On Monday, December 30, a 10.30am meeting at the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) headquarters agreed to a radical proposal that had been long in coming.
After the five-hour meeting between DCI chief George Kinoti and five senior officers, a course that had been set months before, including establishment of parallel structures, had been completed.
Were it a normal working day, the detective would be in a suit and a tie. On this day though, he was casually dressed, perhaps to go with the spirit of the season.
When most of his officers took a break for Christmas, Mr Kinoti remained in office. “I had to be around when you people enjoyed Christmas. It is the sacrifice I have to make," he told Saturday Standard.
Lose prestigious postings
At the reception of his 3rd floor office, some three men, one of them a son to a foreign envoy waited to have an audience with him. To the extreme end of the floor, another group of five men waited. It is the five that blocked out a huge chunk of Kinoti’s diary that day.
The five comprised senior officers and sectional heads in the multiple wings that collectively make up the DCI.
In a few more hours, the five and the DCI chief would come to a decision to erase the 27-year-old history of one of the most feared crack units of Kenya's police force.
In that room and on that day, the Flying Squad, a unit loved and loathed in equal measure and accused of countless killings, would itself be killed.
On January 1, Kinoti released a statement: “The Directorate of Criminal Investigations wishes to inform the public that after disbanding all the Flying Squad sub-units within the country, only the headquarters unit based in Nairobi remained. With effect from today, the unit has equally been disbanded."
The disbanding of police units is never an easy matter. More often than not, there are back stories. Compelling reasons that would see officers lose perks and prestigious positions and being relegated to boring desk jobs.
The erasure of Flying Squad was no different, and the back story points to supremacy wars within the elite forces that bred rivalry between it and a newly created unit operating out of Nairobi’s Parklands.
Flying Squad was established in July 1992 as an elite quick response force to combat violent crimes in Nairobi and its environs. It was then referred to as Anti-motor Vehicle Theft Unit with great emphasis on motor vehicle theft.
Until last week, the headquarters were at Nairobi Area Police County Headquarters and was under direct command of County Criminal Intelligence Officer, Nairobi, who was responsible for administration, logistic and coordination purposes. In its later years, the unit was accused of extrajudicial killings and other acts of lawlessness.
Despite its history and controversies, the plot to put an end to the infamous squad had been hatched a week before the end-year meeting which, insiders say, was the culmination of DCI chief's ambition of not just curtailing the influence of Flying Squad Unit, but disbanding it.
In an interview after he took over from Ndegwa Muhoro, Kinoti said the unit had become rogue and inefficient.
He went on to recall all flying squad officers based out of Nairobi and redeployed them, a decision that got mixed reactions from the public.
Some thought the decision was ill-timed and criminal activities would be on the rise once Flying Squad officers were withdrawn from the streets.
But Kinoti was unshaken.
He would later tell our reporter that with the exit of Flying Squad officers, the number of carjacking incidents and robberies along major highways had reduced by half.
Apart from the statistics he was quoting, Kinoti too had a personal brush with the unit. It is probably one of those things that he would like to easily forget.
When he served as the Police Spokesman, a man whose car had been impounded by officers from the Meru Flying Squad Unit asked him for help after officers declined to release the vehicle and demanded cash payment.
Kinoti was then an Assistant Commissioner of Police and not even his rank or position at the the Police Headquarters could make the Flying Squad officers budge.
New officers recruited
They maintained that the man must pay a bribe before the vehicle was released but Kinoti sought help from Flying Squad bosses in Nairobi and the vehicle was released.
A week after the Meru incident, he was appointed the DCI -- and now he was at a place where he could chart the course of the unit, or decide its fate.
Last Monday, after the five-hour meeting, the plot came full circle and Musa Yego, the head, and his team were in the dark.
The plot known only to Kinoti and his small team that had someone from the Special Crimes Prevention Unit, another one from the Anti-Counterfeit Unit, there was the DCI Deputy Chief Joseph Ashimalla and the institution’s head of personnel Mwangi Wanderi.
Officers at DCI claim the group is Kinoti’s inner circle. It was these men tasked with clipping the wings of the Flying Squad.
It was agreed that close to 100 officers including senior officers would all be transferred and re-assigned and new officers recruited to the new squad code named Sting Squad Headquarters.
It was now evident that while other officers were enjoying the Christmas break, Kinoti was fine-tuning his plot to kill the Flying Squad on the back of allegations of extra judicial killings, extortion and even armed robberies.
In its final days, the Flying Squad whose last commander was Yego, became the latest casualty in internal politics rocking the DCI.
Yego, now based at the DCI Complaints Section says he has nothing but pride for what his team did.
“I am proud to have served as the head of Flying Squad. We did our best,” he told Saturday Standard.
When Kinoti took over, he created the Anti-Counterfeit Unit based at Parklands, it was clear that he was not keen on keeping the Flying Squad.
The new unit was given powers and mandate similar to that of the Flying Squad.
The new unit enjoyed a countrywide mandate and its operations were not limited to Nairobi as was the case of the Flying Squad.
The Anti-Counterfeit Unit seemed to enjoy the goodwill of the DCI and their moment to shine came when the government engaged in a crackdown on counterfeit goods last year.
Slowly beefed up
Over time, the Anti-Counterfeit Unit has been beefed up during Kinoti’s tenure in terms of logistics and personnel.
More police officers have been posted to the unit and the number of vehicles at their disposal almost doubled to match those allocated to the Flying Squad.
More officers from this unit have also undergone promotion courses.
There are those who view the decision by Kinoti as an avenue to create room for his pet unit to survive and have a tight grip on the DCI.
At its height, the Flying Squad was the judge, jury and executioner in almost all cases it handled. And when its time came, its fate, like those who found themselves in front of it, was not decided by popular vote.
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