What do Police Reforms really mean for a Radical Paradigm Shift?

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Kenya police during pass out parade

At one point, we have all been victims of crime and indeed, just like any other person, the crime was reported to a police station near the incident. The process is followed, where the report is written and an Occurrence Book (OB) number is issued to the victim. The policeman or policewoman who records the incident will be your first point of contact but could also be the perpetrator or accomplice of the crime that just made you a victim.

The incidences of crime in the country have soared at an alarming rate and the public is left wondering whether the state has the capacity to deal with insecurity and whether the renewed confidence exuded by the Inspector General of Police on reforms, is just but hot air with no results to show. Our news bulletins of late have been filled with numerous news reports of increasing incidences of crime of all sorts. The epitome of which this past week has been the shooting in broad day light of a former anti-stock theft unit police constable and a bride-to-be in Nairobi’s central business district. The disheartening and worrying issue about this incident is the confidence displayed by the four-man death squad who carried out the heinous crime and how they casually walked away scot-free after committing the killing. Another blow to the police service was the recent highlighting by one of the media stations of police officers involvement in repeated muggings of unsuspected passengers in matatus and the issuance of death threats by their accomplices to the persons who highlighted the activities of the “pickpocket gang”.

This rising cases of insecurity within the country beg the question on what is wrong with our security reforms programmes.  Does the state and the revamped National Police Service (NPS) have the capacity to deal with insecurity? Noting that capacity is based on various issues including sufficient weaponry provided for each police officer, adequate vehicle provision and sufficient budgetary allocation for fuel and maintenance, improved welfare for police officers that includes a decent housing scheme and insurance cover. The abetting or commission of crime by police officers follows the need to satisfy the lack of basic needs that he/she is entitled to.  So the question begs, do you expect the police service to protect you and maintain law and order without the necessary tools and incentives to perform their roles or duties?

In order to win the war on insecurity and to effect comprehensive police reforms within the country, a radical paradigm shift is needed. To begin with, the functions of the National Police Service Commission (NPSC) are clearly stipulated in the National Police Service Commission Act (NPSC Act 2010) that includes the welfare and efficiency of the police service. One of the issues that have been long overdue within the police service has been improving the welfare of the police officers. The National Police Service Commission together with the Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC) are mandated to structure the salaries and remuneration of the police service, but this has been hampered by the ongoing turf wars between the National Police Service (NPS) and the office of the Inspector General of Police over the functions and powers each is mandated to perform. This turf wars must end in order to ensure comprehensive police reforms are institutionalized and rule of law upheld.

The apathy towards reforms from different stakeholders have not made the journey too easy, however, it was neither expected to be smooth sailing nor a walk in the park. The Inspector General of Police has recently been on record before the parliamentary committee on administration and national security, lamenting that more than 200 police stations across the country do not have vehicles. This indeed is a mockery of our state capacity on security sector reforms considering that if the police service is expected to respond in a timely manner to any situation, then they need to be facilitated with adequate transport and not just the cars but also sufficient budget allocations for fuel and maintenance.

Security sector reforms can be a beneficial and exciting process for all, mostly surrounding issues of training and incentives for police officers, this process can be realized sooner but there needs to be an attitude and mindset change both within the NPS on how to handle the reforms and by the citizenry in order to support and embrace police reforms. For instance, the process of police reforms for Herzegovina and Bosnia, was very inclusive where relevant stakeholders including minority ethnic groups were involved and the reform programme became a locally owned process with an incentivized module and long-term strategy which made the process much easier to realize, taking into account the back ground of both countries having emerged from ethnic conflict much like the Kenyan situation.

For example, considering the Kenyan context, in order to incentivize a police officer, perhaps a welfare scheme can be launched where the first salary that a police officer gets, a percentage of the house allowance can go towards paying a mortgage. By the time, he/she finishes 25 years in the service; he/she will have owned a proper home. A caveat to this proposition can be introduced where if an officer receives a bribe or commits/ abets a crime, he/she may lose a house, job and other benefits. With such an incentive, it would beat logic for a police officer to consider receiving a bribe of say Kshs. 50,000 as opposed to having and owning a home. Also note you can have the home and rent out for the same Kshs. 50,000 per month as additional income.  It is important to reckon that a well incentivized police service will also be attractive enough to draw graduates from different fields of academia who will in turn professionalize the police service and security sector.

Secondly, there is an old adage that says security starts with you as an individual. In order to assist the police service curb this national menace of insecurity, all Kenyans must embrace community policing. Crime does not happen in a vacuum, it happens in our neighborhoods, work places and homes. In most instances the people carrying out different crimes are known to us, hence it is our responsibility to be willing to embrace this concept of community policing. However, the police service must also realize that for Kenyans to engage in community policing, then they must be committed to winning back our trust. This is also to discourage citizen attacks on police officers because of the tainted imaged of the police service. This will ensure that when a law-abiding citizen calls a police station to report a crime or a potential crime, that action will be carried out and that the citizen who has reported the crime will not be the first “suspect” to be interrogated or will not be reporting the crime to the perpetrator or abettor. It was quite reassuring after the 999 hotline police number was revamped but on the same breath, it was quite discouraging to note how Kenyans are abusing the all important line of communication between the citizenry and the police. Of importance on this is that the police must make effort to win back the public trust so that people can embrace community policing in the fight against insecurity.

While the realization of a functional police service is possible, the will to radically rethink our security sector reforms, information and strategy to make it achievable is needed. 

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