Claims of bias, unclear command and poor leadership plague security service

Sunday July 5 2015

Inspector-General of Police Joseph Boinnet inspects a guard of honour at Parklands police station on June 30, 2015. PHOTO | JEFF ANGOTE

Inspector-General of Police Joseph Boinnet inspects a guard of honour at Parklands police station on June 30, 2015. Whereas senior officers in the police service have complained about the collapse of the command structure, their juniors protest that their bosses are fleecing them, especially when they are sent to hardship areas like Baringo. PHOTO | JEFF ANGOTE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

By MUTUMA MATHIU
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Top police commanders are demanding “drastic action” to save what they say is a top-heavy, dangerously demoralised and poorly led service.

Police bosses, who broke their oath of office to brief the Daily Nation about their concerns, said the command structures of the service have broken down, discipline is fast disappearing and there is total chaos in the ranks.

“The Kenya Police Service is like a woman in labour,” one top commander said starkly. He and his colleagues said action must be taken urgently to ensure protection of the public.

Rivalries between commanders, coupled with corruption and tribalism, low morale and weak leadership have brought the Kenya Police to its knees, they said.

Matters have been made worse by the bad blood between the Director of Criminal Investigations, Mr Ndegwa Muhoro and the Deputy Inspector-General, Ms Grace Kaindi. Their rivalry has threatened to paralyse the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI).

“The DCI can’t promote officers because they are not allowed into Kiganjo (police training college). They are also not being issued with uniforms, they have been told to use their own money,” revealed one top officer, who asked not to be named for fear of prosecution for violating police secrecy rules. Before being created as a separate entity, the DCI was an integral part of the police service.

At the top leadership level, the Inspector-General of Police, Mr Joseph Boinnet, does not appear to have taken full charge of the complex and troubled institution which is also plagued by inadequate resources.

“We met as senior officers to welcome him. He told us: ‘Tell your people there is a new madman in town and he does not want to hear these issues of corruption’,” one officer said. “He kept looking down. He was either intimidated because of his junior rank or he lacks confidence.”

Mr Boinnet met senior officers on March 20 at the police headquarters and also at the DCI headquarters at Mazingira House.

The police boss was a Senior Superintendent of Police before he was transferred to the National Intelligence Service where he rose to the position of Assistant Director.

CRIMINAL ENTERPRISE

In interviews, top commanders painted a picture of an institution which is slowly turning into a criminal enterprise where tribalism, favouritism and the search for bribes has replaced the vaunted motto of providing service to all, Utumumishi Kwa Wote.

Commanders feel no sense of responsibility. That is why money intended for officers on operation in dangerous parts of the country, rarely reaches them. The joke is that when officers are sent to hardship areas like Kapedo or Garissa, they are deployed without rations and have to shoot porcupines for dinner.

The problems plaguing the services, it would appear, are too numerous. First, there are many senior officers who have no duties and who report to Vigilance House every day to read newspapers and idle.

“These are people with dangerous skills,” the officer warned. But there is work to be done in the force, which makes the reluctance to deploy them all the more bizarre.

“We are creating unnecessary vacuums within the service,” he said.

However, the Deputy Inspector-General of Police, Ms Grace Kaindi, denied the claims, saying all senior officers had been allocated duties.

Officers also said there is lack of coordination with many top commanders saying that they had failed to neutralise major security threats. Performance of the police during major incidents is also not subjected to scrutiny.

“There was never a review meeting on how we handled incidents,” said the officer. As a result, the police service has basically learnt nothing from Westgate, Garissa, Mpeketoni and others.

The old “cop cons” — the large conferences bringing together all commanders and which were convened by the commissioner and during which issues were aired and orders given — are no longer convened. As a result, the service is adrift, without a sense of purpose or commitment with individuals largely left to fend for themselves.

The service also made a mess of the reforms to the disadvantage of senior officers, leading to discontent and despair. Many at the apex of command talk longingly of “kumaliza”, a euphemism for attaining the retirement age in the hope of earning their terminal benefits.

Whereas top commanders created the conditions they are now complaining of — many of them clearly contributed to destroying the fabric of the force — the fact that they are talking of disaffection among them is a warning that cannot be ignored.

Besides low morale at the highest levels of leadership, favouritism, tribalism and possibly incompetence in the implementation reforms have undermined the order of seniority in the service. The police service is rigidly hierarchical and seniority of service and rank are revered.

“Unless you have worked for it, through indiscipline or laziness, you should never be overtaken (by your juniors),” is the way one policeman put it.

The assignment of rank from the old system to the new one, according to some officers, has been arbitrary and unfair. Some have been demoted without explanation, others found themselves in the same rank with their juniors, especially after two ranks — Assistant Commissioner of Police and Senior Assistant Commissioner of Police — were collapsed into one rank, that of Commissioner of Police.

An example is given of Assistant Commissioners of Police Eunice Kihiko, Alice Naliaka and Myriam Muli. Ms Naliaka and Ms Muli were assigned the new title of Assistant Inspector General, but Ms Kihiko was taken a rank lower to Commissioner of Police.
“Do these new ranks mean anything? What do they mean?” one officer asked.

The police service did not explain the discrepancy. However, the Nation learnt that 62 officers who were former Senior Assistant Commissioners of Police and Assistant Commissioners of Police were all made commissioners. Only 35 were appointed to the position of Assistant I-Gs.

According to one source, some officers have been confronted with the reality of having to salute for colleagues who were their juniors only months earlier.

Because of unfair assignment of rank, insiders said, there has been a break down of what police call “forced respect”, the requirement that you respect your superior at all times. Many previously senior officers find it impossible to respect superior officers who either did not earn that seniority or were previously their juniors.

Some officers believe that the implementation of reforms, which were intended to reduce political influence and fight corruption within the force by making it accountable, have contributed to the weakening of the force and its command structures.

Sasa tunataka kumaliza twende (We are just waiting for retirement we go home),” one senior officer said.

NEW CHALLENGE

The merger of the regular and Administration police units has also posed a new challenge.

“The two shall never be one,” the senior officer said. The AP and the police are trained to do different things. In the regular police, an officer has to go back to college for further training before moving to the next rank. Thus, a Constable must be retrained before he can be promoted to Corporal and all gazetted officers have a special course.

“With the AP, you just get a brown envelope. You are with someone in the evening, in the morning their shoulders are weighed down by ranks,” the officer said.

Regular police look down on their AP counterparts whom they claim were recruited “from the Kanu youth band”.

Even transfers across formations are an issue. Regular police accuse their counterparts from the General Service Unit of being responsible for brutality in the force because they no longer take the conversion course they used to which allowed them to fit in civilian environments.

“They are trained to fight and they do it very well,” said the officer.

The unstated explanation for a lot of the irrational command decisions appears to be the facilitation of access to the largesse of corruption from the public. Thus many GSU officers have been deployed among regular police officers basically so that they, too, can eat.

The AP, who were generally treated as servants by their bosses in the provincial administration wanted more dignified work. They are now deployed alongside regular officers, though they have different uniforms and are trained to fight in the jungles.

“It is not clear what the duties of the AP are,” the officer said.

This has given rise to the most serious of all problems: command confusion. In the old system, the Officer Commanding Police Division was the ranking officer in that district. He was senior to everyone else and called the shots. Today, nobody knows who the boss is.

There are three bosses in every county: one from the AP, another from the regular police and a third one from the Directorate of Criminal Investigations. The regular police boss has more responsibilities and may be required to command the others, but he is not necessarily the most senior officer.

In Narok, the County Commander is a Senior Superintendent of Police, the AP boss is an Assistant Commissioner of Police.

Sasa nani atapangia mwingine kazi? (who will assign the other duties?)” the officer asked.

But the worst resentment is reserved for the National Police Service Commission.

“They missed the point. They were supposed to be the voice of the service,” the officer said.

Top commanders feel humiliated and disrespected by the way the vetting has been conducted. They also feel the entire purpose of the process has been lost. Part of the rationale for vetting, they argued, was to make sure that the commanders had the skills and competence to do the job. But they feel they are just being vetted on the contents of their bank accounts.

“Where in this world have you ever seen police officers being put on the (TV) screen in front of your wife, your children and anyone who matters to you?” the officer asked.

Commanders are also bitter that no one pays attention to their service record, with all questions at vetting being about money.

Additional reporting by Fred Mukinda