Why cases of trigger-happy policemen are on the rise

A DCI officer holds the AK47 rifle which a junior AP officer used to shoot his two seniors. He shot himself and died with one of his targets also dying at the Nyamira Referral Hospital. [Stanley Ongwae, Standard]

Hours before Administration Police constable Julius Mdachi resorted to opening fire against his two senior colleagues on Tuesday evening, he was under pressure to submit to change of assignment.

Nyamira sub-county Deputy Critical Infrastructure Protection Unit (CIPU) chief inspector Bernard Too who reported the shooting incident at the police station, said the officer had been redeployed from the county Governor’s residence to work elsewhere but was uncomfortable to move.

“It is alleged that Constable Mdachi was dissatisfied with impending redeployment and was bitter about it,” read part of the report transmitted to Vigilance House police headquarters in Nairobi.

Just a week ago, a General Service Unit policeman shot and killed his colleague at their camp in Trans-Nzoia before killing himself.

Two months ago, another police officer from Kamkunji station also shot and killed his female colleague before injuring others.

The policewoman Mourine Achieng was pronounced dead on arrival at the Kenyatta National Hospital. She sustained gunshot wounds to her chest.

It was reported at the station that the rogue officer had a confrontation with his colleagues before he started shooting indiscriminately, leading to the fatal injury of the female officer.

These are just but a few among many other cases of police officers being trigger-happy against their colleagues, leading to deaths.

But why would a police officer decide to take another policeman’s life and even end his own?

For instance, in the case of Nyamira, the officer might have turned angry over the redeployment from Governor’s residence due to privileges that come along with such assignments.

Officers attached to guard VIPs and important installations like banks and designated facilities are entitled to extra allowances besides their normal salaries.

“The officer was anchored that he had not stayed at the assignment for long enough to enjoy the privilege. To make it worse for him, he was taken to a normal assignment which doesn’t have any allowances,” a junior police officer familiar with the developments confided to The Standard.

Besides the usual salary, a police officer guarding the home of the governor receives a daily allowance of between Sh800 and Sh1,500 depending on the rank of the officers, something which makes such assignments lucrative.

Police Spokesman Charles Owino says redeployments are normal and if the resistance by the killer officer would be well judged, it was a case of indiscipline.

“The case could be simplified that the officer was rogue. Redeployment is normal and especially if the clients recommend change of officer, we just act. What will become of the force if everyone protested deployment?” Owino says.

Another police officer who is serving at the rank of constable in Nyamira told this reporter that the leadership of the Police Service is not accommodative to the needs of those serving under it.

“We are stressed by oppressive orders and so many other issues and all that can help us is effective stress management. We serve under people who don’t know we are equally human beings who need to be handled in a humane way,” the female officer said.

Dr Felix Opondo, a consultant psychologist, such happenings occur at a time when the concerned officers have bottled a lot of stresses that could be work-related, family aggravated or even social.

Opondo says failure to notice such a pile-up of stress in not only police officers but also any other victim of problems, leads to catastrophes like suicide or even homicide like it has been witnessed on many occasions among policemen.

The specialist says the virtue that the police force is command-based aggravates the situation because in most cases, venting out against orders could be difficult.

“The only way such cases can be avoided is by police officers being sensitive to the needs of their juniors and also being alert about their psyco-social status,” Opondo says.

In 2017, the National Police Service instituted the Chaplaincy and Counselling Directorate, but its effectiveness is yet to be felt properly since it is yet to be centralized.

However, Owino says there is an effective mechanism with which the directorate is working and which has improved services within the National Police circles.

But decentralization of the services is still a hard nut to crack owing to the huge logistical needs which it requires.

“We are drawing up modalities of cascading the chaplaincy and counselling directorate because we cannot just employ chaplains and counsellors. They need training and besides the training, there are other logistical support systems that need to be put in place for the directorate to effectively do that,” Owino said.

The spokesman says the decentralization will be done but it will not be hurried.

“Currently, if we identify an officer has a problem, the Counselling directorate moves in swiftly and if the case is complex, we refer to other institutions or recommend for enhanced approach,” Owino says.

But some officers say they have never known how to get services of counselling when they need them.

Owino says such interventions are bestowed upon officers in charge of stations who should notify the directorate of cases in need of psychological support.

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