IPOA should probe claims of police brutality during demos

IPOA Chair Ann Makori. [Denish Ochieng, Standard]

The United Nations recommended ratio of police officers to civilians is 1:450. In Kenya, the ratio is 1:1150.

In other words, the work done by three London bobbies or the same number of New York Police Department officers is done by a single Kenya police officer. Needless to say, a Kenyan officer, working in extremis, is not as adequately equipped as his counterpart in the US or in Europe. Nor is he compensated commensurately.

But the same police officer is expected to respond to crimes where sophisticated weapons are used by criminals. Or to hack through the mangled wreckages of vehicles on Kenya's public roads to extricate victims of grisly accidents without basic equipment like gloves.

Officers in Kenya have borne the brunt of terrorist attacks. Many are the reports of those blown sky-high by improvised explosive devices. Or even entire police stations overrun by terrorists coming in through sections of the country's borders that are too wide to be adequately patrolled by the overstretched police service.

A section of the political elite has accused the National Police Service (NPS) officers of "engaging in extrajudicial executions and/or excessive use of force against the public." This is apropos of recent demonstrations called by the country's opposition ostensibly to protest the high cost of living. These have degenerated into violent running battles in some parts of the country. Whilst the Constitution provides for unarmed and peaceful demonstrations, statistics from the NPS paint a different picture.

Interior PS Raymond Omollo says, "305 officers were injured with 156 assaults documented during the protests." He further says, "859 shops were broken into and 199 buildings destroyed amid the unrest." This column has previously decried the misuse of the urban residuum in political protests.

It has remonstrated against the barricading of public roads, destruction of property and the mugging of those unwilling to join in these protests. Yet such actions provide the agency that protestors have used, time and again, to force the government to the negotiation table.

It is disingenuous to demand accountability from the NPS whilst airbrushing from the same conversation actions of obviously sponsored youth hellbent on making the country ungovernable. It is duplicitous to place these youth on the frontline of mass action armed with stones and then to turn around and cry foul when they are injured in the violent confrontations that ensue.

The urban residuum is human too. They are sons, daughters, brothers, sisters and in many cases, parents too. They are not expendable. They must not be used as cannon fodder in an unseemly fight where they become collateral damage, forgotten once a political end has been achieved!

On a related note, an audit of the conduct of the NPS should be carried out to determine whether disproportionate force was used and if there were extenuating circumstances that warranted it. It is for that reason that the Independent Policing Oversight Authority (IPOA) exists.

IPOA's function is to receive complaints from members of the public on police misconduct and to carry out independent investigations on the same. This should be the first port of call for those aggrieved by police action. Talk of the ICC is just playing to the galleries!

Mr Khafafa is a public policy analyst