BY Nicholas Anyuor
The proliferation of illegal firearms in Kenya may be blamed for the rising crime. But in parts of Nyanza Province, criminals are not only armed with firearms but also clad in police uniform.
The public is alarmed by the rising cases of robberies and murders by criminals masquerading as police officers.
This has, however, raised suspicion that police officers could be involved in these criminal activities. In the last three months, residents of some areas within Southern Nyanza have been complaining of attacks by gangsters wielding AK 47 riffles and wearing police uniform. A suspect pleads for mercy from a mob who were protesting rising insecurity in Homa Bay District. PHOTOS: NICHOLAS ANYUOR/ STANDARD
A suspect pleads for mercy from a mob who were protesting rising insecurity in Homa Bay District. PHOTOS: NICHOLAS ANYUOR/ STANDARD
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The complaints have been registered in Homa Bay, Ndhiwa, Rachuonyo North, Rachuonyo South and Migori districts. Residents have accused the police officers of working in cahoots with criminals to rob particularly business people.
"We can’t trust the police. They do not take action when people are killed. They could be knowing more about the criminal activities," Kendu-Bay Mayor John Maji said in reference to rampant robbery in Rachuonyo North District that has left over four people killed by such gangsters in the last two months.
"They come to you wearing full police uniform, carrying a gun and ask you to open the door. They identify themselves as police officers. Its only after allowing them in that one realises they are dealing with criminals," Nixon Kaunda, a teacher in Homa Bay says.
Chris Agong’, an engineer, experienced this when uniformed "police officers" raided his home in Maram village, Homa Bay last month. He was forced to surrender his car and other valuables. The car was later found abandoned in a thicket a few kilometres from his home.
"There was nothing I could have done because they were armed and in police uniform," Agong’ says. It is such incidents that have made residents believe that some police officers could be supplying criminals with arms and uniforms.
However, Homa Bay OCPD Mr Daniel Kimeu brushed off the allegations as rumour. Kimeu instead urged the public to give him any information that could lead to the arrest of any officers involved in such activities promising to keep the information confidential.
"No one has come to my office to report officially or tell me the police officer they suspect," he said.
He said police property is not accessible to the public to use for robberies.
"These equipment are well kept and there is no way the police officers can use them to terrorise the public instead of protecting them," he added.But some residents had to protest at the Homa Bay Police Station demanding to know why the police were reluctant to arrest known criminals.
"We wanted to get answers from the police. They were lucky we killed the suspects," said George Ologi, a resident.
At times it takes the police officers hours to go to the scenes of crime. But the OCPD blames this on communication challenges saying that in some cases, police were not properly informed.
Such experiences have made the public distrust the police. They also blame the Judiciary for not taking serious action against suspected criminals.
For instance, a week ago, a court put a suspect on probation after he was involved in a robbery at Shauri Yako Estate in Homa Bay town angering residents.
According to a police officer who didn’t want to be named because he is not authorised to speak to the press, police found one bullet in his house.
"The Judiciary is also to blame and this makes us fear arresting these criminals. Even when there is tangible evidence against them, they are released on bond and you meet some a few days after arrest boasting to you that they are out. So what can we do about it? If the Judiciary doesn’t change then we are going nowhere," the officer said.
He admits that some officers could be colluding with the criminals adding that it is very frustrating when court release known criminals.
As robbery cases escalate in Homa Bay and Ndhiwa Districts, residents have also decided to take law into their hands.
Last week, when robbers attacked a home in Shauri Yako Estate in Homa Bay town and killed two people, including a boda boda operator, youths searched and lynched five suspects because the police had failed to arrest them.
"Our meeting was to flush out the suspects and kill them. We know police are doing nothing about it even after giving them the names of suspected criminals. We had to take the law in our hands," George Ogola, a taxi operator in the town said.
Some of the suspects were lynched in full view of police officers.
Ogola said they have a list of 16 people they suspect to be criminals but could not hand over the list to police since they will not be arrested.
As the standoff with police and resident of Homa Bay intensified over police inertia, boda boda operators went to Homa Bay Police Station to demand the release of a suspect who had been arrested for robbery.
"We know they will release him and he will come back here to kill us so we might just kill him," an angry youth shouted at the police station.
The youths refused to listen to the Homa Bay OCPD forcing the Regional Commissioner, South Nyanza Erastus Ekidor to intervene. Ekidor said he was taking the matter seriously adding that he was yet to get any evidence to prove police involvement in crime.
"I will meet the relevant people in the security department in the district so that I know the truth and take the necessary action," Ekidor said.