ROGUE COPS

Empty platitudes won’t deter police crimes, discipline needed

Why has police impunity shot up? What makes custodians of the law violate it?

In Summary
  • From around 2013, the tide began to turn towards a reformed service. In my opinion, the creation of IPOA was a game changer.
  • However, of late, this level of accountability has become lulled and the robustness of the duty bearers, especially independent bodies, has come into question.
Justice Phillip Waki and members of the commission investigating the 2007-08 post-election violence tour the Kiambaa KAG Church in Eldoret on October 10, 2010.
Justice Phillip Waki and members of the commission investigating the 2007-08 post-election violence tour the Kiambaa KAG Church in Eldoret on October 10, 2010.
Image: FILE

The news has recently been filled with incidences of police officers being involved in crime. Over the past month, there have been more than 40 police officers arrested for crimes ranging from abduction, extortion, theft, robbery and killings.

This week alone eight officers have been arrested for executing and planning robberies. Also, this week, a very chilling statement in open court, by one of the people charged with the abduction, torture and murder of Willie Kimani and his companions, illustrated how rogue law enforcement offices can casually decide to commit heinous crimes, with very little regard to the law.

The Truth Justice and Reconciliation Report, Commission on Inquiry into Post-Election Violence and the Justice Philip Ransley - National Taskforce on Police Reforms, all recommended specific changes to ensure effective, lawful, accountable and human rights-based policing.

They included the streamlining of the police command structure and formations - which was finally done in September 2019; the independence of the leadership of the National Police Service to remove them from undue influence from the Executive; the formation of a civilian oversight body which was done in 2011 via the creation of Independent Policing Oversight Authority; and the formation of another body to deal with human resource issues.

To date, billions of shillings have been invested towards the police reform agenda. Furthermore, the number of officers has more than doubled in the past eight years to comply with UN guidelines on police to citizen ratio.

Which begs the question: Why has police impunity shot up? What makes custodians of the law violate it?

Any criminal infraction by an officer should result in thorough investigations by the Internal Affairs Unit or IPOA, dismissal, prosecution and imprisonment. The system of transferring problematic officers to other areas should cease. For this to happen, the culture of secrecy and silence should be done away with.

From around 2013, the tide began to turn towards a reformed service. In my opinion, the creation of IPOA was a game changer. For the first time, an independent body received and processed thousands of complaints against the police, investigated cases that precipitated prosecutions and convictions of rogue officers.

By December 2018, an OCS was convicted of murdering a suspect in custody, another officer was convicted for killing two brothers in Githurai, two police officers were convicted for killing their colleague in Kangemi, two others were convicted for killing a girl in Kilifi - among other cases.

Another factor was that, between 2013 and 2015, public police vetting was being robustly rolled out by the National Police Service Commission. It exposed intricate corruption networks and led to the sacking of many officers.

For the first time, justice seemed to be truly accessible for victims of an institution that was set up by the colonial regime and subsequent regimes to be law unto itself. It was proof that police reforms were indeed possible.

However, of late, this level of accountability has become lulled and the robustness of the duty bearers, especially independent bodies, has come into question. On IPOA’s part, there has been some disquiet about the way the institution is being run since the inaugural board left. CSOs recently called a press conference criticising the leadership wrangles within the board and called for action by the Departmental Committee on Administration and National Security of the National Assembly.

Regarding the NPSC, the sturdiness of vetting eventually fizzled out. Critics have posited that the vetting process was not sufficiently sustained and began to be opaque after the founding chairperson banned media coverage of certain vetting proceedings. The current leadership has since shelved the vetting and embarked on a new strategy of ‘praise in public and punish in private’. The commission seems to have abdicated its disciplinary role to the NPS.

For this tide to change, the relevant duty bearers need to go back to the spirit and letter of the Constitution. The NPS should be functionally and financially independent of the Executive to allow it to focus on safety and security of communities. For this to happen, the Inspector General of Police needs to be given Authority to Incur Expenses (AIE) to enable him plan, budget, allocate and reallocate resources effectively. Currently, the IGP relies on the Ministry of Interior for expenditure.

This independence should come with zero tolerance to indiscipline within the service. Any criminal infraction by an officer should result in thorough investigations by the Internal Affairs Unit or IPOA, dismissal, prosecution and imprisonment. The system of transferring problematic officers to other areas should cease. For this to happen, the culture of secrecy and silence should be done away with.

Policing should become community led, complemented with proper intelligence gathering and evidence-based interventions. It is only with community-buy-in that crime can be fought in all areas, including urban poor or far-flung areas that have historically had strained relationships with police.

Currently, the default by the Ministry of Interior, NPS and NPSC has been to blanketly defend the police to boost their collective morale - even as evidence mounts that excessive use of force, extortion, unlawful arrest and criminal activity by police has become the order of the day.

Instead, the new mantra by duty bearers should be command and individual responsibility. Kenyans understand that most officers are good and law abiding, however, bad elements now threaten to contaminate the entire basket.

Policing is a dangerous job that requires officers to abide by a strict code of conduct and the law because when the public loses respect and confidence in law enforcement, anarchy reigns.

Constitutional and human rights lawyer. [email protected]