Punish officers who abuse persons in police custody

We welcome the announcement by Inspector General of Police Joseph Boinnet that disciplinary action will be taken against the law enforcement officers who took photographs of some schoolgirls they had stripped naked then circulated the images in social media.

And to hold him to account, we expect to see quick arrests and court arraignments of the offending police officers. The officers who abused their positions and took semi-nude photographs and videos of girls they had arrested and had in their custody, should have been suspended by now.

It matters little that those arrested were part of a group high school students caught taking drugs and alcohol as they indulged their carnal desires in a matatu. The act of forcing the students to strip to search for bhang in their underwear even as others took photographs was one of the basest forms of incivility. It is outrageous.

The fact that these events were unfolding only a few days after newspaper reports suggests that police officers at Tigoni Police Station had doctored their own documents to falsify records and hide evidence, demonstrates an abysmal lack of discipline within the police ranks.

According to the news reports, the police pulled out all stops to destroy evidence from eye witnesses that placed an inebriated church minister on the scene of an accident in which the car he was allegedly driving collided with another vehicle, leaving one person dead. Media reports now suggest that law enforcement officers at the Tigoni Police Station may have been bribed to protect the church minister. The Inspector General says investigations have been launched over the alleged cover up. We wait for the outcome of this probe.

There are various disturbing allegations about the conduct of officers at police stations, particularly those handling evidence. Only recently, the Judiciary introduced measures to ensure cash collected as bail in police stations and the courts would be refunded when required.

It emerged that much of this money was unaccounted for, with strong indications that these funds may have been pilfered at the point of exchange in police stations. Under a new directive, court fines will now be processed in court before a judge or magistrate to stem corruption. New measures have also been introduced to ensure that police stations account for the money they receive from offenders.

But this is not the only problem at police stations. Often the police have been accused of being insensitive when handling delicate cases such as wife battery and sexual assault. Women who report that they have been raped are routinely humiliated, even when they are handled by a special desk manned by someone of their gender. It is not uncommon to find police officers mocking victims of crime.

This insensitivity becomes apparent in police posts when traffic offenders, who are booked for minor offences, are locked in dirty and overcrowded cells. The Chief Justice has now directed that traffic offenders who admit culpability will not be locked up in cells without first being given time to raise fines and bail. These are some of the steps taken recently to restore the rights and dignity of Kenyans — rights that must be robustly protected.

When the aggregate damage caused by law enforcement officers in police stations is assessed, we cannot run away from the conclusion that much of the acts of cruelty are deliberate. They are also manifestly illegal — illicit acts perpetrated by those who are required to uphold the law.

It has been suggested that police reforms will help to contain some of the excesses exhibited by deviant members of the disciplined forces. But even as we institute these reforms, let us deter these abhorrent actions by punishing rogue police officers who disregard the rights of those in their custody. Otherwise, they will accelerate the breakdown of law and order in the disciplined forces and the wider society.