As the 10,000 new police recruits report for training this week, the focus is once again being turned on the significant number of police officers assigned to protect VIPs. Last week’s recruitment appears to have been timed to bolster the the National Police Service ahead of the August 8 General Election.
Elections come with new police demands. For instance, each presidential candidate is assigned bodyguards because he or she poses a risk to national security.
The law says should harm befall any of the presidential candidates cleared by the electoral commission to contest, the presidential election has to be suspended. There are about a dozen presidential candidates in this year’s elections. All of them are entitled to State security.
Debate has raged about the huge number of police officers assigned to VIPs, some essentially used by the big shots to run personal errands, and whether this should be the case while the majority of the population is exposed to criminals.
Kenya’s police force is estimated to have a total of 109,000 officers. Out of these, VIPs have up to 12,000 assigned to them as bodyguards, cooks and messengers. Some 13,000 are in the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI), 9,000 in the General Service Unit, 2,000 in the Anti-Stock Theft Unit and more than 4,000 in Administration Police guard vital installations. Others are deployed to escort cash from one place to another.
About 4,000 help traffic movement across the country and hunt for drunken, careless and unlicensed drivers.
This leaves less than 55,000 officers to take care of more than 40 million Kenyans. The majority of these officers are senior hence not involved in rigorous activities like foot patrols.
Recently, President Uhuru Kenyatta said the police population had hit almost 99,000 (the number is now estimated to be 109,000 after 10,000 more officers graduated) and many thought this would be a relief to the public who would enjoy increased security.
The thinking was that there would be enough officers on the streets and in police stations to respond to criminal activities, especially in light of the fact that this was said to be an increase of more than 25 per cent and surpassed the United Nations recommended ratio. (This meant a personnel to civilian population ratio of 1:390 compared to the recommended UN ratio of 1:450.)
But not much has changed, partly because almost one out of every seven officers are deployed to guard the elite, leaving about 70,000 to meet the country’s civilian policing needs.
Apart from the President and his deputy who have at least 200 and 45 security guards respectively, holders of sensitive dockets also have a high number of officers assigned to them.
When Interior Cabinet Secretary Joseph Nkaissery came to office, many thought things would change.
“Nothing has changed. Instead, we are seeing more of the so-called VIPs getting armed officers,” said an officer involved in the allocation of security personnel.
Mr Nkaissery had announced that the State would scale down the number of officers attached to senior officials to free them for other duties. While the size of the security detail varies according to the duties discharged by an official and the level of risk involved, there have been concerns about the merit of some, especially those used to public displays of force.
Because of their stretched numbers, police have sought the help of prison warders to patrol city streets. Every MP is entitled to at least one police bodyguard and two each for their homes upcountry or in the city. Some policemen are also deployed as their drivers.
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With his family, and presidential installations, the President alone has a pool of 200 officers drawn from elite General Service Unit squads.