The general public’s perception of the Kenyan police is that they are corrupt, unfriendly and inefficient. Well, that’s not what you see when you meet Emma Wanjiru. She beams up at me, rushes to give me a warm hug and when she draws back, one can’t help but notice her stylish dress sense. Dressed in a white jumpsuit and chic flats, she is nothing like the cold, unapproachable image one would expect.
“We have had police reforms. The police are nice people. Serving the citizens and often putting their lives on the line for others,” she says with a smile as she settles into her seat.
Currently attached to the Directorate of Criminal Investigation, commonly known as the CID wing, the young woman’s journey to the enviable position was anything but easy.
“Growing up, I harboured a dream of becoming a cop. My dad was a cop and even though I loved his profession, I wanted to be a different version of a cop. A good cop. Growing up, I would see the very bad relationship he had with my mum, often marred with violence, and I really wanted to be a better version of him.”
However, things didn’t happen as she wished.
“I got pregnant at about 18 and separated with the father of my child. It was an abusive relationship. I felt my life was over. My mum said I had to put my studies on hold, stay home and bring up my child. When my daughter turned two, I resumed my studies.”
She moved to Nairobi with her young daughter, Lanisha, to pursue a diploma in social work at a city college. Juggling motherhood and school was something she quickly had to adjust to.
“I would go for my classes then rush to pick my girl from school. In my second year of school, I got a job as a sales person for a manufacturing firm. After about six months, I felt at the end of the tether. ‘There had to be more to me than this,’ I remember thinking to myself. I remembered my childhood dream to be a cop and figured that perhaps I needed to give my dream a chance.”
Mind made up, in 2013 of September, she packed up her daughter and their meagre possessions and headed to Nyahururu, to her mother’s house.
“I would wake up early in the morning, leave my girl asleep and run. I knew that to qualify for police recruitment, I had to be physically fit. That November, I heard of a police recruitment exercise in Ndaragua and so I decided to go try out. On getting there, I noticed there were thousands of hopefuls, and though that made me nervous, I knew I had to try. After all, my daughter was seated in the wings with the rest of my family watching and cheering me on. I had to do my best. And at the back of my mind I knew this was my chance.”
She finished fourth among the female contestants in the five kilometre race. Unfortunately, they were taking only the top three. But fate wasn’t done with her yet.
“By some weird stroke of fate, the lady who came in third was confirmed pregnant after medical tests. So I was in. The lady joined the forces after having her baby.”
One foot in, all Emma had to do now was endure the 15 months of intense training at Kiganjo and graduate for the real work to begin.
“After graduation I was posted to Nairobi’s Runda area. I was later transferred to Nairobi Area after a few months because of the ICT skills I had acquired. I was attached to the Crime Incidence report desk where I remained till a few months ago when I was spot talented to join the Nairobi Area’s Criminal Investigations Department. This is my second year in the police force.”
According to Emma, a cop’s day never ends.
“You are on call every day. People look up to you for answers. I even have friends calling me left right and centre to get them out of trouble but one thing I stand by is that a wrong is a wrong. You should always do the right thing. All the time. Don’t feel wronged if you are arrested for your wrong doing. If I get into a matatu and I spot wrong doing, I will let them know that they are wrong. I can’t take leave off work even if I am not in uniform. A police officer remains a police officer anywhere. I am trying to change the face of the force. A cop is not your enemy, and you function better as a police officer when people aren’t scared of you.”
So what does her work as CID officer involve?
“I am in the learning process as I am a few months in and I love it already. I love solving crimes,” she says with an infectious enthusiasm. “We got the core training values at Kiganjo but now I am learning on the job.”
Being a police officer is not without its exciting moments.
“I was caught in a shootout one month into my new career as a cop. My partner and I had gone to check out a house with robbery in progress. So driving up to the gate, we see this guy in G4S uniform. So I try talk to him through the window and he pulls a Ceska on me. Luckily he missed the shot and it shattered the car windows instead and our driver panicked and rammed into a gate. We were terribly outnumbered. They were five of them. All week long I had nightmares about the incident, and I couldn’t bear for a while to sit behind the driver in any vehicle. The criminals were apprehended later.”
Emma says being in a workforce with older experienced males is challenging but interesting.
“I think being a woman in a mostly male work force is challenging even in other jobs. What matters is how you respond to it. I don’t let that play in as a factor because I really want to learn from them. And I make sure to learn as much as I can. I take it as a challenge and I know that I will be very experienced someday,” she says.
Also, her profession hasn’t helped her dating life at all.
“I am not dating currently. Guys get intimidated to learn that I am cop so now I don’t tell them, not outright. My job works to my advantage too, because they know they can’t lie to me. And I like that very much,” she says naughtily.
And would she date a cop?
“Maybe, though I genuinely think the relationship can be difficult if both of you are in the same profession. You need some balance in your life."
Violence against women and teenage pregnancies are causes she holds close to her heart and hopes to do more in those areas in her career, largely because of her own personal experiences.
“When he hits you the first time, know that it will happen again. So do something about it the first time and do report it to the police too.”
When she is not busy playing law officer, Emma will be found enjoying cop shows like NCIS and Mentalist among others with her daughter, or working on her interest in music. Or in class, studying management and police studies.