It is now official, security guards will soon start bearing guns and doing jobs that have hitherto been done by police officers. According to regulations gazetted last Friday by Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i, the guards will, among others, be deployed to quell riots and to beef up security during elections.
They will also be allowed to ride in armoured and rapid response vehicles and to use sirens and warning lights on highways just like police officers. In addition, they will be expected to arrest crime suspects.
Plans to give the guards more powers have been in the pipeline since 2016. Undeniably, it is a well-intentioned decision that is likely boost the police force and make our country more secure.
Freeing police from duties such escorting vehicles carrying cash and other valuables would give them enough time to fight crime. Arming guards with guns will enable them to respond forcefully in case of attacks by criminals, including terrorists.
Yet, despite such obvious advantages, utmost care should be taken to ensure the move does not worsen the illicit guns nightmare.
Kenya's problem with guns is enormous. In the recent past, police have been trying to mop up firearms, both legal and illegal. Legal gun holders have been returning their weapons to Firearms licensing Board so that they can be vetted afresh to ensure that only individuals of good repute have guns.
There are many arms in the wrong hands, and these have been used to fuel crime and conflicts in many parts of the country. To add salt to injury, some unscrupulous police officers have been accused of renting out guns to criminals besides using them in criminal activities themselves.
Every effort should be made to ensure that security guards, most who earn peanuts, do not aggravate this problem. They should also be accorded relevant training to ensure they do not become soft targets for criminals seeking to acquire firearms.
Finally, they should be vetted thoroughly to root out those likely to use the weapons criminally. It is no secret there are rotten apples among security guards—some were involved in major heists in which millions of shillings was stolen.