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TOP COMMAND DENIES

Killer squad Hessy targets gangsters freed on bond, say police sources

Says it was created post-2010 when the country was experiencing increased sporadic terrorist attacks,

In Summary

•Insiders say Hessy is a unit of police officers to purposely deal with young criminals.

•Social media pages have mugshots of suspects who are warned to reform or taste the bullet.

Part of Dandora Estate.
Part of Dandora Estate.
Image: FILE

The dreaded police killer squad popularly known as Hessy is meticulously organised and purposely outfitted to be mysterious and brutal, an investigation by the Star can now reveal. 

Its operatives work in slums and densely populated estates of Nairobi, in particular, Kibera, Dandora, Mathare and Kayole. 

The Hessys (crime busters) appear on social media like Facebook with encrypted names but they are felt on the ground when a member of the public - explained as a [armed] criminal is felled.

In social media, the crime busters are identified as Hessy wa Dandora, Hessy wa Kayole, Hessy wa Majengo, Hessy wa Eastleigh, Kibera, among others. 

Not much is known about the group. But how do they work?

Police spokesman Charles Owino did not respond to our calls and text messages. Equally, the Independent Police Oversight Authority declined to confirm or deny the existence of the police unit. After two weeks of waiting, a source at the authority told the Star off the record that its board “ordered that no comment be made on the subject because it is really sensitive.”

Created post-2010

Sources with the inside knowledge about the working of the crime busters, but who declined to be named, disclosed that the Hessy's are made up of officers from various police units to purposely be ruthless in combating crime.

"The unit was created post-2010 when the country was experiencing increased sporadic terrorist attacks. If you remember this time, criminals used to hurl hand grenades and plant light explosives in strategic public spaces, injuring scores when they went off," a source said, adding that "they did this to attract government attention and disturb the public."

The crime rate was surging at the time mainly in the ghetto areas, he told the Star.

This was corroborated by another source, who said, "It is post-2010 when terrorism in the country was on a trajectory, from the home-made IEDs to the major terror incidents of 2013 and 2015 moving forward. Action needed to be taken.”

The top police command has denied the existence of Hessy or a coordinated police outfit for crime busters. 

Last November, the former Inspector General of police Joseph Boinnet told the media no such group exists, insisting that "the person behind the Facebook accounts is not a police officer, but [a civilian] passionate about security matters."

Director of Criminal Investigations George Kinoti told a public forum on extrajudicial exterminations and police brutality in Kayole last month that he does not know of any group called Hessy.

Another source said the unit exists.  "It, in fact, operates undercover, that even others [in the system] do not know [about it]." 

How they work

"The group operates under a unit code of SPIV," he said, without elaborating on the meaning of the code.

"Their work is to follow up on police OBs and identify those who have been booked severally on criminal allegations. They then monitor the progress of their cases in court," he told the Star.

With the operationalisation of the 2010 Constitution, an accused person is often freed on bond or bail. This vexes law enforcement because they get back to the community and "sustain their devious character". 

The source, who also chose to be anonymous, continued, "Members of this unit are out on a singular objective; to eliminate any notorious thug who the Judiciary cannot isolate and stop harassing members of the public." 

He explained that the unit finds it useful to engage the youth through social media because "through this, we are sure they get to see the warnings and how their accomplices or counterparts get to meet their fate."

The Hessy pages tend to have mugshots of suspected criminals. They are warned to reform or else "you will meet this big thing." The 'thing' in reference is normally decoded to mean the bullet. Photos of the bodies of "criminals" felled by the "big thing" are uploaded.

Conflict with human rights defenders

Human rights defenders are perceived to be a hindrance to Hessy work. Their pictures are uploaded in the Hessy wa Dandora page with the warning to 'watch their back'. 

Wilfred Olal, the coordinator of the Dandora Community Justice Centre and convener of the social justice working group, printed pages with faces of the human rights defenders and the accompanying warnings and presented them to the DCI during the Kayole meeting.

Gacheke Gachihi, the coordinator of the Mathare Social Justice Centre, told the Star that the undercover officers have had serious conflicts with the human rights activists. 

"I have been a victim of having my portrait uploaded on the Hessy pages and a warning that we'll be dealt with for sympathising with criminals," he said. 

Case in point

The insider earlier referred to told the Star that the case in point was the 2017 Eastleigh incident in which three police officers shot dead two young men who had surrendered and were lying on the ground.

“In that case, our colleagues in the unit had clear instructions to execute the two thugs. The two youths were members of a notorious gang in Kayole that had terrorised the area and even killed an officer,” he said.

He added, "In the ensuing pressure of human rights activism and media spotlight, the police bosses ensured that the officers involved, whose actions were covered in a video clip and circulated on social media, were given sufficient protection."

“Every trace that could lead to the colleagues was erased, with the CCTV footages destroyed,” he claimed.

Former Nairobi police boss Japheth Koome, when confronted about the shootings, said bullishly, “I buried a corporal from Kayole yesterday. The same gangsters shot dead another officer yesterday. Tell all gangsters out there that when they kill an officer, I am ruthless and they will get it from me. And you can quote me on that.”

The chilling warning was promptly denied, with police operatives maintaining that the video clips were “manufactured by tech-savvy people to besmirch the police.”