occasions.

The cops politely and firmly searched my vehicle, my body and my girlfriend. Upon receiving my permission they opened my wallet under torch light in full view of their sergeant and myself and searched for any pills in the lining etc. This was no stickup, they were serious.

Being accustomed to searching people in the street, particularly for drugs, they will try to do this in an efficient and professional manner. Bribery at this point is not an option or an aim, do not resist or they will arrest you, they are doing their job and it is a difficult one for which they are badly paid and treated.

If you do drugs, I hope you enjoy prison.

Stickman says:

You've got the right attitude all right. I'd love to know the legality of these body searches for drugs. Not a lot of point refusing, I guess.