The Kenya Police Service reforms unveiled yesterday are a turning point in the administrative and professional orientation of the agency bestowed with the onerous task of enforcing law and order.
They were long overdue. Our desire is that they transcend rebranding and redesignation of positions and reporting lines to professional competence, integrity and true service.
Police service is one establishment that has defied all efforts towards transformation, arguably because of inherent and deep-rooted practices.
Several initiatives in the past merely scraped at the surface, leaving the core intact. Leadership changes, strategic plans and administrative structures have not yielded desired outcomes.
Part of the rallying call for constitutional reforms in the 1990s was the makeover of the police into a competent, progressive and professional outfit.
Significantly, the name was changed from “police force” to “police service” to illuminate the fact that it is an institution set out to work for the welfare of the citizens and not the other way round.
The Constitution changed the structure and, among the outstanding features, established the National Police Service Commission led by civilians to manage the service.
Besides redesignating the title of the head of the institution — from Commissioner of Police to Inspector-General of Police — the Constitution decreed that the holder be appointed competitively with the objective of insulating him or her from external influences.
Despite such a fundamental shift, the police service has remained a fatally defective institution characterised by corruption, brutality, recklessness and incompetence.
All rankings on institutional corruption place the police service at the top, a label it has failed to shed.
Central to this unedifying image is the training of the officers that orients them to use of force rather than reason.
At the workplace, they are acutely challenged. Ordinarily, the service is underfunded and poorly resourced.
Although they play a critical role in enforcing law and order, they are poorly paid and subjected to harsh working conditions. All these contribute towards their unfriendliness.
This explains the reason for the change and, therefore, the desire that whatever is being done shifts beyond mere form and shape to encapsulate the content.
We acknowledge that in the new order of things, the government is merging divisions to end duplication of duties, creating new command structures and introducing a flexible housing arrangement — police officers will henceforth be given allowances so that they can secure own accommodation.
However, beyond these, the transformation should tackle institutional, historical and technical encumbrances that have made the institution an aberration.
This is a good start. But the challenge remains to push the reform agenda to a logical conclusion.