• Irungu Houghton

Allowing police to pronounce guilt vandalises justice systems

Updated: Nov 10, 2019



Confident leaders know that there are no professional failures, only lessons to learn and new actions to take. The release of a new Policing Standards and Gaps Survey and a citizen found shot to death after two days in police custody must have caught the attention of the police leadership this week. The circumstances of Ngoma Kaleli’s death and the Independent Policing Oversight Authority’s findings must jointly trigger a new set of procedures and specific actions to restore public confidence and collaboration in crime-prevention within the rule of law.


According to media reports this week, Ngoma Kaleli alias Nthee was arrested near Kelvian Hotel in Wote, Makueni on the evening of Wednesday October 30. He was not informed of the reasons for his arrest, cautioned or registered in the Police Station Occurrence Book. He was not allowed to communicate with an advocate or a person of his choice, nor was he offered bond or brought to court within twenty-four hours. Instead, he was held, beaten and bribes were demanded for his release. On the morning of Saturday November 2, he was found shot and dead on the outskirts of Wote.


Without a fair trial, his family, a court of law nor the public will never know if the allegations of him being a criminal were true. I do not pretend to know what really happened over those 72 hours. What I do know is like the other 71 deaths and abductions documented on the Missing Voices website this year, we also need the circumstances of this death to be transparently investigated. If the allegations are true, Police Officers may have flagrantly violated Articles 29, 48, 49 and 50 of the Constitution, the Penal Code and the National Police Service’s own Standing Orders.


The incident takes on more significance in the light of the IPOA Survey released this week. The findings were released in the presence of the Interior Cabinet Secretary, National Police Service Inspector General and other law enforcement leaders. The Authority spoke to 5,961 people across the Republic. Forty-six per cent of Kenyans surveyed, nearly one in every two people, incredibly have had an experience of being asked for bribes, excessive force, assault and being threatened with falsified evidence and arrest. This figure has gone up 16 per cent since 2013.


While the role of IPOA is better understood now than it was in 2013, most Kenyans are still not able to distinguish the difference between the Authority and Directorate of Criminal Investigations. Many do not understand that they have other rights than only being informed of the charges against them. The public remains skeptical that any action will be taken in cases of violent policing and fear victimization.


It is the fear of witnesses to testify rather than the efficiency of investigative agencies that leads to so many cases being abandoned. The Survey’s respondents call for transparent investigations, transfers, demotion and imprisonment where officers are found to be guilty.


The report also recommends strengthening the detective and forensic capacity of the National Police Service, digitizing records, investing in the professional and psychosocial development of our officers and deepening the positive work ethos and respect for the rule of law. The shocking findings provide another opportunity for the National Police Service leadership to declare new actions in response to this report.


The challenges being faced by the National Police Service are not exclusive to Kenya. Last week, I experienced my own #BlackLivesMatter moment. I watched citizens whip out their cameras as an American police-officer placed his knee on the back of an unarmed woman half his size to violently arrest her.


In eleven days from now, African American #RodneyReed is set to be executed by the State of Texas. He was sentenced to death for the murder of his lover Stacey Stites in 1996. Unless the Innocence Project led public campaign to stay his execution persuades the Governor of the substantial DNA and circumstantial evidence that exonerates him and implicates Stites’ fiancé, local police officer Jimmy Fennell, the State may kill an innocent person.


The role of the police in a democracy is not to pronounce guilt, pronounce sentences, execute suspects or even to defend Governments. It is to uphold the law, apprehend suspects and hand them over to prosecutors and judges to find them guilty. Allowing police officers to cross this line in America or Kenya vandalizes the criminal justice systems both our societies need.


First published Saturday Standard, November 9, 2019. Kindly reproduced here with permission from the Standard Group


The issues raised above also found expression in the Standard, November 8, 2019 editorial

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