Business, Economics and Jobs

Video: Anatomy of a nasty Thai traffic stop


Thai policemen inspecting vehicles at a late-night traffic checkpoint in Bangkok, Thailand in 2003.


Luis Enrique Ascui

It's easy to find Thais with a personal anecdote (or ten) about unpleasant run-ins with the police.

But it's not so easy to find high-quality footage of Thai cops behaving badly.

Perhaps that's why this Thai-language YouTube clip of a couple kicked off their motorbike at a police checkpoint has accumulated more than 230,000 views. That's no small feat in a middle-income nation of 65 million.

The video, captured by a dashboard camera, requires a quick primer on the Thai police checkpoint procedure.

Cops in Thailand seldom pull over motorists in the American fashion: squad cars with flashing rack lights trailing motorists.

In Thailand, cops typically pull cars by standing on the roadside and simply motioning for drivers to pull over. At night, both cities and dark highways are studded with barricades and checkpoints. Most drivers pass through without inspection. But others are yanked aside and searched. This selection process is highly arbitrary. It makes New York City's controversial "stop and frisk" tactic look like it was designed by the ACLU.

The YouTube clip, filmed in Bangkok, is sarcastically titled "Technique for Stopping Motorbike Riders Without Helmets." At 0:42, you'll see two motorbikes pass through a checkpoint on a narrow lane. After the couple on the second bike is kicked, they skid into a post and go crashing to the asphalt.

According to the account of the driver who uploaded this clip, he lowered his window to complain. An officer allegedly replied, "I wasn't the one who kicked the bike" but grew quiet when the driver revealed his dashboard camera.

As for the man who kicked that young couple off their motorbike? He's a volunteer cop, according to the Facebook page of a senior traffic police general. This general apparently realizes the clip's potential to embarrass his department. He's posted copies of the offender being charged for his transgression in the precinct as well as copies of his court summons.

Police corruption is one of Thailand's most intractable problems. Roadside shakedowns and abuse are common. But perhaps an army of camera phone-wielding, dashboard video-recording motorists is part of the solution.

Perhaps the couple should count their blessings.

The logo for a Thailand traffic police division called the "Road Hawks," an anti-racing squad, suggests an even more aggressive method of motorist apprehension.