Why we Need to Bring Sanity to the Kenyan Police Force

In April 2017, a video of an alleged extrajudicial killing of two gang members went viral. The video shows an alleged plain-clothes police officer shooting a suspected member of the Super Power gang in Nairobi’s Eastleigh area. The body of another suspect lies in the middle of the road covered in blood.

Kenyans showed mixed reactions to the shooting. Some supported the shootings while others condemned the killings. Debates on the shootings took prominence in the media and social media. However, as time went by, they faded into obscurity.

Police force and corruption

The media reports cases of (alleged) police officers shooting suspected criminals on a near daily basis. The usual narrative is that the suspect had a gun and the police had to retaliate. Another common narrative is that the cops shot the suspects to prevent them from escaping. These cases have become so common that people now see them as a normal thing.

Yet, we rarely hear about the police being accountable for the shootings in their line of duty. The law provides strict guidelines on the use of firearms by police officers. The National Police Service Act contains these guidelines and is very clear about how police officers should handle their firearms.

A police officer should only result to their firearms in two circumstances:

  • to save or protect the life of the officer or another person; and
  • to defend themselves or another person against impending threat of life or serious injury.

The circumstances of the shootings in Eastleigh violate these two principles. The killings were extrajudicial, done without the sanction of the law or the courts. When police officers result to such jungle tactics, they set a bad precedent that the law does not matter. That killing with impunity is the way to go.

Extrajudicial killings by police are similar to mob-justice by the public. Both occur outside the law and have no regard for consequences. Those who commit the acts regard themselves as the judge, jury, and executioner. They also signify broken or rotten systems of justice and people’s lack of faith in them.

Police force built on a rotten system

For example, in Kenya, we have so many good laws. However, the goodwill to implement these laws is lacking. More so, we have so many good institutional frameworks in theory, but in practice, many of them are rotten and dysfunctional from within. The police force is one of the institutions that annually top the list of the most corrupt institutions in the country.

The corruption of the police force is not only in terms of material things. It is also involves the deterioration of values and ethics. The highest moral and ethical corruption is when a police officer deems it fit to shoot an unarmed suspect in broad daylight.

Extrajudicial killings affect the youth in in low-income areas are the most. These neighborhoods include those of Mathare, Kayole, and Dandora in Nairobi. There is even a Facebook group where alleged police officers using pseudonyms post pictures of criminal suspects they have slain.

The civil society organizes several forums in these neighborhoods to give the affected families a voice. The stories the affected families share are the only voices that they have to express. They only have memories of a loved one shot by a police officer just because the officer took them for a criminal and without subjecting them to the rule of law.

Everyone understands that police officers are human beings. They also have their difficulties and they face danger in their jobs. Criminals, terrorists, and bandits have killed many in the line of duty. Every Kenyan should also care about their lives when they are out there protecting us. Despite that, there is a sense of responsibility that comes with being a police officer.

Police should uphold the law

As Queen Ifrica says in Serve and Protect, only criminal elements alone hate the law. When the people are not with you, the criminals applaud. That is why the police need to think first before they draw their guns or shoot. Just as the first duty of any citizen is to support the law, then it is the duty of the police officer to uphold the law.

The law is also very clear that when the use of firearms results in death, serious injury and other grave consequences, the police should report to IPOA. The Independent Policing Oversight Authority (IPOA) gives the public a recourse against misconduct or injustices caused by a police officer.

However, the MPs in the National Assembly tried to sneak in amendments into the law to undermine IPOA. The dubious amendments wanted to undermine the authority of IPOA to investigate errant police officers. Even at the moment, IPOA is a toothless bulldog, which just barks but does not seem to bite.

Therefore, it is important to bring sanity to the police force in Kenya for the last time. We only hear about police reforms but the government never puts them into action. It is time to demand these reforms to start working in full.

A police officer should always be sane when doing their work. Being a police officer should be a task that an officer takes seriously to accord each person justice. To end in the words of Queen Ifrica, our police force needs CPR or the wound will end up leaving a scar. Many of us have already faced or seen the scars already.


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George Githinji
George Githinji
Githinji is passionate about devolved governance and public finance. He also comments on topical issues in Kenyan politics and society. In addition, he manages the @UgatuziKenya platform.

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