Why newly launched DCI National Forensic Laboratory was overdue

The National Forensic Laboratory at the DCI Headquarters

The National Forensic Laboratory at the DCI Headquarters in Nairobi County during the facility’s official opening. 

Photo credit: PSCU

It is the responsibility of governments to ensure the citizens live freely, without fear for their life and, where they invest, that wealth is protected. Certain mechanisms are at play to guarantee such an environment and policing is one of them.

The State, therefore, through delegated authority, immensely invests in law enforcement agencies through finances, tooling and staffing for them to exercise certain powers and privileges. The uniformed staff at policing agencies—gazetted, commissioned or officers of lower ranks—routinely apply these powers which, ordinarily, are above those practicable by the general populace.

When an individual police officer exercises these powers in executing a day-to-day assignment, it may generate enormous impact which, at times, is irreversible. For instance, during an investigation into a capital offence, the actions of a police detective will determine the direction the adjudication of a case will take once placed before a court of law.

In hindsight, a criminal may walk scot-free and live to commit other crimes or an innocent soul be left to pile away for life in a lonely cell. Such undesirable outcomes are avoidable with a professional police service. Yet, they can easily happen if the capacity of officers whom we depend on to investigate crimes is not enhanced sustainably.

Sustainable because crime is dynamic; new trends are ever emerging and, especially with the advent of information technology, criminals are making cyberspace their new playing field. It would be a disservice to mwananchi if law enforcement agencies don’t ride in tandem with the changing times and beat the wrong-doers at their own game.

According to our Constitution, the National Police Service (NPS) shall strive for the highest standards of professionalism and discipline. Moreover, NPS shall train staff to the highest possible standards of competence, among other dictates.

It was, therefore, a big leap when, earlier last week, President Kenyatta commissioned the ultra-modern forensic laboratory at the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) headquarters.

Evaded us for decades

The Independent Policing Oversight Authority (Ipoa), exists to give effect to Article 244 of the Constitution, quoted above. Expectations are high as Kenya looks forward to reaping the benefits of this milestone project—the DCI National Forensic Laboratory—which had eluded us for decades.

Incidents of criminal cases being thrown out by the courts, citing shoddy investigations, will reduce. It will not be a matter of “if” but “when” for law enforcers to catch up with criminals and the turnaround time would be largely reduced.

Other State agencies bestowed tasks like enforcing the law or overseeing regulatory mechanisms will benefit from the proficiency of the lab and, therefore, keep criminals at bay. We will no longer depend on foreign expertise to solve crimes. At the ceremony, the President directed the ministries of Interior and also Information Communication Technology to come up with ways of strengthening the capacity of the cybercrime unit, one of the 10 components that constitute the lab.

He also directed NPS to introduce a mandatory continuous professional development programme on cybersecurity for all officers charged with criminal investigations.

However, the ripple effects of the lab should be felt across the country, especially at the crime branch offices at the police station level. These smaller offices are the first point of reference when crimes that need dedicated investigation are initially reported. They also handle the preliminary investigations.

Consequently, what comes to mind is the Police Station Accelerated Development and Modernization Programme. This was envisioned to enforce and document a policy on minimum standards for police stations. “ICT in police station operations and digitisation of police records” is one of them.

It is also an area Ipoa has flagged in statutory reports and publications, on the need for technology at the police station level, especially on case file management systems.

Mrs Makori, an advocate of the High Court of Kenya, is the chairperson of the Independent Policing Oversight (Ipoa) Board. @anne_makori