Kenya’s shameful record in global police killings


When it comes to killings, Kenya police has few equals: They kill more people in days than other countries do in years, a Nation Newsplex analysis reveals.

Studies around the world have linked the number and rate of police killings to factors such as whether police are armed all the time, gun ownership rates, adherence to police guidelines firearms use, quality of training offered to police recruits and poverty levels.

With a police killing rate of 3.2 per million people, Kenya’s police killing rate last year was almost at par with that of the United States’ rate of 3.5 per million. However, both were dwarfed by South Africa who kill at the rate of 7.2 people per million.

However databases on police killings in the US capture almost every case unlike in Kenya where killings in marginalised and slum areas often go unreported and undocumented (Read the story on police killings in Mathare in the Daily Nation tomorrow).

The US, which has made the headlines across the world for its dismal record on police killing has the highest private gun ownership rate in the world, 89 civilian firearms per 100, according to data from the Small Arms Survey by the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies based in Geneva.

According to the website, the US rate is even higher, at 101 civilian guns per 100 people, while Kenya has two civilian guns per 100 people.

Private gun ownership in the US has been associated with higher rates of gun-related homicide.  However, more recently, the shootings by police of unarmed black people, many of which have been captured on video, have led to public unrest.

About 1,146 people were killed by the police in the US last year, according to The Counted, The Guardian’s database on people killed by the police in the US.  About 27 per cent of those killed were . Blacks made up 13 per cent of the US population, according to 2015 estimates by that country’s census bureau. This means that African Americans were killed at a rate twice their proportion in the population.

Patrolling unarmed 

Despite the protests in the United States, the killing rate in that country is dwarfed by South Africa.

There were 396 deaths from police action in South Africa in the financial year 2014-2015, according a report by the country’s Independent Police Investigative Directorate, while in Kenya Deadly Force recorded more than 140 recorded fatalities caused by police in 2015.

However given that Kenya does not have a publicly available centralised system of recording killings by police, the true number of deaths remains largely unknown.

With a population of 55 million compared to Kenya’s 44 million, South Africa’s police killing rate is 7.2 deaths per million people, twice as deadly as Kenyan police, who kill at the rate of 3.2 per million people.

Police killing statistics in Kenya, South Africa and the United States are a far cry from the killing rates in European countries and Japan.

By 2015, police in Norway had shot and killed only two people since 2002, according to a 2015 report on the use of police firearms in Norway. Even allowing for Norway’s relatively small population of five million, or a ninth of Kenya’s, the killings in Kenya appear disproportionately high.

By mid this year the police in the England and Wales had killed two people in 2016 and since 1990, 60 people, indicates data collected by Inquest, a UK advocacy group. The current population of the two countries combined is more than 58 million.

In the first month of 2016, police killed more people in Kenya than in England and Wales combined over the past 10 years. In January, 21 people were killed by police in Kenya the same number as fatal shootings by police in the two countries since 2006.

Police in Norway and the United Kingdom, like in many European countries, patrol unarmed and carry guns only under special circumstances. Yet even in European countries like Germany, where police routinely carry guns, their use is rare.

Two years in training

Even if Germany has one of the highest private gun ownership rates – 30 guns per 100 civilians which ranks it 15 out of 175 countries – Germany police rarely kill, with only eight deaths from police shooting between 2012 and 2013 in a country with more than 80 million inhabitants.  

Experts attribute the low number and rate of killings to revisions in the gun laws in the wake of high-profile shootings, and improved training and community relations.  

In Germany, anyone under the age of 25 who applies for their first firearms license must undergo a psychiatric evaluation with a trained counsellor, involving personality and anger management tests.

Most police recruits in Germany spend more than two years in training compared to five weeks in the United States.   

A report by the German publication Der Spiegel indicated that in 2011 the German police fired 85 bullets. Forty-nine of these were warnings shots, 36 were aimed at criminal suspects, 15 people were injured, and six were killed.

The same year, 12 police officers in Miami, USA, fired 100 bullets at a driver who had hit several other vehicles and killed him along with four bystanders.

Japan on its part has a near-zero tolerance to private gun ownership and its gun-related murder rate is virtually non-existent.  Last year, according to the National Police Agency, the country recorded just one deaths resulting from firearms.

Police in Japan carry guns, but rarely fire them, instead using their black belts in judo or police sticks, a study published in Asia-Pacific Law Review found. In an average year, according to the study, the entire Tokyo police force only fires six shots. Japan ranks 164 in private gun ownership rate.

It is difficult to compare data from different countries compiled using different methods, a situation that is made worse by the fact that outside Western Europe, most countries do not have official comprehensive and credible databases on people killed by police.