Police reforms: From a force to a service, but is it? The hits and misses

June 23, 1971: Yatta MP Gideon Munyao (centre) pleads  “guilty” to a charge of conspiring with others not before the court to topple the government. The MP was sentenced to nine and a half years in prison. 

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

 Since coming to birth in 1906, the National Police Service (NPS) has been on a journey of transformation mainly fuelled by political regimes and evolving crime trends.

This journey truly began in June 1963 when the country attained self-rule, prompting a need for change in the then colonial outfit to establish a force that would cater to the interests of an independent country and continuously establish units to deal with the security realities of the time.

By early 1980s, both the National Police Force and the Administration Police Force had been fully formed, each with its own command and training facilities.

However, it was during this period leading to the early 90s that NPS recorded some of its worst human rights violations as many civilians were tortured and killed for their anti-government leanings in the now infamous Nyayo era. It was also during this period that the defunct Flying Squad Unit was formed to address rising cases of carjacking, bank robberies and motor vehicle theft, which it did with ruthless success. At the time, an officer of the defunct squad would hold a suspect for days without having them charged in court,  which contributed to the tainting of its image and eventual disbandment after two decades.

The end of the late President Daniel Moi’s rule in 2003, however, paved way for a new beginning for the service as the late President Mwai Kibaki’s Narc government promised reforms across government agencies including the police force, to make it more accountable and sensitive to human rights. It was during this period that the inaugural task force on police reforms chaired by Dr John P. Mutonyi was established to initiate a number of operational and administrative reforms.

The need for further reforms rose again following the deadly 2007/8 post-election violence that exposed police’s unpreparedness and uncoordinated response to the violence that claimed over 1,000 lives and displaced thousands of others despite the police having received intelligence reports of potential unrest, according to the Commission of Inquiry on Post-Election Violence (CIPEV), better known as the Waki Commission. The Independent Review Commission (IREC), dubbed Kriegler Commission, was also formed around the same time, recommending a review of use of force by the police through adoption of internationally recognised best practices and creation of a modern code of conduct.

The two commissions further proposed a review of the NPS Act to bring together the administration and Kenya police forces under one unified command of the Inspector General. A year later (2009), the third taskforce on police reforms chaired by Justice (Rtd) Philip Ransley submitted a list of 200 recommendations including the renaming of the two forces to services, the establishment of an independent police oversight agency and a police unit to press for accountability and setting up of a police service commission to address human resource matters.

Police Reforms: The New Deputy Inspector General of Police

The report noted that delegating the role of police recruitment, promotion, discipline, welfare and dismissals to an individual had in the past contributed to unsatisfactory recruitment practices, poor terms and conditions of service, lack of professionalism, poor morale and performance amongst other challenges that police faced in the past when the mandate was under the public service commission.

In 2010, the new constitution introduced the National Police Service Act (2011) that introduced merger of the KPS and APS and new policing principles, replacing those that were under the Police Act and Administration Police Act.

Saferworld, an international non-governmental organisation with conflict prevention and peacebuilding programmes in over 20 countries and territories including the Horn of Africa, notes that the creation of the National Police Service is one of the most significant steps in reforming policing in Kenya since 1963 but notes that many problems and challenges still remain.

In 2013, the country was hit by the second large-scale terror attack after the 1997 US Embassy bombing at the Westgate Mall that again triggered a series of reforms within the service. The attack, which happened within weeks of former President Uhuru Kenyatta’s ascension to power, led to the creation of a multi-agency framework of coordinating intelligence sharing amongst security agencies.

“This incident could have been prevented as prior to the attack, intelligence had been received by a security unit but was not shared amongst the other agencies,” NPS admits in its Force to Service book.

During President Uhuru’s tenure; police stations installed gates at their entrances, a vehicle lease programme was initiated to enhance speed of response, a new uniform was introduced across all police ranks and efforts to have the manual OB digitised began. A police leadership college was also set up to prepare officers for management positions. Reforms at the time also saw more female officers promoted to senior positions within the service and the setting up of an all-female SWAT team that is trained to handle counter terrorism. Also, the modern forensic laboratory at the DCI headquarters was launched.

It is also during this period that the Flying squad was disbanded and replaced with the Special Service Unit that was also disbanded early this year after its members were linked to the abduction and killing of two Indians and their taxi driver. In its place, the process of formation of a new elite unit of 50 composed of members from the Administration Police Service and the General Service Unit below 40 years and with above average shooting skills began late last year.

As with his predecessors, President William Ruto is again pushing for reforms within NPS with the establishment of a National Taskforce on Police and Prison Reforms chaired by retired Chief Justice David Maraga that is expected to identify legal, policy, institutional and operational constraints that hinder effective delivery of service by the National Police Service and the Kenya Prisons Service.

For 60 years, the NPS has had remarkable growth and attained respect in the region, with Kenya therefore holding pivotal decision-making roles at the African Union Mechanism for Police Cooperation that is mandated to strengthen cooperation between the police agencies of AU member states in the prevention and fight against organised transnational crime, terrorism, and cybercrime as well as Interpol, where Kenya’s former Directorate of Criminal Investigations George Kinoti was elected Africa’s representative in 2021.

The number of senior female officers have also increased from the recruitment of the first female officer Elizabeth Nyaruai in 1952 to recruitment of thousands, with quite a number now occupying senior leadership positions such as Assistant Inspector General. There are also women flight engineers, helicopter pilots and surgeons, inspired by their trailblazers, Justine Ouya, Kenya’s first female flight engineer at NPS, Captain Caroline Kibuchi and Dr Kizzie Shako. Despite this progress, however, a myriad of challenges continue to rock the internal law enforcement agency, such as poor pay, inadequate health insurance, sexual harassment of female officers, claims of unfair promotions, inadequate vehicles and poor housing.