The recent killing of 21 police officers by bandits in Kapedo, Turkana County, was the second highest loss of police officers in history in a span of two years.
The officers’ slaughter came nearly two years after massacre of 40 officers in Suguta Valley, near Baragoi in Samburu County by armed cattle rustlers.
On October 31, the officers went in pursuit of armed raiders who three days before had killed three of their colleagues from the General Service Unit (GSU).
The raiders had attacked cars ferrying Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) examination materials and burned them.
However, the officers did not know that they would run in to a well-planned ambush by Pokot raiders that would leave 21 of them dead and a nation in shock at the barbarity of the crime.
The murder of the officers is made even more tragic by the fact that most of the slain officers were young, and perhaps looking forward to long careers in the police.
But the killing of police officers was not an isolated event. The incident is part of growing number of police officers killed in the line of duty by cruel criminals.
Kenya Police Service spokeswoman Zipporah Mboroki said it will take a while to compile names and other details of the police officers who have paid the ultimate price in the line of duty. But by our count, more than 120 officers have been killed in the line of duty over the last three years. On Wednesday, a police officer who was shot last Sunday by unknown people while on patrol duties in Kasarani died of his injuries in a hospital in Nairobi.
He and many more make up the growing sad statistics of security officers whose lives have been snuffed out by criminals who seem to be getting bolder by the day.
In 2012, nine police officers were killed in Kilelengwani, Tana River County in ethnic clashes between the Pokomos. The officers were also stripped of their uniforms and their firearms taken away.
In the same year, two officers guarding the Garissa AIC Church were shot at close range and their firearms stolen. In March last year suspected members MRC attacked an Italian-owned casino and shot two police officers dead.
In September last year, unknown gunmen attacked a police station in Mandera County, killing at least two police officers and injuring three others.
Security analyst Richard Tuta said Kenya ranks as one of the countries with the highest number of police officers killed. “Look at the numbers cumulatively,” he said.
Besides attacks that leave mass casualties like the Kapedo and the Baragoi killings, many more police officers die in attacks that do not attract national attention.
For example, in February this year, a traffic policeman was shot dead and his gun stolen by gunmen on a motorbike in Kombani, Kwale.
“The issue of police officers being killed is a sad affair. It shows clearly the lack of respect by the citizens to our security officers. It also shows a lack of appreciation for the roles they play in society,” said Mr Tuta.
The Independent Police Oversight Authority (Ipoa) has been critical of the way the police top command at Vigilance House has been handling the issue
“The police leadership has been reduced to fire fighting. They live in denial and continue to play victim by looking for excuses rather than owning up to the mess we find ourselves in. In our view the police command is unable to correctly analyse the problem at hand, prescribe and implement solutions. Our security gaps today are capable of being firmly dealt with if those responsible had a clarity of mind and purpose which is lacking,” said the statement by Ipoa. Ipoa’s chairman Macharia Njeru has criticised the police for not adequately preparing and arming the officers for critical missions such as recovering stolen cattle.
In other countries the price for killing a police officer is steep. In the US it is the death penalty or a lifetime sentence. Mr Tuta said there is need to adopt similar measures in Kenya.
“Those who kill those we pay to ensure our security should be made to pay the ultimate price too,” he said.
These killings are a reflection of the general state of insecurity in the country, said Abdullahi Maalim, a former police officer who is now a private security consultant.
“People are increasingly taking the law in to their own hands to resolve personal issues. Security officers are increasingly being caught up in these situations,” he said.