Police officers are often the target of criticism from ordinary citizens and civil rights groups for using excessive force against civilians while enforcing Covid-19 rules or controlling demonstrations.
This has led to mistrust between the police and the public as the people mandated to protect lives and property have been caught doing the opposite, including stealing and extortion.
Statistics from the Independent Policing Oversight Authority (Ipoa) show that between January and June this year, some 1,324 complaints had been filed against the police, 105 of them being allegations of killings and serious injuries.
In one week alone this month, 16 officers were arrested for stealing, killing and extorting.
As their cases are prosecuted, the Nation sought to find out how their colleagues feel about this widening rift between the police and the public ahead of the General Election in August next year.
Several officers said they believe the violence targeting them during protests is planned by illegal groups exploiting demonstrations to make a comeback ahead of the elections.
Officers said they don’t approach protesters with the intention of shedding blood.
“While the use of force is allowed by the Constitution in some situations, we do not respond to protests with instructions to use force. Live bullets are deployed only when one’s life is threatened,” an officer said.
The Nation has learnt that officers who first responded to Wednesday’s protests in Kahawa West, Nairobi, were armed with blank bullets and tear gas, with multiple officers saying police stations are not being supplied with rubber bullets as they used to.
Police said blank bullets serve a similar purpose as rubber bullets and protesters have noticed the increasing use of the former and this encourages their defiance.
Kasarani Sub-County Police Commander Peter Mwanzo observed that there is a growing spirit of defiance to authority.
“I do not know to whose benefit this is, as what started as a response to a distress call over looting protesters swelled into a full-blown protest that appeared well organised by some illegal group against the police,” he said.
"The traders affected by the demolitions comprised about 30 people but the protesters were about 3,000 young men from Dandora, Soweto, Kamae, Kariobangi, Kasabuni and so forth, some of whom were armed with knives and pangas and pelting our officers with stones," he noted.
The young men blocked all the four exits and cornered the first team of officers controlling protests at a roundabout and started pelting them with stones.
The deteriorating situation prompted police reinforcements, with about 300 uniformed and plainclothes officers from Kasarani, Santon, Mwiki, Central, Langa’ta, Embakasi and other stations, including the GSU, called in to assist.
“Anxiety grows when everyone gets charged against you. You go to the field expecting to be injured,” said an officer who was among those mobilied to respond to the Kahawa West protests.
“Some of us suffered injuries but none of that was highlighted by the media or by the human rights groups. The focus was on the man who was unfortunately shot by what I strongly believe was a stray bullet.”
Three officers suffered serious injuries during the protests.
“If we are not careful, all these buildings and developments that have taken years to build will be brought down in one day by such habits. If something is not done, then we are on our way to anarchy,” a senior officer told the Nation.
Mr Mwanzo asked parents to talk to their children and stop them from joining illegal groups that take advantage of civil disobedience to loot.
“There are proper channels to address grievances. If we allow people to take the law into their own hands, then there will be anarchy,” he added.
A junior officer told the Nation that whenever he is out in the field, his top priority is his own security as the safety of those present is dependent on him.
“It is unfair that people become silent when an officer dies or gets injured in the line of duty and only speak up when a civilian is injured,” he said.
His words were echoed by Kayole Sub-County Police Commander Peter Wambugu.
“Saving our lives comes first because that is the only way we can protect other lives. Wewe utakaa hapo uuliwe (Will you just stand there and wait to be killed?)” he asked.