Police reforms lack political will

Police officers have an important and often dangerous role in society. The Kenya Police Service has a long history of engaging in unprofessional, corrupt, and criminal conduct. Senior police officers enforce a perverse system of “returns” in which rank-and-file officers are compelled to pay up the chain of command a share of the money they extort from the public.

Due to endemic impunity within the service, it has proved difficult to effectively manage and control. It has become largely unaccountable and a symbol of unfettered corruption, mismanagement and abuse.

Therefore, a greater degree of oversight and accountability is required. An independent investigative institution can provide accountability, reduce police violence, and ensure a well-functioning and honorable police force.

Extortion, embezzlement, and other corrupt practices by police undermine the fundamental human rights in two key ways. First, the most direct effect of police corruption on ordinary citizens stems from the myriad human rights abuses committed by police officers in the process of extorting money. Second, these criminal acts by the police undermine the rule of law.

We observe that even when there is public outcry, protests, and civil unrest, it is still rare to see police officers convicted for their crimes. Often, law enforcement officials are tasked with investigating and potentially disciplining their fellow officers. Meanwhile, prosecutors are often reluctant to file a case against officers, as they must work with the police daily.

In addition, even if the prosecutor pursues the investigation, frequently the police conduct the actual collection of evidence and can tamper with it. Those charged with police oversight, discipline, and reform have for years failed to take effective action, thereby reinforcing impunity for police officers of all ranks who regularly perpetrate crimes against the citizens they are mandated to protect.

The Kenyan government and the police leadership have generally failed to hold accountable police officers. Public complaint mechanisms, internal police controls, and civilian oversight remain weak, underfunded, and largely ineffective. The government in general and the police leadership in particular have thus far lacked the political will to address these structural problems.

Modern day policing and law enforcement are founded on democratic control of security organs. It is driven by prevention of crime, consent and cooperation with citizenry, independence of control and command of security services, and deterrence of political system from interfering with policing professional operations and command in tackling crimes.

Constitution of Kenya 2010 set three core reforms of security namely; ensure functional autonomy and operational independence of security organs, strengthening democratic oversight and guaranteeing security personnel and their dependants of their well being. These reforms are being blocked at the highest level of decision making at the political and police leadership.

We urge the Kenya government to immediately and effectively address the dynamics that have given rise to and sustain endemic police corruption and its related abuses, and ensure that those who perpetrate these crimes are held accountable.

The Kenya government, including Parliament, the anti-corruption agency, National Police Service Commission and Independent Policing Oversight Authority should improve transparency and accountability in the police service by reforming and ensuring better coordination of oversight mechanisms. Authorities should investigate and prosecute without delay police officers implicated in extortion, embezzlement, and human rights abuses.

It is recommended that for effectiveness which is independent of law enforcement, certain conditions are necessary to succeed. Political and social will are essential to developing an effective independent investigation mechanism.

A strong judiciary that is willing to prosecute police officers who perpetrate torture and other abuses is also required. Independent investigations are not the magical solution to the deeply entrenched problems of police abuse, but the experiences show they are essential to holding the police accountable.

To properly conduct investigations, the institutions must have quasi-police powers, including the power to issue search and arrest warrants, and to conduct surveillance. Police officers must be compelled to cooperate with investigations.

Further, the security oversight institutions should be managed by civilians to eliminate any conflict of interest that may arise from employing police officers, detectives, or related Government officials.

Finally, such investigative bodies require adequate funding that will provide them the resources to conduct proper professional actionable investigations.

Public scrutiny is key to a successful investigatory mechanism and the most successful model ensures access to information on investigations, trends in police abuse, recommendations made by investigative bodies and follow-up.

Investigatory bodies must actively attempt to inform the public to develop trust in them as well as the policing forces that they investigate.