The recent killing of a cart pusher in Nairobi’s Mathare slums once again spotlights incessant police brutality. It highlights continuing high-handedness that has come to characterize the police service.
Coming against the backdrop of widely publicised ruthless crackdown on citizens found to have disobeyed the dusk-to-dawn curfew, the incident has to be properly investigated and perpetrators arraigned to face criminal charges. The desire is to clean the police service of errant officers who misuse their powers to inflict pain and harm on citizens.
In the past weeks, several cases have been reported across the country, which shows an unending trend of recklessness and indiscipline among the officers. There are also many cases of cruelty on hapless citizens that go unnoticed under the cover of the curfew. People have been harassed and tortured over miscellaneous misdemeanors such as not wearing face masks properly.
We acknowledge that the Independent Policing Oversight Authority (Ipoa) is investigating some of the well-publicized cases and, hopefully, will push for criminal charges and, ultimately, punishment for the culprits. But Ipoa has also not acquitted itself well. Numerous reports of police transgressions are never investigated, or hardly generate conclusive outcomes and actions.
What is puzzling is the difficulty in ending the endemic heartlessness by some officers. Not that the entire service is rotten. Most of the officers are disciplined and hardworking and have demonstrated a remarkable level of professionalism and brought honour to the service. Those ought to be affirmed and celebrated. But the few unruly ones have to be identified and sanctioned.
The desire to create a disciplined and professional police service has been long and winding. At the height of Kanu dictatorship in the 1980s and early ’90s, police were used for forceful control. That was the reason police reform was at the core of the clamour for constitutional change.
Consequent to that, the current Constitution created the police service as an independent entity that would make decisions without external interference and, importantly, promote justice and the rule of law. Therefore, it is anachronistic when members of the service act in a recalcitrant manner.
The killing of African-American George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis, United States, has gripped the world with a clarion for justice. Globally, attention is focused on how police officers handle citizens. As we have stated before, the National Police Service has to change and the starting point is to get rid of the few elements who bring the name of the institution to disrepute.