Three transit police were arrested Saturday in Cuenca for demanding bribes from drivers. According to the National Police Counterintelligence Unit, the arrests followed complaints from motorists.
According to counterintelligence officers, the suspects threatened to fine drivers for both legitimate and illegitimate offenses, but said they would accept cash payment on the spot instead of writing a ticket. Some of the traffic stops were not authorized by central transit police command, they said.
The counterintelligence unit said it is receiving an increasing number of complaints in recent months, in both the municipality of Cuenca as well as on nearby rural highways. Among those filing complaints, they say, are foreign residents and tourists.
Cuenca expat George Amerson said he complained to national police in February after paying a $40 bribe on the Pan Americana Sur during a routine traffic stop. “My car registration was done in Quito and I was told it was not valid since I lived in Cuenca,” he said. “I knew this wasn’t true but the cop kept insisting that I pay a fine to him directly or go to jail. After a while, it became clear I wasn’t getting my license and matricula back unless I paid up.”
Amerson added that another police officer was standing nearby and heard the entire conversation. “This is obviously a widespread practice, not the actions of a few rogue cops, and that’s why I reported it to police headquarters.”
Amerson has some advice for expats or tourists who are victims of traffic shake-downs: Get the ID of the officer or of the police vehicle involved in the traffic stop. “In all the confusion, I forgot to do it and I regret it.”
Saturday’s arrests were made near the University of Cuenca campus.