August 21, 1998

                  Peru's women cleaning up traffic chaos, corruption

                       LIMA, Peru (AP) -- Calm amid traffic chaos, Lima policewoman
                  Miriam Diaz waves over an aging taxi that has sputtered past a stop signal.

                  With a no-nonsense expression, she ignores a bribe and hands the driver a
                  ticket -- part of a women-driven revolution of honesty taking place on Lima's streets.

                  The government hopes to use Peruvians' perception that women are more
                  honest than men to clean up the image of a police force so corrupt that many
                  officers overlook traffic infractions for bribes as small as a dollar, about the
                  cost of a candy bar.

                         President Alberto Fujimori has announced that all of Lima's 2,500
                  traffic officers will be women by July 1999.
                        Some 25 percent of Lima's traffic police are already women, and these
                  first recruits have earned a reputation among drivers as unbribable.

                       "The women are more honest and morally firm than the men. It's
                  undeniable," said Cmdr. Pedro Montoya, who is training an all-woman
                  motorcycle brigade.

                  Bribes taken to supplement meager income

                  Lima is a sprawling city of 7 million on Peru's coastal desert.

                  Huge growth in the number of cars in recent years has swamped its traffic
                  and police services, creating some of the world's most disordered traffic.

                  Public reaction to the female officers has been largely positive.

                  Traffic police earn about $200 a month, a pauper's wage in Lima, where the
                  minimal survival income for a family of five is $300. Their poverty has led
                  police to view bribes as a part of their income.

                  Male officers are known to pull cars over en masse before holidays to extort
                  gift-buying money and sell tickets to non-existent barbecues. Drivers refuse
                  to buy the tickets at their own risk.

                  "The old police were only interested in collecting money to buy lunch. The
                  women seem more concerned with doing the job," said veteran taxi driver
                  Juan Ignacio. "But let's wait to see if they stay that way."

                  Women officers seek respect

                  A recent study showed that two of three Peruvians view women as both
                  more honest and less authoritarian than men. The study by the private
                  company Imasen polled 1,150 people in Peru's three largest cities in March
                  with a margin of error of 5 percent.

                  Diaz, her jet-black hair cut short, is proud of her job. She wears a dark
                  green skirt, coat, cap and black boots. A bright orange reflector vest saying
                  "Policia" identifies her as a policewoman.

                  "Most of the women become police officers to wear the uniform and get
                  respect," said Diaz, 26 Officers assigned to the street usually come from
                  Peru's poor majority.

                  Montoya says he thinks the women are more honest because of their role as
                  heads of the family in deeply Catholic Peru and their aversion to taking
                  money from male drivers, which they see as resembling prostitution.

                  "Women police officers take the job more seriously, perhaps because they
                  are breaking ground in a male bastion," said sociologist Cecilia Blondet.

                  A police school on the outskirts of Lima will graduate 300 female cadets in
                  October and 1,500 more in 1999, school director Col. Javier Caballero
                  said. Male officers will be transferred to different departments.

                  Drivers ignore Lima's few traffic rules

                  The women will face a tough task improving the corrupt force's image.

                  More than 1,000 cops were kicked off the police force as a whole for
                  corruption in 1995 alone. Dozens more were arrested for kidnapping, armed
                  robbery and other crimes.

                  Another daunting task will be bringing order to Lima's law-of-the-jungle

                  Drivers accustomed to avoiding tickets with a small bribe routinely ignore the
                  few posted rules on Lima's roads.

                  Motorists roar past stop signs and red lights and make left turns from three
                  lanes over, cutting off two lanes of traffic.

                  Motorcyclists drive down sidewalks, scattering pedestrians. Lane markings
                  serve no apparent purpose.

                  "The women officers have a lot to teach us men about respecting the law,"
                  Montoya said.

                     Copyright 1998   The Associated Press.