More than 200 rank-and-file traffic policemen in Yuxian county, Shanxi province, have been suspended indefinitely following a scandal last month involving illegal fines, according to one officer who admitted to taking bribes to supplement his low income.
'Except for the more than 100 [policemen] who are responsible for patrolling the heart of the county and vehicle-impounding yards, [the rest of us - about 210 officers] have been asked by our bosses to go home,' said the Yuxian officer, who did not want to be named but said he had been part of the county's traffic-police squad for three years. 'Our boss told us to simply wait for his phone call and that we need not return to work until the case is settled.'
China Central Television (CCTV) reported late last month, with the help of a hidden camera, that traffic police in Shanxi's Yuxian and Lanxian counties were collecting illegal fines of about 100 yuan (HK$122) from coal-truck drivers passing along sections of roads under their command, without issuing receipts.
Officers would stop the trucks and simply hold up a finger, indicating 100 yuan. Drivers understood this as a necessary part of their job, as refusal to pay could bring even more severe fines for offences ranging from having an overloaded truck to one that was too dirty.
Police in both counties soon came under attack for abuse of power, and 23 traffic policemen, including the police chiefs of the two counties, were either sacked or given demerits after the scandal sparked a nationwide outcry, particularly from millions of China's internet users.
As anger swelled, China's deputy minister of public security, Huang Ming , spoke at a televised conference three days after the CCTV report. He admitted one of the common complaints of officers - that civilian auxiliary personnel sometimes did not get paid on time in some regions - and that the fines they collected were often used to pay the salaries of traffic police, according to a China News Service report.
Huang produced no feasible solution to the problem, which often arises from a lack of funds among rural governments, but he urged regional authorities to keep a close eye on the issue and to spare no effort in making sure that traffic police were paid on time, the report said.
The Yuxian officer, who was suspended without pay along with his colleagues, defended their actions by saying they arose out of necessity.
'Formally speaking, we are all defined as civilian auxiliary personnel ... We get paid no more than 480 yuan a month, but a handful of squad leaders are public servants and earn 2,000 yuan or 3,000 yuan a month.'
With property prices surging to 3,000 yuan a square metre in Yuxian, he said their low incomes were barely enough to survive on.
He said to make more money for the county government, traffic police were allowed by superiors to use any means to raise money from drivers.