If you’re traveling in Chile and encounter a police officer don’t try to bribe him to get out of a ticket. Unlike much of the rest of the world, Chile reportedly has a squeaky clean police force that will arrest those who offer to “tip” or “thank” them in exchange for favorable treatment. This warning was given to Carolyn Lindsey of TRACE by almost everyone she encountered there last week, and was even mentioned in the Frommer’s guide book, which says “never, ever, think about bribing a police officer – you’ll be taken straight to the comisaria (police station).”
Why is this noteworthy? Shouldn’t the citizens of every country expect that their police force doesn’t accept bribes or extort victims? Unfortunately, at least some of the police in most countries look for opportunities to line their own pockets. The results of BRIBEline, TRACE’s anonymous online reporting mechanism for bribe demands, back this up. In a number of countries, most of the reports to BRIBEline implicate the police force. Our reports on Russia and India revealed that over 30 percent of bribe demands reported were demanded by police officers. The numbers for China and Ukraine show that 11 percent and 18 percent of bribe demands, respectively, are made by the police. In Mexico, a staggering 46 percent of the BRIBEline reports involve police officers. TRACE has received reports on police in the United States asking for bribes, too, but has not received a single report on the police in Chile.
A strong, honest police force helps maintain the rule of law and ensures the safety, security and confidence of all citizens. Too often it’s the police in an area that people fear most and we hear a lot of stories about the “customary” response to a traffic stop or other encounter with a police officer. In one such story in Indonesia, the businessman in question decided not to pay the bribe demanded by the officer, which resulted in the individual being escorted to the police station and ultimately appearing before a judge. At each step in the process, the officers and officials he encountered were incredulous that he wouldn’t simply pay the officer to take care of the ticket – that was the accepted and expected practice.
By all accounts, the police in Chile are different. According to the Chileans we talked with, the police take pride in their office and are offended at the thought that they could be “bought off”. For this, the Chilean police force should be commended. Officials who do their duty without abusing their position do not receive enough praise and attention in a world that focuses on those who view a government position as an easy way to cash in on the power entrusted to them.