Fresh concerns over new system of police vetting 'behind camera'

According to the NPSC boss, the remaining number of officers who served when police was a force could be about 20,000. [Moses Sammy, Standard]

Unlike the Johnstone Kavuludi-led National Police Service Commission which was determined to vet all officers, the current leadership targets officers employed before the 2010 Constitution came into effect.

"There is no need of vetting officers recruited from 2010 onwards since vetting is conducted at the recruitment stage where key stakeholders and observers are involved in elimination and selection," says commission chair Eliud Kinuthia.

The reasoning behind this approach is that the new Constitution transitioned the police from a force to a service. It is assumed those employed when police are changed to service are automatically vetted at the entry level.

Section (1) of Article 243 of the Constitution says all persons who were immediately before the commencement of the National Police Service Act, officers or employees of the Kenya Police Force and the Administration Police Force, including those working with the Criminal Investigations Department, shall upon commencement of the Act become members of the service.

"It is therefore clear from the Constitution that officers to be vetted are those recruited before 2010 and from our records they were about 45,000 in number; and these are the ones we are targeting although most of them have already retired or left," said Kinuthia.

According to the NPSC boss, the remaining number of officers who served when the police was a force could be about 20,000.

Bad apples

"And this is the number we are focusing on as we endeavor to professionalise the service, which has about two per cent of the bad apples," said Kinuthia.

The Discipline and Human Resources Audit Committee headed by Lilian Kiamba has been looking into disciplinary issues brought to the commission.

"I empowered the committee to deal with discipline, control and to vet. This approach is cost-effective and efficient, and I can assure you those who have been removed have not complained of unfair dismissal," said Kinuthia.

The Executive Director at the Independent Medico-Legal Unit Peter Kiama faults the commission for opting to vet officers behind the camera. "The commission has failed Kenyan, I don't think it has the capacity to conduct the exercise, which according to the Constitution was supposed to be anchored on principles of transparency, accountability and public participation," said the IMLU boss.

Human rights

Even as Kinuthia insists the commission was committed to instilling discipline and professionalism, the 110,000-strong police service is constantly in the limelight over violation of human rights.

A few weeks ago, nine officers attached to the disbanded Special Service Unit (SSU) were taken to court after being linked to the disappearance of two Indian nationals Zulfiqar Ahmad Khan, Mohamed Zaid Sami Kidwai, and their Kenyan taxi driver Nicodemus Mwania.

For many years, extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances have tainted the image of police, which refuses to clean the blot.

The Commission of Inquiry into Post-Election Violence (CIPEV) directly linked police to 405 deaths of the 1,133 killings that occurred during protests.

"Whilst the commission acknowledges the possibility that some of those killed and wounded by gunshots may have been the victims of people other than the police, no evidence to this effect was received," stated CIPEV in its report that proposed far-reaching reform measures in police.

Violation of human rights by police officers is a manifestation of a lack of fear of repercussions over their unprofessional conduct.

"From my point of view, the carefree attitude by most officers stems from the fact that they are not being held to account. This is a weakness vetting sought to cure," said Joseph Onyango, the immediate former NPSC CEO.

For Kiama, there is a lapse in command supervision. "If commanders did proper supervision of their juniors, we would be witnessing less disciplinary cases," he stated adding that they advised the commission vet at the entry-level and extend the exercise police stations where screening should be continuous.

In their exit report, Kavuludi's team advocated for vetting and proposed that in consultation with the Attorney General and Interior Cabinet Secretary, the next commission should amend vetting regulations with a view of having the exercise part of the annual performance appraisal.

When The Standard caught up with Kavuludi, the former NPSC chairman declined to revisit the matter only saying: "I am certain the team we left in office is doing a commendable job on reforms."

Yet reports compiled by different human rights group show close to 257 victims have been killed between 2018 and this year by people believed to be police officers gone rogue.

Police killings

Twenty-one suspected criminals were allegedly killed by police in Dandora and Mathare between 2018 and 2019, according to Human Rights Watch.

During the enforcement of Covid-19 protocols in 2020, Social Justice Centre Working Group documented 18 deaths while IMLU recorded 26 killings carried out by police.

Last year, civil society organisations under the umbrella of Missing Voices Coalition in a report released early this year, linked police to 187 deaths. The report dubbed 'Delayed Justice', said victims first went missing before the bodies were found and identified by relatives.

Early this year, 27 bodies were retrieved from River Yala in Siaya County. Most of the bodies bore similar torture marks and were either stashed in gunny bags or tied with ropes.

To address some of the problems bedeviling police, the Kenya Kwanza administration is mulling forming a task force to review the terms and working conditions of officers.