Tag Archives: Kenya Police

An Open Letter to the Inspector General of the Kenya Police Service, Brig. Boinet

Belated congratulations to your new appointment dear sir. With over thirty years experience in the force, you are as much a police insider as can be. You know all that ails the force first-hand: the solutions as well as the priorities.

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Inspector General of Police Boinet (right) with President Uhuru at State House Nairobi

However, Inspector, your kind of experience may be a blindfold. We humans tend to get numb to our problems over time. The only true consolation at the demise of a loved one, for instance, is the passage of time. Having worked in the force for three decades, you may no longer feel the force’s inadequacies as sharply as a new recruit or an outsider observer. Police welfare is amongst the worst of any public employees. Your charges lack proper housing, personal protective equipment and proper health insurance in a long list of other basics. New entrants into the force find these inadequacies difficult to adapt to. Many of those who turn their guns against themselves or colleagues are police officers newly confronted by these difficult inconveniences.

With the passage of time, those who stay in long enough (like you have) numb and learn to cope. Corruption in your force is mostly driven by the need to meet these most basic of necessities: decent housing, transportation to work, family investments should one die in the line of duty and above all, a living wage.

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Police housing in Moyale near the Somali border.

As a senior officer, you have already taken care of these pressing needs at a personal level. Inadvertently or intentionally, you probably consider the process of adapting to these inadequacies as some unofficial mark of pedigree or rite of passage. That is why it will be vital that you seek out and listen to voices from outside as much as those from within. You may wish to consider the following four suggestions from an outsider whose only qualification for advising you is curious informal observation of other countries’ forces and a burning love for Kenya. All the four are long-term proposals that will need inter-ministerial collaborations within government.

First, the process of joining the police force (and the other security forces) needs to change. It has been a long while since the colonial times when the White man lined us up to look at the completeness of our teeth or absence of scars as qualification to joining the forces. The society is more educated and crime is more sophisticated. We need not prevent our best students from joining the forces if they so choose. Why can we not advertise vacancies in the forces in the dailies and invite applications from all interested individuals who meet high physical and academic entry criteria? We can have a central admission committee that receives applications, prepares a shortlist and interviews applicants in an open fair process. Since competition is bound to be high, the interview can include oral presentations as well as written exams on contemporary general security issues, an aptitude test and targeted physical tests. Anyone who goes through this is not only passionate but also fit for service.

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Police recruits undergoing a casual physical examination.

This new crop of officers will be beholden to their country rather than godfathers in the force. Obviously, they will need to be paid well, housed properly and well equipped for the job once they graduate from the police college. Not all will make it to Kiganjo, but those who do not will provide a better recruitment pool for the private security companies; many of which employ people who cannot grasp any of the security challenges of today’s Kenya.

Second on the list are our police stations. Police stations across the country sit on some of the most prime real estate. Sadly though, these prime properties have been turned into junkyards. The police force loses threefold in the current setup:  a poor image, loss of revenue for the free secure storage of junk and the opportunity cost of putting the land to a more economically productive use. Inspector, you can achieve value from these prime city plots by first decluttering all them of junk. It is the insurance companies’ responsibility to store damaged vehicles as investigations continue. To preserve evidence, the police force can go digital. Employ the services and equipment of crime scene investigators who will archive the scene and relevant pieces of evidence on digital media and in forensic labs. The accident vehicles can then be towed to designated storage yards at the insurance companies’ cost. Such vehicles may be released to their owners or insurance companies as soon as the police are satisfied they are of no evidence value or the cases settled.

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The front yard (occasionally backyard) of a typical police station.

After decluttering stations of junk, sir, you need to reconsider the citing of cells. To many Kenyans, the police station is an informal jail. This is because police temporary holding cells are an earshot away from the front service desk. Why not have cells off the police station, or at least in a separate isolated block away from the service desk?  Take hospitals for instance, they keep the mortuary out of site of patients and other clients. A force that seeks to improve its relationship with the public must not only act friendly but also appear so.  Most stations have enough land that can inventively be redesigned to make them places of refuge that they should be. Many are large enough to house high-rise police housing apartments, a school, a dispensary, a small playground for officers and their families and neat offices for serving the public. In many countries, a visit to the police station is similar to a visit to the bank or clinic on the next block down the street. No images of tonnes of rusting twisted junk, no sound of commotion from the cells next door, well-lit airy rooms, friendly officers and resting grounds. We need not fear ourselves, police or civilians as we both share a common spirit of a safe secure Kenya.

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Albany Police Department in Georgia, US.

The third proposal touches on police roadblocks. Inspector, you have manned a roadblock at one point. You know what happens at these mostly illegal barriers. As a first act, please publish a list of all the gazetted roadblocks across the country and denounce all others. By empowering citizens with this information, you will have pulled the rug from under the feet of errant officers who spring roadblocks at their convenience. However, beyond publishing the legal roadblocks, you will need to creatively make sure that non-compliance to the law pains the offender and rewards the enforcer. Currently, it makes little sense for a scrupulous police officer who enforces the law to the letter and collects millions of funds in fines for the state yet their pay remains a pittance and working conditions an abuse. It is possible to sanitize corruption by making sure that a percentage of the fine collected will be due to the officer enforcing the law. This will directly reward officers who work diligently and progressively discourage petty offenses like speeding and carrying excess passengers. Needless to add, the police must be equipped accordingly with gadgets that will collect irrefutable evidence of all alleged crimes. Body cameras and radar guns are some of such equipment already in use elsewhere.

President Uhuru launching 175cc traffic police motorbikes. These are short-life, low power and low maintenance bikes in the class range of boda bodas. Meanwhile, VIP escort police ride state of the art high powered bikes for the pompous service of small elite.

Finally, police welfare is sorely lacking in many areas. By virtue of their job, police officers put their lives on the line for the rest of us. Naturally, the government ought to take care of police officers and their families both during the officers’ lives and upon their death in the line of duty. The ongoing police housing project is welcome but it is moving at snail pace. Many officers still live in squalid conditions. Police need their own schools, transport to work, dispensaries and convenience stores within their housing estates. With proper planning, vetted citizens can share some of these amenities (like schools and clinics) at a fee. It is possible to have souvenir and gift stores and police museums at major police stations: selling branded merchandise like t-shirts, key rings, umbrellas, mugs, caps, etc and telling the heroic tales and history of our police through artifacts, mementos, documentaries and lectures. This serves a dual purpose; it raises revenue for police welfare while blending the public and police together.

A souvenir mug from the NYPD

It is said that when you are the bottom, the only way to go is up. Our police force has so much to do to improve itself for the benefit its workers and the country at large. It begins with an understanding that police are currently working in less than humane conditions. These conditions have made our otherwise gallant officers easy target for bribery and mental conditions like suicide and depression to the detriment of the society in general. Inspector General, make it enviable and rewarding to serve in the Kenya Police Service.

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Do These Lives Count for a Thing?

On the morning of September 11 2001, the United States of America woke up to what remains one of the most atrocious acts of terror on civilians. In a span of minutes, nearly 3000 people lay dead following the multiple airline hijackings and suicide crashing. That day is immortalized in history.

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Aftermath of 9/11 at the World Trade Centre

Even more enduring are the changes that occurred in the wake of the attacks. Not only has airline transportation practise changed worldwide, internal national US security, immigration, banking finance, foreign policy and military practise have all been affected in one way or another.

Two months after the attacks, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) was established with the core mandate of securing US transport systems; focussing on air transport. This mandate was later emboldened through the establishment of an entirely new Department of Homeland Security one year later. Twelve years on, airline and passenger safety in the US is a near-impregnable multi-layer behemoth system that spans the globe. There has been no repeat of the ignominious events of 9/11.

In achieving this feat, new laws were crafted and zealously implemented. New institutions were established with the mandate and wherewithal to achieve their specified objectives. Investment in new technology, training of personnel and public education have all been components of an all-out commitment to prevent, pre-empt and manage the next 9/11.

The raison d’être for these sweeping changes would be the sanctity and value of human life. There is no greater wealth to any nation than the lives of her people. Indeed, people are to a nation what good health is to an individual. The loss of a single life anywhere invariably shatters many other lives. Children are orphaned, spouses are widowed, parents bereaved and friendships cut short. The direct loss of productivity of the deceased and their grieving social circle cannot be quantified. Attendant expenses in emergency response, treatment, rehabilitation and funerals only make the pain and cost of avoidable death unbearable.

In Kenya, we live through a 9/11 on our roads every year! I have never lost a close relation in a road accident but lost my own dad to a fatal stroke. The sudden emptiness that engulfed the entire household remains palpable one year on. Each time the now regular road crashes grab the headlines; I cannot help but feel the pain, agony and anguish the families of the victims bear. It baffles me how the authorities charged with road safety live with their conscience through crash after crash to an annual tally of well over 3000 Kenyans! Thomas Jefferson’s words that, “The purpose of government is to enable the people of a nation to live in safety and happiness” ring hollow in these circumstances.

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An accident scene in Kenya

Unlike in the US where the loss of 3000 lives marked a turning point of global significance, our departed kin die in vain year in, year out.  Are we just numb to the sheer pain of fellow citizens? Or are our own goals in life too grand for us to care about them? Alternatively, is it lost on us that this untamed beast will come calling on us or kin sooner rather than later? Still, are our lives of lesser value even before our own eyes?

We still grapple with (and lose invaluable lives in the process) the same old failures that make our roads unsafe. The number one determinant of all road fatalities remains speed yet the enforcement of the law on this single factor remains in limbo. Driver aptitude is roundly recognised as equally significant but we have not made even baby steps in reforming training, empowering and educating current drivers or even consistently punishing errant behaviour. Whenever we flex some muscle, it is usually an uncoordinated, limited and short-lived reflexive jolt in response to the latest tragedy. A common spectacle in those moments is the inspection of public service vehicles by the roadside. One wonders how such inspections appraise components like brakes, lights, wipers, emissions and so on. Pointedly, the focus is usually on licences, body paintwork, extra passengers, tyres and other such easily apparent failings. The irony is that in a spectacular misapplication of technology, drivers whose vehicles are found at fault are instantly fined, pay their fees on the spot and proceed in their death shells!

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An impromptu roadside vehicle inspection in Kenya

The ‘hero’ medal in today’s airline safety goes to the passenger (especially in the US). Even before one’s flight, one could already be on a ‘flight watch-list’.  Then there is the ever growing list of prohibited items to check. Even those items allowed must be in certain quantities and packaging. A one hundred per cent baggage inspection means baggage must bear special or no locks lest they be broken into for one’s own safety. At the airport, traditional terminal car parks are now replaced by drop-off zones. Armed and uniformed military personnel are at hand and cameras record entire termini. Then there is the full-body scan by x-ray machines and so-called pat downs by TSA officers. Meanwhile, shoes get a dedicated x-ray session as one tugs on barefoot. As if that were not enough, the person on the seat next to you could be a trained security officer planted there for your safety.

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A typical full-body airport x-ray scan image.

Such is the seriousness with which life is guarded. Many passengers do not exactly love the ritual that air travel has become in the wake of 9/11 but they neither do they loathe it. Instead, most see it as necessary inconvenience whose dividends are too valuable to wish away. This understanding has partly been achieved not only by complete and constant communication with passengers, but also by co-opting passengers as stakeholders in the safety/security war. Even more important, a legal framework ensures everyone in the process plays their bit professionally and efficiently.

Back on our Kenyan roads, while passengers generally understand the basic safety regulations like seat-belts, non-speeding and safe loading, there has not been a demonstration of a compelling commitment on their part to these requirements. Too often, passengers board full buses for the selfish (nay foolish) expediency of saving time. In hospital beds, passengers recount tales of speeding or otherwise reckless drivers whom they did nothing about.  Our losses on the roads have continued to be directly borne only by those immediately affected. As a result, a pervasive tolerance to this carnage has made sure the rest of us do not do our part in transportation vigilance until it is our turn to bear the loss.

The authorities need to empower passengers to report safety abuses by acting decisively on all reports. While the police have a particularly heavy legal responsibility to instill discipline on errant road users, we citizens bear the ultimate responsibility. If the police will not do their part, we should be selfish enough to demand better. Our safety is for the most part for our own individual good. It is now obvious not one of the numerous public officers whose job is to enforce road safety looses sleep over a road crash. At least you should give your safety a second thought and ultimately some action. It’s your life!

Michael Bane writes in his book Trail Safe: Averting Threatening Human Behavior in the Outdoors, “Risk is the increased consequence of failure.” We have made our roads risky by that which we fail to do. As a pedestrian, maintain your wits about you while by the roadside or crossing the road. As a passenger, ask the speeding driver to slow down and do it over until you feel safe. Other passengers may find you a nuisance but make no apologies for being safe. Wear your seat belt if provided. Do not board when there is no seat for you. Be selfish and jealously take guard of your life. Should you be the driver, common sense, traffic rules and courtesy should be your mantra behind the wheel. Even if you believe in an after-life, your family and loved ones cherish your presence more in this life. Should you fail to honor your duty to safety, like the over 3000 lives lost on the road in Kenya this year, your life will be lost in vain.

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An accident victim in a Kenyan hospital