Residents of Shaoyang city in China are complaining of a surge in vigilantism after authorities gave civilians the power to issue tickets and fines for minor offe nces – and keep 80 per cent of the proceeds.
On 1 August the city's Urban Management Bureau gave 1,000 people the authority to fine their fellow residents for minor violations such as traffic offences, jaywalking, littering and spitting in public. The "inspector" takes substantial personal commission and city authorities receive the rest.
But with such an incentive on offer, the inspectors have become increasingly zealous, and citizens in Shaoyang, a city of 600,000, are now complaining that the inspectors are turning into vigilantes.
One driver in the city in Hunan province described his surprise when a man with an armband tapped on his window and demanded he cough up a 10 yuan (£1) fine for edging on to the zebra crossing at a red light.
"He said he would fine me 10 yuan and then several others rushed to surround my car," the man, who gave his surname as Zhang, told local media.
"I didn't know if they were traffic police or urban management officials, and why did they have the right to fine me? Ten yuan is just a little sum: what really matters is an official explanation," Mr Zhang said.
The inspectors, who have been hired from the ranks of retired public servants and neighbourhood watch committees, receive 500 yuan (£50) per month for their services to the city, with the rest of their earnings topped up by the on-the-spot fines they collect. Most are retired and Communist party members. They are mostly visible around the National Day holiday or at big public events to check people's behaviour and offer tips on ideological dogma.
Head of the Shaoyang urban management bureau, Wang Dasong, told The New York Times that the scheme was an attempt to "improve the urban traffic situation without expending too many of the city's resources", and hailed the programme as a success.
Other officials have said the inspectors are only supposed to report any offenders to the urban management officers or the police, and do not have power to issue fines. Urban management law enforcers, commonly known as chengguan, are widely reviled for their often heavy-handed approach to street hawkers and beggars.
"We introduced the policy to improve the urban environment, and it has been successful," Luo Limin, the city's deputy director of propaganda, told China Daily. "However, we have received complaints about the low quality of some inspectors."
One local resident, Liu Li, criticised the financial incentive for the inspectors: "Have [the inspectors] received any training? I doubt that they can make the right decisions, especially when they earn more if they catch more people doing something wrong, like illegal parking or spitting on the street."
In an editorial, the China Daily said the city authorities in Shaoyang were breaking the law.
"The right of enforcement is granted by the public to official law enforcement organisations. This right cannot be casually contracted out to the other people. The purpose of city management is by no means to make money through fines, so the practice of Shaoyang is going in the wrong direction," it said.
Other cities in Hunan province have carried out similar policies, including Zhuzhou and Xiangtan, but Shaoyang authorities are now reported to be considering scrapping the scheme.Reuse content