Gunmen train their sights on Kenyan police

Members of the public at the scene of crime after a police officer was shot dead by armed gangsters Kencom sus stage in Nairobi on March 11, 2009. Over 19 police officers have been killed in the line of duty in 2009. Photo/PETERSON GITHAIGA (NAIROBI)

More than 19 Kenyan police officers have been killed in the line of duty in 2009, showing that even those charged with protecting the public are themselves becoming victims of gun crime.

In at least 11 of the cases, the officers were shot and killed in ambushes laid by criminal gangs or bandits. Others died in different circumstances, but still in the line of duty, like being lynched by mobs while enforcing the law.

Some have been run over by speeding motorists while on routine traffic control duties. Other officers have been maimed or seriously injured, forcing their removal from duty, in brutal attacks.

The high death rate has raised concern over the welfare of officers, especially now that a national task force headed by Mr Justice (rtd) Philip Ransley is looking into police reforms.

Among other issues, stakeholders have called for provision of “comprehensive life insurance cover” for officers and a review of the current Sh5,000 monthly risk allowance.

Other proposals include providing protective gear, like bullet proof vests for all officers as well as night vision equipment.

The police have frosty relationship with the public, often because of their use of excessive force, sometimes resulting in death or injury of suspects and innocent bystanders. There have also been suspicions that some officers might be involved in crime.

Risk life

But because of the important job of officers, often requiring them to put their lives at risk to protect others, the apparently deliberate targeting of officers has caused concern.

Between 1913 and 2008, 389 officers were killed in the line of duty, an average of four fatalities in a year, though some years have been worse than others. The killing of 11 officers in seven months this year, shows is a noticeable escalation, especially in Nairobi and its environs.

Constables Raphael Musyimi and Daniel Kyalo are the latest officers to be killed in cold blood. They were stabbed several times by a gang armed with knives at Nairobi’s Dandora estate last Tuesday.

The officers, who were attached to Kinyago Police Post, had gone to a house in Dandora Phase 4 at 7am after receiving information that it was being used as a den by drug dealer. Three men attacked them as they walked up a staircase.

Six days earlier, Flying Squad officer Samuel Tororei was shot dead and a colleague Mohammed Awadh survived with injuries in a gang attack outside the police quarters in Nairobi’s Pangani estate.

The killers – two men – are said to have laid in wait for about eight hours while calmly sipping their drinks at a nearby restaurant.

Nyinyi ndio mnajifanya Alfa sana (You who think you are the toughest)” a witness recalled one of the killers saying before firing at the officers in the vehicle waiting for the gate to be opened.

Alfa is police code for the Flying Squad. The incident happened at 10pm. Police spokesman Eric Kiraithe said he did not think officers were particularly targeted.

“Rampant killing of police officers is a very worrying trend. We’re very concerned and we’re drawing strategies to ensure that it stops,” he said, adding: “Our officers have been carrying out intensive operations to rein in criminal gangs.”

Kenya National Commission on Human Rights vice-chairman Hassan Omar Hassan, however, says he believes that there is an outright war on the police.

“It’s worrisome. The occurrences within a short time are a clear sign of deliberate attacks targeting police officers by criminals,” he said.

Junior officers who spoke to the Nation on condition of anonymity because force discipline does not allow them to speak to the press said crime intelligence reports showed recent attacks are the outcome of secret meetings held by criminal gangs.

The officers said the meetings were called by underground kingpins, following recent police raids in gang bases in Dandora and Kayole.

Towards the end of June, Constables David Munyaka Migwi, Stephen Nderitu and Raphael Makumbi Ndoye, who were Criminal Investigations Department (CID) in Athi River were ambushed and killed in cold blood.

The officers were in an unmarked police car on June 27 and had just pulled in at Zahra Petrol Station off Mombasa Road at around 1am when the gangsters sprayed their car with rifle fire. The attackers took off with three AK-47 rifles and a police radio.

The same day in Mombasa, two senior Administration Policemen – Inspectors Badi Mwajirani and Juma Mwagatu – were killed by their Regular Police counterparts. The officers, both inspectors at Kilindini District Commissioner’s office, were shot dead on Moi Avenue at around 9.30am.

The shooting heightened tension between the rival police units. Regular police claimed that the APs were on a criminal mission, while the APs countered that the slain officers were executed after cracking down on a narcotics cartel linked to a senior police officer.

In Nyeri, the district CID boss was ambushed and shot dead on June 12. Chief Inspector John Nzau was shot dead at night as he returned home after having rushed out to a crime scene. Investigations, however, showed that he had been lured out of his house by a false report.

In West Pokot, an AP was shot dead by raiders on April 12. More than 120 raiders attacked as the driver was taking his colleagues to Bahati village, which had been raided earlier and 10 cows stolen.

Another two officers were shot when they responded to a distress call from a teacher who had been attacked along the Loyapat/Kainuk road.

In Bungoma district, villagers attacked a policeman who attempted to rescue a suspected motorcycle thief. During the May 5 incident, the officer fired in a bid to escape, killing one of the irate villagers and injuring another.

Officers on routine traffic duties have not been spared. On May 21, Constable Martin Shikuku was run over by a speeding matatu driver at Kasarani on Thika Road.

On May 15, a drunk driver knocked down two police officers and killed them near Mang’u High School on the same road.

In Nairobi, a traffic policeman died instantly when he was knocked down by a matatu on January 18 at the Globe Cinema roundabout.

On March 11, Chief Inspector Henry Anunda was hacked to death together with his son in Nairobi. Their bodies were found in a bush at Kamiti, in Nairobi’s Kahawa West area.

On March 16, Corporal Julius Amugane, who was attached to the Kikuyu Police Station, was shot dead by armed robbers at Muchatha. He was in a squad pursuing the robbers.

Illegal timber merchants in a tractor also knocked down and killed an AP on January 19 on the Eldoret-Kipkaren road. The officer, Mr Erick Koros, had waved down the dealers at a road block in Nandi. The tractor driver slowed down, only to accelerate suddenly and run over the officer.