Benson Imbatu

Police Constable Benson Imbatu pulled the trigger 26 times in his shooting spree in Kabete.

| Pool | Nation Media Group

Why police are executing murder-suicides 

What you need to know:

  • Amnesty International report indicates that in the first five days of 2021, five police officers were reported to have lost their lives in murder-suicide situations.
  • Civilians only learn of an officer’s emotional and psychological challenges when the officer eventually becomes violent to themselves.

Early Tuesday morning, a police officer cocked his government-issue AK47 rifle, pointed it at anyone he saw and pulled the trigger, multiple times. 

By the time the gunshots stopped, seven people, including the policeman himself, and his wife, lay dead on the ground. Several others had gunshot injuries. 

Police Constable Benson Imbatu pulled the trigger 26 times in his shooting spree in Kabete, the shopping centre nearest to his work station – Kabete Police Station in Kiambu County. 

The incident shocked civilians and authorities alike, and added to the ever-growing list of homicides and suicides among members of the uniformed forces, mostly the National Police Service. 

The killings happened just months after a female police officer attached to a Nakuru Police Station- Constable Caroline Kangogo allegedly shot dead two of her colleagues before shooting herself in the bathroom at her parents’ rural home.  

Several other murder-suicides by police have been reported, including that involving Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i’s bodyguard Hudson Wakise, who shot and killed his wife Pauline Wakasa, before turning the gun on himself.

A report released by Amnesty International in May this year indicated that in the first five days of 2021, five police officers were reported to have lost their lives in –murder-suicide situations. The attacks were not limited to colleagues; they also extended to close family relations.

So what is going on? Inspector General of Police Hillary Mutyambai in 2020 admitted and warned that police officers were grossly affected by occupational trauma and stress, and that they needed help. 

Mr Mutyambai’s predecessor Joseph Boinett stirred by the increasing cases, had instituted a task force to look into the phenomenon. 

Although the report was not made public, members of the task force who spoke to the Nation on condition of anonymity said that it found that at least 80 percent of police officers in Kenya -- drawn from both the Administration and Kenya Police Services were suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and other psychological issues. 

“We found that most officers had been affected by traumatic events they responded to, being the first responders in crime incidents like murder scenes, accidents, natural calamities and others. 

“Police officers confront trauma whenever it happens. They have to investigate murders, collect bodies from accident scenes and others. People tend to expect that the police are unaffected emotionally. But just like you and I, they must internalise what they see and go through,” the member of the task force said. 

In most cases, civilians only learn of an officer’s emotional and psychological challenges when the officer eventually becomes violent to themselves or others. 

Contents of the task force report have not been released, and even the National Police Service Spokesperson, Mr Bruno Shioso, said he had not accessed it. 

Earlier, another task force headed by Assistant Inspector General of Police Aggrey Adoli went around the country, with instructions to initiate “up, close and candid” conversations with officers in the rank and file and identify the causes of the trend. The team presented its findings to the NPS in 2016. 

Independently, the Nation established that the report identified high-handedness by some commanders, alcohol abuse, depression and crimes of passion, among the causes of the violence. 

The team also established that marital problems, financial management handicaps and low morale were also affecting officers.

It recommended interventions to ensure individual officers are well equipped to deal with the problem. 

Apart from the two task forces, the murder-suicides by the police have been the subject of discourse in Parliament, among commissions and in committee meetings, but the resolutions remain on the hamster’s wheel, as more police officers continue to take lives.

On August, 12, this year, the National Police Service Commission (NPSC) released an official report detailing the mental health crisis in the service.

The report stated that at least 210 police officers -- 97 percent of whom were male -- were suffering from known mental health issues and that they were under scrutiny, to ascertain whether they were fit to continue serving. From the report, 113 officers were on treatment for mental health conditions. 

NPSC recommended that senior police officers be trained on counselling in order to help their junior colleagues deal with trauma. The commission said in the report that it required Sh261 million to implement the plan.  

The NPS subsequently launched a programme to sensitise all police officers in trauma healing and psychological wellbeing by being sensitive to recognise it in themselves as recommended by the NPSC, but officers who were interviewed by the Nation said the programme does not help them, because they are rarely given a chance to express themselves or seek counselling. 

“That programme is only good on paper. The bosses do not listen to us. They do not give us off days to seek medical and psychological help. We were not even sensitised about it. Myself, I do not know who to reach out to,” an officer said. 

Mr Shioso acknowledged that murders and suicides by members of the NPS are an area of concern and that more interventions had been put in place, and many officers assisted. 

“High premium has been put on mental health of officers both by the NPSC and NPS to address stress-related issues, psychological, psychosocial issues …

“Counselors and chaplains have already been recruited and deployed to counsel officers and we have concrete partnerships with specialists like Chiromo Group of Hospitals. Many officers have been helped through this option,” Mr Shioso said. 

He encouraged commanders to adopt an emotional intelligence leadership paradigm that is empathetic and responsive to needs and concerns of officers and said that there was need for the country to invest in a referral police hospital to address the increasing health and psychosocial needs of officers.

The International Commission of Jurists, in a report released on May, 25 this year, pointed out the lack of adequate data on the prevalence of mental health problems among the police and the general population in Kenya as one of the challenges facing the country. 

“Various efforts have been put in place by the National Police Service Commission to advance the psychological well-being of police officers. However, to effectively handle the mental health crisis, a multi-sectoral approach would be most suitable,” said the ICJ.