Why We Need to Overhaul the Police Service in Kenya
The Kenyan media reports cases of (alleged) members of the police service in Kenya shooting suspected criminals regularly. One of the usual narratives is that the suspect had a gun and the police had to retaliate. Another common narrative is that the cops shot the suspects to prevent them from escaping.
These killings have become so common that society sees them as a normal thing. This is the same society that glorifies mob justice for suspected criminals.
Yet, we rarely hear about the police service in Kenya being accountable for the shootings in their line of duty. The law provides strict guidelines on the use of firearms by police officers. The National Police Service Act contains these guidelines and is very clear about how police officers should handle their firearms.
A police officer should only result in using their firearms in two circumstances:
- to save or protect the life of the officer or another person; and
- to defend themselves or another person against the impending threat of life or serious injury.
When the killings are extrajudicial, they are done without the sanction of the law or the courts. When police officers result in using such jungle tactics, they set a bad precedent that the law does not matter. That killing with impunity is the way to go.
Extrajudicial killings by police are similar to mob-justice by the public. Both occur outside the law and have no regard for consequences. Those who commit the acts regard themselves as the judge, jury, and executioner. They also signify broken or rotten systems of justice and people’s lack of faith in them.
In Kenya, we have many laws that we can describe as good. However, the political and social goodwill to implement these laws is lacking. Moreover, we have so many good institutional frameworks in theory, but in practice, many of them are rotten and dysfunctional from within.
The police service in Kenya is one of the institutions that is rotten to the core. Annually, it is among the institutions on the list of the most corrupt institutions in the country.
The corruption of the police service in Kenya is not only in terms of material things. It also involves the deterioration of values and ethics. The highest moral and ethical corruption is when a police officer deems it fit to shoot an unarmed suspect in broad daylight.
Extrajudicial killings affect the youth in low-income neighbourhoods are the most. These neighbourhoods include those of Mathare, Kayole, and Dandora in Nairobi. There is even a Facebook group where alleged police officers using pseudonyms post pictures of criminal suspects they have slain.
The civil society organizes several forums in these neighbourhoods to give the affected families a voice. The stories the affected families share are the only voices that they have to express. They only have memories of loved ones shot by police officers just because the officers (mis)took them for criminals and without subjecting them to the rule of law.
Everyone understands police officers are human beings. They also have their difficulties and they face danger in their jobs. Criminals, terrorists, and bandits have killed many in the line of duty. Every Kenyan should also care about their lives when they are out there protecting us.
Despite that, there is a sense of responsibility that comes with being a member of the police service in Kenya.
As Queen Ifrica says in Serve and Protect, only criminal elements alone hate the law. When people are not with you (the police), the criminals applaud. That is why the police service in Kenya needs to think first before they draw their guns or shoot. Just as the first duty of any citizen is to support the law, then it is the duty of the police officer to uphold the law.
The law is also very clear that when the use of firearms results in death, serious injury and other grave consequences, the police should report to IPOA. The Independent Policing Oversight Authority (IPOA) gives the public a recourse against misconduct or injustices caused by a police officer.
However, IPOA at the moment is a toothless bulldog that just barks but does not bite. It is bad that even parliament has tried to undermine IPOA’s authority by amending the law to deny the body powers to investigate errant police officers.
Nevertheless, it is important to bring sanity to the police service in Kenya. We only hear about police reforms but the government never puts them into action. It is time to demand these reforms to start working in full.
A police officer should always be sane when doing their work. Being a police officer should be a task that an officer takes seriously to accord each person justice. To finish in the words of Queen Ifrica, our police force needs CPR or the wound will end up leaving a scar. Many of us have already faced or seen the scars already.