Given political goodwill, financial autonomy can transform our policing

In his maiden speech, President William Ruto promised Kenyans that the National Police Service (NPS) will no longer be used to settle political scores. His commitment was to operationalise the independence envisioned in Kenya's 2010 Constitution for the Inspector General (IG) of the NPS. 

It has been the Ministry of Interior's policy since 2011 not to grant the IG the authority to incur expenses (AIE). This made it difficult for the IG to plan, respond, allocate, reallocate, and even account for his budget. As a result, the office became functionally dependent on the Executive, begging for funding and submitting to its whims. 

The police are the most visible manifestation of State authority. The police maintain law and order by protecting citizens and residents from criminal elements, conducting investigations, enforcing court orders, and protecting and facilitating human rights.

There were many reforms targeted at policing in the quest for democracy, accountability, and constitutionalism. The police, however, have arguably remained more of a tool for regime protection than one for protecting people and the Constitution. 

Even after the Constitution was passed, Kenyans have occasionally seen the Cabinet Secretary (CS) of Interior ordering the IG to arrest and investigate persons. However, Article 245 (4) explicitly states that a CS can only give written policy directions. Only the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) can give lawful written instructions to the IG regarding orders to investigate particular criminal acts or persons. 

In August 2020, Senators Steve Lelegwe, Christopher Langat and Cleophas Malala were arrested by Directorate of Criminal Investigations officers and renditioned to their home counties to ensure they did not participate in the Senate vote on revenue sharing that the regime was keen on passing. Moreover, senior police officers are among state officers who have disobeyed court orders, including the head of the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI).

The police were accused of indiscriminate violence in opposition areas in 2007, 2013 and 2017. The Deputy President and politicians of the Jubilee Party have also alluded to the use of investigation agencies' arrest powers to "manage politics" in the last five years.

The office of the IG must know that with great power comes great responsibility. A new path can be mapped by the Police similar to the one that was mapped by the Judiciary, which evolved from an Executive-beholden institution to an independent one.

Among the priorities is re-imagining the winning combination of community policing and intelligence-based policing, tackling rent-seeking and extortion, tackling violent policing and the use of unlawful force, and ending extrajudicial killings. It is only through revamping co-operation with the Independent Policing Oversight Authority and National Police Service Commission (NPSC) that those found abusing their powers individually or through command responsibility will be held accountable without exception. 

Various commissions of inquiry, including the Waki Report on Post-Election Violence, Philip Alston Report on extrajudicial killings and Philip Ransley's report on police reforms, informed the police reform journey. There were categorical findings regarding the appointment, operational independence, and financial independence of the IG, command responsibility, civilian oversight, internal oversight through the Internal Affairs Unit, and accountability for use of force.

I commend the president and his deputy for acknowledging that policing has become politicised. They should also examine how policing and the criminal justice system disproportionately affect the poor and young.