I’ve had some eye-opening encounters with less than stellar police moral behavior while traveling in a third world country. My first experience with an openly corrupt police officer happened one day while I was driving my foreign-registered car in this third world city. I was following traffic through the green light. After I had exited the intersection, a policeman waiting on the other side, standing outside his patrol car, waved me down and motioned to me to stop. “You entered that intersection on a yellow light, sir. That’s illegal. I’m going to have to give you a ticket.” I didn’t even remember if the light had turned yellow; I was following the flow of traffic going through the intersection under the green light.

The policeman started to write the ticket and said that he would have to take my license plate off the car, and that I could retrieve it some days later at the police station. I tried to protest my innocence—or at least my ignorance as a foreigner—and expressed my disagreement with the severity of the punishment. The policeman then offered, “Well, there is another way to handle these things.” He was implying—or at least I understood—that this was a legitimate, alternative administrative process. He explained that another way to handle this ticket was to do a spot payment. This meant that I would be able to pay the ticket immediately to him and that I would then be able to continue my way without losing my license plate. He explained that the cost of the ticket would be the local currency equivalent of about 50 U.S. dollars at the time. I opened my wallet, pulled out that amount of money, paid the officer, and agreed that this was a better administrative alternative.

After he let me go, and I was driving off, my companion seated in the passenger seat, a native of this country, explained calmly, “Do you understand what just happened?”

“What do you mean?”

“That policeman just stopped you on a false pretense, threatened you with removing your license plate rendering your car undrivable, and then cleverly asked for a bribe disguised as an administrative option.” I was dumbfounded. I had grown up in a world where when you needed to trust somebody, you turned to the police. Now I was coming to understand that I had just been robbed by the police.

My companion explained, “The right way to handle these situations, and this is how we do it in my family, is to tell the police officer that, ‘Yes, officer, I will accept the ticket, and I will pay the fine, but please take me to the police station. Take me in, take me into the police station.’” This calls the corrupt policeman’s bluff because no policeman will want to be witnessed extorting bribes or being corrupt. Or maybe, being caught outsmarted by their own mark?

My second experience with corrupt police in a third world country occurred as I drove my foreign-registered vehicle down the highway obeying all rules. A policeman pulled up behind me and flashed his siren and lights indicating that I should pull over. When I pulled over, the policeman said he was stopping me for pulling over illegally. When I had pulled over to the side of the road, I had crossed over a divider that indicated that I shouldn’t cross. I wasn’t willing to pay a bribe now that I understood it was a bribe, but my companion—a different companion—did not want to take a chance and paid the policeman for the ticket on the spot.

My third encounter with police corruption was again in the same third world city. I had bought a simple desk to work at home at a nearby used furniture store. The desk was disassembled with the top separate from the legs. I placed the wood in the hatchback of my foreign-registered car where they were visible from the outside. As I drove from the furniture store back home, a police car pulled me over and charged me with using my vehicle to haul cargo without a commercial registration. I refused to pay for the ticket on the spot. “Take me to the police station.” One of the two policemen sat down in my car with me. I told him I refused to make any payment on the spot and that I wanted to go to the police station. He got out of my vehicle and conferred with his partner. His partner then approached my vehicle, sat down inside my vehicle next to me, and asked me, “How much did you pay my partner?”

After convincing the second policeman that I didn’t pay his partner anything, that I wasn’t going to pay him either, and that they should take me to the police station, they let me go.

My most recent incident with the police in that third world country occurred as I drove my foreign-registered car along a road where the speed limit dropped for a short segment from 80 kilometers per hour to 50 kilometers per hour before it went back to 80 kilometers per hour. The 50 kilometer per hour sign was not very prominent, and I ended up driving 80 kilometers per hour along the entire stretch.

The policeman stopped me for speeding, took my license, and said he would have to take me into the police station. He then told me, “You’re probably on your way back home and this would delay your return.” He hesitated and waited. I told him that he should take me to the police station. He repeated that this was a long drive from where we were and this would seriously delay my trip. It was clear he was fishing for a bribe.

I then told him a story. I told him that soon I would be visiting my parents, my mother and father. I told him that they had seen many news stories about police corruption. I told him I didn’t think this was always the case. I told him that when I went to see my parents, I was going to tell them that not all policemen are corrupt. I told the policeman, “I want to report to my parents when I see them that I had a good experience with a good cop despite all the news stories.” The policeman then said to me, “The 50 kilometer per hour sign is a little hidden.” He handed my driver’s license back to me and indicated that I was free to go.