The idea that the United Nations engineered a change of uniform for the Kenya Police Service won’t wash. The justification given for the change — that it would increase police visibility — is preposterous. But if visibility was the issue, why not the colours red, white or yellow? In Kenya, even without the new, yet seemingly drab uniform, the police are visible. You don’t have to sight them; you can smell them from a mile off. Visually, most are obese, sweaty, clad in ill-fitting uniforms from protuberant tummies and uncouth.
For a Police Service that many Kenyans consider obnoxious, tangible reforms should have taken precedence over attire. Too often, and within cities, civil society watchdog groups have blamed police officers for the increase in extra judicial killings. How the public relates with the police, induced by mistrust, is clearly wanting. It baffles that the strategists within the Police service fail to make the link between high levels of crime and a public that would rather brave criminals than report crime to the police.
In their stupor, the bright sparks within the Police Service decided a change of uniform; in addition to paying police officers house allowances and moving them out of official quarters were the magic wand that would cure their myriad problems. Today, there is no material for the new police uniform, but worse, the proposed house allowances for the officers were drastically slashed. Yet, like every other Kenyan worker, police officers are expected to part with 1.5 per cent of their monthly pay to fund housing; another of the Government’s white elephant projects.
Part of the bitterness harboured by junior police officers, which is vented on hapless civilians, is understandable. The Government and top echelon of the Police Service treat juniors disdainfully. In the name of a disciplined service, where orders are unquestioningly obeyed, bad or good, police officers are forced to live in tents or rusted tin shacks, quarters that dehumanise.
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Their pay is not commensurate with their tough work. No wonder then that many of them try to supplement their meagre pay through corruption. Senior police officers treat their juniors with disdain, pulling rank to reduce them to errand boys and girls. Nothing short of serious reforms will give the police visibility. A drastic change in their approach to work, given a changing environment driven by technological advances that make criminals smarter than law enforcers is an imperative. To make any meaningful strides in this regard, the police must start regarding the public as partners in law enforcement, rather than accessories to criminal activities. Narratives on how rape victims and law abiding citizens volunteering information to the police are treated inside police stations are discomfiting.
Fitness is a prerequisite to joining the police service, yet a few years into their jobs, most police officers cannot bend to tie their shoe laces. Some pant from mere talking. Obese police officers are a danger not just to themselves, but their colleagues as well in the thick of things.
Early this year, physically fit officers within the New York Police Department (NYPD) expressed their displeasure with colleagues who could not provide backup in physically demanding situations. One officer was quoted saying, “If you have a 300-pound partner who can’t even run up a flight of stairs… it’s dangerous for everybody.”
In Malaysia, police officers must regularly pass the Body Mass Index (BMI) test to remain in the force. In 2012, an order was given to police officers to undergo mandatory rigorous exercises twice a week and keep their weight under 100 kilogrammes.
Venezuela, in 2013, removed from the streets of Hanoi all traffic police officers who were ‘short, obese and abusive’. The onus of establishing these traits for necessary action lay on inspectors. Our traffic police officers, especially, fall in this category. One hardly ever finds a traffic police officer who is civil.
Though many have allowed themselves to get rotund, dismissing officers on account of their BMI’s might be discriminatory. A demand should be made that police officers, just like our Army men, must at all times remain fit for action. Those with a proclivity to obesity induced by inaction and good eating should be deployed on tough assignments in the northern part of the country where survival depends on agility; something that obesity hinders.
It is important for officers to endeavour to keep their waistlines under 36 inches. There are physically demanding jobs within government to which obese officers should be assigned to work on to stay in shape.
Those who object to such an arrangement should be given the option of leaving the service. The police service cannot afford to be turned into a dumping ground for lazy, rotund officers specialising in extortion while criminals run riot across the country.
Mr Chagema is a correspondent at The [email protected]