Winning back public trust will need change of attitude by police

Extrajudicial killings and violence by police have made them the last people the public runs to

In Summary

•New IG Mutyambai should encourage them to cooperate with oversight agencies

•He should focus the reform programme on changing police attitude 

Police beat up member of the public
NO MORE TRUST: Police beat up member of the public
Image: FILE

The police are the most visible manifestation of government authority in any country. While being under enormous pressure by both state and non-state actors to counter the increasing wave of crime and the new threats to national security, the police must operate within the law and respect human rights at all times. Indeed, several reform initiatives targeted at the police in Kenya have been and continue to be subjects of discussion in several fora.

However, our police service is far from winning back the confidence and trust of the public and this is mainly due to police violence. A 2016 survey by Transparency International Kenya showed that 27 per cent of respondents in Nairobi and 22 per cent in Kisumu chose not to approach the police when they fell into a situation that required their intervention.

It follows that only in compelling and unavoidable circumstances would such people approach the police. The first phase of the police reform programme focused on four key areas: enactment of relevant legal and policy frameworks; building the institutional structure; enhancing professionalism, integrity and accountability; and strengthening operational preparedness, logistical capacity and capability.

For this phase, the Kenyan taxpayer parted with a staggering Sh184 billion, which development and recurrent expenditure of the police force. The second phase focused on building on the progress of the first phase. It is estimated that it will ultimately cost Sh95.5 billion. Enactment of relevant laws and establishment of new institutional structures are the only true achievement of the reform programme so far.

In addition to a renamed police force – National Police Service operating under a single command structure, two separate independent institutions have been established as part of the efforts to build a transparent and accountable police body; The National Police Service Commission and the Independent Policing Oversight Authority.

NPSC manages the human resource elements of the service including recruitment of new police officers and vetting of existing ones for suitability and competence. While it is the most visible and publicised function of the NPSC, the vetting process has been criticised for failing to weed out persistent violators of human rights from within the service.

Ipoa, on the other hand, serves as an external civilian oversight mechanism for the Kenyan police. More than anything else, non-cooperation from the police has previously been identified as one of the main impediments to the efforts by Ipoa to effectively discharge its mandate. The immediate former Inspector General of Police Joseph Boinett had directed police officers not allow Ipoa into police stations without his express authority.

Beyond the mere existence of new laws and institutions, there is little else for celebration. Independent assessments of the police reform programme have returned quite depressing verdicts. The programme has utterly failed to change the attitudes and habits of the police.

A joint report by the KNCHR and the Centre for Human Rights and Peace of the University of Nairobi 2015 found that the mindset and institutional culture of the police had not changed even though it acknowledged that the laws, policies and guidelines were relatively new.

With the appointment of the new Inspector General Hillary Mutyambai and the assumption of office by the new chairperson and commissioners of NPSC, the country must take a critical reflection on why the police reform programme thought to be the largest such initiative in Africa, is showing no meaningful indicators of success. The programme should be refocused to changing the behaviour and attitudes of the police.

Development communication specialist