Worrying trend in police killings points to slow progress in reforms


Police killed at least 180 people in the first nine months of 2018, figures from the Nation Newsplex Deadly Force database show.

Despite this year’s figure depicting a slight decline from 188 recorded within the first nine months in 2017, the number has been rising gradually since 2015 when the Deadly Force database was established, but shot up steeply in 2017, a fact that is attributed to the General Election and the attendant spike in incidents of violence.

Nationally, the number of persons reportedly killed due to political protests drastically dropped from 60 in 2017 to one this year.

Overall, this year’s figure bears no good news but is instead a continuation of the upward trend of police killings that has persisted for three years in the country.
Deadly Force is a comprehensive database on death from police encounters in Kenya. The data was compiled for over a period of 45 months from media stories that quote police crime reports, Independent Policing Oversight Authority (IPOA) reports and reference records from human rights organisations.

The organisations have accused the police of using excessive force in dispersing protests and in poor communities.

Among the people shot dead by police were six students, four passers-by and bystanders, a police officer and an Embu county fireman. But three in four of those killed were suspected to have stolen property or robbed people.

Nearly 20 percent of people shot were reportedly unarmed while two-thirds were reported to be armed. The proportion reported to be armed was slightly lower than the previous year’s 55 percent, suggesting that crimes were more vicious, with more arms being in the wrong hands.

However, the actual number of those who were armed could be lower, as police have in the past been accused of planting weapons on suspects killed to validate their aggression.

One in six fatal bullet injuries are on the back side, according to a study by IMLU titled Guns: Our Security, Our dilemma, suggesting that the suspects were fleeing.

For instance, when Deno (name changed to protect family from possible police reprisal), a 23-year-old resident of Dandora in Nairobi, was picked up by the police from his duty station where he worked as a tout and shot dead mid this year, the police allegedly planted a pistol on him to imply that he was an armed and dangerous criminal.

“My brother was not left-handed, but they took a pistol and planted it on his left hand,” his brother said in a Nation Newsplex interview.
In another case captured by Haki Africa, a human rights group, a man was killed by police after a scuffle with his father over a camel in Boka, Tana River County. The father later said the police used excessive force.

“Some of the police officers work in densely populated areas with high incidences of crime, and are sometimes likely to get stressed up as they carry out their job, subsequently ending up being a little more aggressive than is warranted,” said IPOA Head of Communications Dennis Oketch.

Student killed

The number of students killed increased from four in nine months in 2017 to six in the same period this year. Among those killed was Brian Chacha, a 22-year-old student at KCA University’s Kisumu campus. He was shot dead by a police officer in the head and stomach at a Kisumu pub in May this year. The police officer was identified by witnesses.

About four in five of the victims with age identified were under age 35, with about a quarter being 18 and below. The killings included persons across different ages, ranging from five to 80 years old.

The youngest was a five-year-old girl, who was shot dead by her father, a police officer in Weseges, Subukia, Nakuru County, and the oldest an 80-year-old, Wambui Muturi, believed to be part of a gang of three suspected kidnappers that had allegedly abducted a woman in Kahuro sub-county, Murang’a County.

About nine in 10 persons gunned down were men, a trend maintained in the four years covered by the Deadly Force database. The finding was similar to that of the Independent Medico-Legal Unit (IMLU) data.

Deadly Force captures killings by police, wrongful or justified. According to the National Police Service Act, an officer can use their firearm under such special circumstances as saving or protecting their life, protecting a life and property through justifiable use of force, and preventing a person charged with felony from escaping lawful custody or being assisted to do so.

A majority of the victims were of modest economic status, like mitumba vendors, matatu conductors, MPesa shopkeepers, tour van drivers, a turnboy, and a boda-boda operator.
According to Newsplex interviews with some families of victims, there is a common belief that it is impossible to receive justice once one’s kin is felled by the police, and so many have resigned to fate.

‘‘We let it go and pray that God grants us justice,” said Deno’s brother.

Their position of hopelessness is partly informed by the few prominent cases of police killings that have dragged on for years. One is the much-publicised ongoing two-year-old case against the accused killers of lawyer

Willie Kimani, his client and their driver, who were abducted by Administration Police officers and later found dead at the Ol Donyo Sabuk river.

The four officers and a civilian are facing murder charges, and over 30 witnesses have testified in the case so far.

When the case resumed on October 2, the hearing did not proceed, because the judge was said to be busy elsewhere and failed to appear.

Killings in counties

Three of the counties with the highest share of persons killed in 2017 retained their position in the top five in 2018. These were Nairobi, Mombasa and Kiambu.

Despite retaining the lead in the share of police killings, Nairobi saw this share decline by 11 percentage points to 56 percent in 2017. It was followed by Mombasa (19 percent), Nakuru and Kiambu (six percent each), and Nyeri (two percent).

Mombasa, despite having the second highest share of killings, led in the rate of killings, at 3 killings per 100,000 people, followed by Nairobi (2), Tana River (0.6) and Kiambu (0.5).

This is the highest rate for Mombasa in the past four years, displacing Nairobi from the top spot, which had a similar rate last year.

In terms of the number of people killed in the first nine months of this year, Nairobi led with 101 followed by Mombasa (34), Nakuru (11), Kiambu (10) and Nyeri (4).

Killings in Mombasa were largely attributed to the war against criminal gangs such as Wakali Kwanza and Wajukuu wa Bibi, with three-quarters being of suspected gangsters.

However, the police have been accused of carrying out executions. In one case, 18-yearold Maitha Omar was allegedly gunned down while reportedly having breakfast at home. The killing happened just a day after the Director of Public Prosecutions Noordin Haji had been presented with a list of 33 police killings recorded by Haki Africa and promised to form a team to look into the extrajudicial killings and give justice to the families.
In the period under review, July was the deadliest month, claiming 32 lives, thrice that of last year (11). August, on the other hand, had the largest drop in the nine months studied, dipping by 76 percent from 66 in August last year during the General Election period to 16 this year, according to Deadly Force database.

IMLU reported August as the second deadliest month in 2017, with 28 extra-judicial executions.

Nationally, the number of persons reportedly killed due to political protests drastically dropped from 60 in 2017 to one this year. Mr Lazaro Ochieng, 34, a county government revenue officer in Kisumu County, was hit by a stray bullet as he was working at a toll station in Ahero Town. This happened as police tried to disperse demonstrators who were demanding the release of lawyer Miguna Miguna, who was in detention and was later deported to Canada.