The Spanish term "mordida" literally means "the bite". It is when an official is asking for a bribe. For our purposes here in Mexico, the term is most often used in relation to a traffic police officer who is asking for money for a bogus, or maybe even legitimate, traffic infraction.
Reader Robert left a comment the other day on our "Is Mexico Safe?" post. This has nothing to do with safety in Mexico, but it is worthwhile for the purpose of discussion since many people don't seem to know the proper procedure to follow when this happens.
The main problem for us are the local cops shaking you down
We were pulled over by Puebla city police (2) on the way to the RV park in Cholula (Las Americas)
We were 5 km from the park on main road from Hwy Mexico 157D
They were just finishing up with some one on the side of road. I pulled over to left lane to pass and they came after me and claimed I cut them off. I was going 10 km UNDER speed limit.
They told me that we should not be going to Choulula as there was great unrest there.Told me that they were going to take me to jail for 3 days and that I had to pay a $16000.00 pesos fine.They were going to have a tow truck take my 26 class C RV to the police pound.
As I tried to use my cell phone to call Hans weber in San Miguel they threatened me and told me not to call anyone. Telling them that i did not have $16000.00 pesos they then asked for American dollars. Told them we only had about 4500.00 pesos they wanted that. I said I needed some to travel as they made it very clear that we were to leave town now and after taking the $4000 they gave me my licese and papers back and then told me they were going to follow me back to main highway to San Miguel.
They did that all the way to Hwy 157D and when they knew i could not turn back they disappeared.
This is the 5th year we have RV'd in Mexico and will probably be the last as the bribe requests keep getting bigger and more aggresive.(this is the 3rd time in as many years 1st guy in Morelia got 500 pesos 2nd time on return to Columbia bridge wanted $1000 US but got nothing as I was forceful enough and they were private security guards as opposed to the last guys who were fully armed)
Not a fun story to be sure. But what happened here was that Robert was intimidated by the police, and the police knew it and took full advantage of that fact.
What should have happened? Well, if it was a legitimate traffic offense, Robert would have accompanied the police to their office where he would be informed of the official violation and may be asked to pay a fine. If paying a fine, he would be issued an official receipt.
I can't believe how many people still pay mordida. I read about it all the time on the internet. People do it because it's easier. You hand the cops some money, and you're on your way. Usually, its only 200 to 500 pesos, although even that is far too much because the official fine, if in fact you have done something wrong, is probably lower than that.
The problem is that paying a police officer directly is against his departments official policy, and it amounts to soliciting bribery. If you do so, both you and him are breaking the law!
What do I do? Well it depends. If I have actually done something wrong, I would go to the police station, even if it took me out of my way. Because we plan our travel days well, we would be able to afford the time spent to do this.
If I believe I have done nothing wrong, I simply refuse to pay. I do so without getting angry or rude or confrontational. I hand them a form we keep in the glove box that asks for their badge ID and name and all other relevant info. Haven't had to use it yet, but I can imagine this would make them a little less aggressive. You can get a copy of this form here... http://www.ajijiclaw.com/Police%20Identification%20Form.pdf
Also, while I am discussing the situation, Ruth would be taking photos of the whole scene and getting badge numbers etcetera.
And, I carry a laminated copy of my drivers license. If they ask if it's a copy, I say yes. They ask for the real one again, I say no, it's exactly the same information as that one.
Personally, I would do most of this in my best Espanol, although I have read where sticking with English and pretending you don't know any Spanish can be a good tactic as well because it puts the onus on them to try and make you understand.
If you pay mordida, YOU ARE PART OF THE PROBLEM, and police will continue to ask for it, especially on foreign plated vehicles.
We were stopped for a bogus speeding infraction leaving Monterrey a couple of years ago. You can read about it here... http://www.travelwithkevinandruth.com/2009/03/back-in-usa.html