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  • Writer's pictureIrungu Houghton

Neither civilians and police officers are safe from unlawful police killings

First published Saturday Standard, November 10, 2018. Kindly reproduced here with permission from the Standard Group

Barely sixty days after the President announced sweeping police reforms, a sharp spike in police killings gives the Government and National Police Service its biggest test. In the last ten days, at least twenty-two deaths across six counties have been reported. What is not happening?

Most of the recent killings appear to violate our constitutional right to a life. Preliminary reports do not seem to suggest that the officers had complied with the National Police Service Act (2011). The Act states that the police may only use lethal force in self-defense or where there is an imminent threat to the lives of the public. Young men have been found brutalized or executed in Kerugoya, Migori, Yatta, Kiambu, Mombasa, Malindi and in Nairobi’s Huruma, Mathare and Dandora neighborhoods.

Evans Odhiambo, a 25-year-old mechanic, is the most dramatic of these cases. Initially wounded in a crowd by a stray police bullet, he sought medical attention in Mathare North Hospital. Police officers arrested him at the hospital and the next morning, he was found in the City Mortuary with six additional bullets in his body. This week also, Constables Benjamin Changawa and Stanley Okoti were found guilty for unlawfully killing Administration Police officer Vitalis Odongo and two other people in Kangemi, Nairobi four years ago.

If both civilians and police officers are not safe nor are non-Kenyans. Last week, the Nigerian President demanded a full investigation and autopsy from Kenya Government into the case of Bamiyo Ashade. The 28-year-old Nigerian was allegedly brutalized to death by officers after he refused to give them a bribe while they were checking his valid immigration status.

Very different reactions from affected families, communities, human rights organisations and the Police Service Inspector General have accompanied the killings. They range from cheers, tears, denials to outrage. The Inspector General’s public admission that he is aware of extra-judicial killings committed by his officers is an important starting point. This admission needs to followed up by decisive action on the current spate of killings.

There is no doubt that a few of the officers the Inspector General calls “rogue” are popular within their communities for breaking the law. Frustrated and frightened that a corrupt and ineffective criminal justice system will not protect them, some citizens support “uniformed lawlessness”. In this perverse context, fighting crime within the law takes leadership.

A month ago, Administration Police Officer Joash Ombati earned himself a commendation by the Deputy Inspector for staring down a public crowd who urged him to execute two criminals he had apprehended. He bravely chased the two using a private taxi, immobilized their vehicle without harming the public and proceeded to make his arrests. He has been described by his superiors as “disciplined, selfless officer who upholds the law with minimal or no supervision.”

This country needs more officers like Ombati. Despite facing the same level of personal risk as the rogue officers, he is upholding his oath and the law. His choices bring us closer to effective policing, public accountability and the rule of law. The very different choices being made by rogue officers take us to the brink of lawlessness, impunity and more violence.

The inaction on the rogue officers makes it unclear which type of officer is valued in the Police Service today. The silence in the face of claims by human rights defenders that they are being threatened by officers in Mathare and Mombasa gives permission to so-called rogue officers to further break the law.

Both the Independent Policing Oversight Authority and the Internal Affairs Bureau need to complete their investigations. The Commission of Enquiry announced by the Director of Public Prosecutions needs to visit the affected stations and their commanding officers. It is time the Government accepts the request by the UN Special Rapporteur on Extra-Judicial Executions to visit us. Human rights organizations now need to accelerate their support for communities to understand why the law must be respected and how they can report to and work with the police to secure firm convictions. There is no short cut here

I was reminded this week of the wisdom in Proverbs 2:21. Paraphrased, it calls on us all to keep the company of good men and women who walk straight and have integrity. For it is they, that will settle this land not the corrupt and the dishonest. It is worth us all remembering this.

Between the writing of this article and its publication, the Interior Cabinet Secretary announced a Distinguished Service Award for AP Officer Joash Ombati.


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