Friday, July 15, 2016

A better police?

In keeping with the spirit of constructive criticism that I have adopted, I wish to turn my attention to the small matter of national security which Article 238 defines as "the protection against internal and external threats to Kenya's territorial integrity and sovereignty, its people, their rights, freedoms, property, peace, stability and prosperity, and other national interests." Anything that undermines "national security" is bad. This past Thursday highlighted one of those bad things.

As you very well know, the National Police Service is a national security organ (Art. 239(1)(c) and therefore, it must uphold the principles of national security found in Art. 238, and perform to the best of its capacities its functions, including "train staff to the highest possible standards of competence and integrity". In Kapenguria, on Thursday, the National Police Service failed to live up to its objects or perform its functions.

From what we have been permitted to know, a police officer who was one year out of training at Kiganjo arrived at the Kapenguria police station with the intention of securing the release of a "terror suspect." His superiors, according to unnamed sources, had been concerned with his behaviour and had done nothing. (I think this assertion is unsupported; it might be that his posting to Kapenguria was in the time-honoured tradition of the National Police Service: as a hardship posting meant to compel him to rethink his life choices while in service.)

In any case, on this fateful Thursday, the policeman walked into a police station with the intention of securing the release from police custody of a man suspected of radicalising pupils at a Kapenguria primary school. His efforts were in vain. He grabbed a weapon and murdered the station commander and several of his erstwhile colleagues. Reinforcements were sent from other stations but he repulsed them, using the ammunition from the policemen he had slain. An elite commando unit was sent in from Nairobi. It prevailed, eleven hours after the the first shot was fired. One of the commandos was killed and another was seriously wounded.

A few things emerge from this tragic event. How we recruit policemen, train, manage and deploy them still permits a few rotten potatoes to get through. This risk can be mitigated to a great extent if the recruitment of policemen is not compromised by what has become commonplace: bribes. How we will achieve a corruption-free police recruitment drive in the future remains one of our most difficult challenges.

Second, police training might include the relevant finer points of criminology, criminalistics, criminal law, criminal investigations and criminal prosecutions as well as theoretical units on human rights and fundamental freedoms, but it focuses overwhelmingly on instilling discipline (through parade drilling) and firearms training, especially the use of assault rifles such as the AK-47, the G-3 and the US-made AR-15. To my knowledge, psychometric and psychological screening does not seem to take place at any stage between recruitment and deployment, and this seems to have contributed to increased cases of indiscipline in the ranks and violent acts among policemen or against their superior officers. Psychological and psychiatric care needs to be made part and parcel of the police welfare system.

Third, firearms in the hands of well-trained offenders can be tragically deadly and when the offender is a policeman, the consequences are catastrophic. There are pockets of Kenya where policing must be backed up by an armed force, but the increasing incidents of misuse of firearms by policemen, either against fellow police or civilians must drive us to rethink arming most of the police we interact with. An armed police service that is trained more like a paramilitary army than a law enforcement agency, for which psychological or psychiatric services are unavailable and in which risk assessment before recruitment is still rudimentary at best and which is faced with increasing cases of indiscipline in which firearms are used is not best-suited to deploy armed men in the field in large numbers.

We have copied the iron-fist approach to policing of the United States, India and Israel without the resources to make it work effectively. It is time we rethought the strategy. I am not saying that we should abandon it altogether but that we should tweak it to make it work for us. For one, against whom the police is deployed must be determined with greater clarity in order to arrive at a decision of how many arms will be put into the field at any one time. The other is whether it makes sense to have a armed response for every incident. If we are to look at the police, not in fear, but in appreciation, the police can't feel or be seen as an occupying army.

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