Police force must rid itself of brutal image

Saturday February 16 2019

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Two court rulings this week graphically illustrated the level of police brutality and the dire need to intensify reforms in the service. One, a Nairobi court delivered the death sentence to former Ruaraka Police Station commander Nahashon Mutua, who was convicted for the gruesome killing of a suspect in 2013. Two, a Kisumu magistrate indicted five senior police officers for the brutal murder of baby Samantha Pendo in the wake of crackdown on protesters who were challenging outcomes of presidential elections in August 2017.

These two exemplify the rot in the Kenya Police Service. Police brutality is prevalent despite concerted campaigns to end it. Many police officers operate as if they are above the law. That is unacceptable. The use of brute force to extract information from suspects or cover evidence is criminal and should be punished. Investigations are never meant to be coercive and punitive. It is about collecting evidence, analysing and, where there is proof, using them to charge suspects in court. But never is it a licence to kill or maim.

For the longest, the police service has been faulted for transgressions such as extra-judicial killings, extortion, bribery and harassment. Reforming the police has been a veritable challenge for every administration. One of the boldest attempts at the reforms was through the Constitution, which renamed the institution the National Police Service, ostensibly to give it a human face. Administratively, appointment to the top offices, including the Inspector General and deputies, was made competitive and tenured to achieve two things — attract the best and insulate them from political or executive interference.

Concomitant to that, top officers have been taken through a vetting process. The training curriculum has been revised several times to incorporate elements like public relations and interpersonal skills. Cumulatively, therefore, administrative and legal interventions have been implemented to change the service for the better. Unfortunately, the impact remains scant.

Institutional and systemic deficiencies abound that undermine efforts to change the service. But there is no room to despair. Inspector General Joseph Boinett and his top officers have their work clearly cut out. They must enforce discipline in the service by reining in rogue officers and restoring professionalism. Corruption, extra-judicial killings, use of brute force, harassment and other such vices assailing the service must end.

The court rulings should serve as a warning to the police officers that they are accountable for their actions and that excesses elicit harsh punishment.