• Irungu Houghton

Open data is essential for professional policing and public safety

Updated: Apr 21


Something remarkable happened on Thursday with the publication of the Independent Affairs Unit report on the performance of the National Police Service during the pandemic. Alongside several other state and civic reports, the IAU report informs a growing culture of open data and evidence-based policing strategies.


Over ninety senior police officers from headquarters, county commanders, research and human rights organisations attended the virtual launch of the 2020 Performance Report of the Internal Affairs Unit. Established under the National Police Service Act 2011, the IAU is mandated to independently receive and investigate complaints against police officers.


The findings offer a snapshot of police professionalism and brutality during the pandemic. Police inaction, harassment and intimidation, administrative issues, and bribery, in this order, top the complaints. The IAU recorded 23 cases of torture, 13 complaints of extra judicial executions and no cases of enforced disappearances. Forty per cent of the 1,043 complaints come from Nairobi County and 16 per cent of the complaints were reported by police officers against other police officers. Surprisingly, women make up only 18 per cent of the total complaints submitted to the IAU.


The figures need to be verified against other statistics released by the Independent Policing Oversight Authority, Kenya National Commission on Human Rights and the Missing Voices Alliance. Separately, IPOA has recorded over 3,000 complaints and the Missing Voices Alliance have documented no less than 157 unlawful deaths and 10 disappearances while in police custody.


The discrepancies can be explained by a variety of reasons. The IAU figures are based on what was reported and are not supposed to be nationally accurate. The idea of police officers policing police officers is also relatively new. Fearful of the “blue code”, the practise of police officers shielding rogue and dangerous cops, most citizens still fear reporting to the police. Thirdly, the absence of dialogue among data gathering agencies does not yet allow for reliable open data verification and harmonisation.


For these reasons, publicly releasing the IAU data is significant as the Deputy Inspector General and several County Commanders present at the launch also noted. Data verification and harmonisation among agencies is long overdue. It hurts the National Police Service and helps no-one to have different figures flying around.


Propelled by Utumumishi, Uadilifu and judiciary digitisation projects, the nation is slowly moving towards “digi-smart” occurrence books, police stations, courts, and communities. Like elsewhere in the world, Kenya’s criminal justice system has recognised that effective public safety strategies and professional law enforcement requires public data. The United Kingdom’s https://data.police.uk/ open data sets are worth considering for local adaption. Data transparency is also critical for deepening legitimacy in the eyes of citizens especially with current high incidences of police brutality and deaths or disappearances in custody.


The deeper challenge is not just sharing information but engaging diverse constituencies, especially women and youth on how we can address crime trends. Could crime data be further broken down at ward levels for discussion with resident associations, business and civic organisations? Could these fora be tasked with generating new crime reduction strategies and partnerships? Police professionalism, open crime data, public dialogue and partnerships are the surest way of reducing crimes by both civilians and the men and women in blue. The Internal Affairs Unit and the National Police Service can be applauded for this week’s step in the right direction.


This opinion was first published in the Sunday Standard, 18 April 2021. This version corrects the police brutality 2020 figures in the Standard attributed to www.MissingVoices.co.ke


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