Crack police units are again under the spotlight after undercover officers were captured on camera shooting dead suspects they had arrested in full glare of the public.
Images of the shooting on a busy Nairobi street formed the subject of conversation at home with debate for and against the specialised units which are in the frontline of the fight against armed criminals.
Emerging details show that the suspects who were photographed lying down before they were shot dead, had for some time been on the radar of the Flying Squad and the Special Crime Prevention Unit (SCPU).
The Flying Squad, which coordinated the operation, rose from a tiny team to become one of the elite units of the police mandated to pursue hardened criminals involved in armed crimes such as robberies and carjackings.
In recent years, this has included tracking down a growing number of kidnapping rings as well members of organised criminal gangs, notably Mungiki.
A police officer who once served in the Flying Squad but who cannot be quoted as he is not authorised to speak to the media spoke to the Saturday Nation on Friday about operations unique to the unit.
It is well known that unlike the regular units, its officers travel in unmarked cars. What might not be immediately obvious is that their car registration number plates are changed many times over.
The plates range from local and international ones, all in a bid to shake off any would be criminals monitoring their operations.
“The operations require a hardened officer as working long hours, traversing the whole country mostly at night is an ordinary day’s work,” he said.
The officer added: “We were only deployed to an area where others had failed yet we were expected to get results immediately. Clear the offending gang.”
The officer also said: “The most difficult thing was to penetrate criminal gangs. We used informers and almost all of them acted as double agents. If you were not careful, they would betray you to criminals. Most of our targets are the kind that are ready shoot rather than be arrested.”
At present, many of its officers are drawn from the General Service Unit (GSU), a departure from its earlier years when its core team consisted of detectives from the Criminal Investigations Department (CID).
It was established at the city’s Parklands police station in 1995, consisting of handful officers with orders to bring down rising cases of carjackings and armed robberies.
And as criminals ventured out of the city due to increased police activity, the unit was expanded with new headquarters in Pangani and a base at Makuyu.
The latter was selected because criminals running away from the city were carjacking vehicles on the Nairobi–Makutano stretch.
Mr Munga Nyale, a seasoned detective is in charge of the unit that last moved its main office to the Nairobi Area police headquarters at Milimani.
At present, it has a core team of about 60 officers at the headquarters, with detachments at the country’s crime hotspots, bringing the total to about 300.
The detachments are at Karatina, Makuyu, Nakuru, Kisumu and Mombasa. Karatina base for example, has a team of five officers headed by an Inspector of police and their area of jurisdiction extends to Meru region.
Flying Squad, also known as the anti-motor vehicle theft unit, was overhauled in 2006 when GSU officers made an entry and its then commander, Mr Peter Oduori was replaced by Mr Musa Yego.
Some of the senior officers who have headed the unit since it was established are Sebastian Njiru who now heads the Anti-narcotics unit, Nyaga Reche, Elias Peter Oduori, Musa Yego, Julius Ole Sunkuli and the incumbent Gideon Nyale Munga.
The unit operates within the whole country, as their jurisdiction is not limited.
Other units under CID include the Flying Squad, Banking Fraud Investigations Unit, the Special Crime Investigations Unit, Antiterrorism Police Unit, Anti-narcotics Unit, Ballistics and Forensic Unit, Investigations Unit and the Economic and Commercial Crime Unit.
Experts have sought to explain why a big number of Kenyans seemed to support gunning down suspected criminals arrested by the police.
Responses from the internet and radio calling in programmes were drawn from exclusive photos and a story in the Nation in which police were caught on camera shooting the suspects dead.
Psychiatrist Frank Njenga said the reactions represent a society beleaguered by high crime levels.
“It shows they are fed up with high crime levels. It shows a situation of desperate times calling for desperate measures. I don’t think they are saying breaking the law is good. It’s like a drowning person who will hold onto anything even if it’s not of help,” he said.
However, another big proportion of readers condemned saying that suspects should be tried in court.
Dr Njenga also said: “By the time people start attacking a policeman or killing an officer, the population feels desperate. Anyone who threatens a police officer is an enemy, that what Kenyans are saying.”
He was referring to recent incidents in which a traffic policeman was attacked and seriously by a lorry driver in a bid to resist arrest.
In another incident, a station commander in Nairobi was shot and his firearm snatched by gangsters.