Police Too Eager To Gun Down Suspects

Stephen Muiruri, Daily Nation (Kenya), Jan. 22, 2007

The police have resorted to rampant extra-judicial killings in their fight against crime.

And now, the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights and the Law Society of Kenya have criticised the trend, saying it is reminiscent of the 1990s when Flying Squad officers regularly killed suspects instead of arresting them.

Commission chairman Maina Kiai said police have been killing robbery suspects for more than 10 years, but this has not deterred criminal activity.

The force and political leadership encourage extra-judicial killings because “there is no independent authority to investigate police shootings and verify whether the claims they have made against the dead have any basis,” he said.

LSK chairman Tom Ojienda said police chiefs should encourage their juniors to make more arrests so that they can use the suspects to penetrate the underworld and dismantle criminal gangs.

“Our laws do not have provision for trigger-happy officers. The law was crafted to shield the officers in their line of duty and most of them hide behind the same law when they commit crimes,” he said, and described the practice of executing robbery suspects as a disastrous way of managing crime.

“We have to stop the culture of using bullets to fight crime,” Mr Ojienda said.

But senior police officers told the Nation that whatever strategies they had recommended to deal with crime had not worked out well because of lack of resources, personnel and political will.

They said officers were reduced to reacting to crime and killing of suspects instead of laying long-term strategies to prevent and pre-empt crime.

Reaction to pressure

Some officers said the recent incidents were a reaction to pressure applied on provincial police officers by their seniors at Vigilance House in Nairobi over the resurgence of violent crimes.

In a desperate bid to produce results and please their bosses, provincial and divisional police chiefs have been overzealous in cracking down on suspects, such that many robbery suspects now end up in mortuaries rather than in cells.

Crime statistics for 2006 released by police commissioner Mohamed Hussein Ali last month showed incidents of robberies decreased from 6,936 in 2005 to 5,188 last year, stealing from 12,569 to 10,569, burglaries from 8,454 to 7,323, murders from 2,313 to 2,046 and theft of motor vehicles from 1,718 to 1,635.

But the reality on the ground contradicts official figures. The report did not point out that there was a drop in the number of reported crimes, which did not necessarily mean a drop in crime.

Maj-Gen Ali’s report was also silent on bank robberies. Media reports between last July and this month show that banks and forex bureaux lost more than Sh250 million to armed robbers. And police have nothing to show in terms of arrests, recoveries of stolen cash and preventing future attacks.

Only last Wednesday, a gang of four raided Habib Bank in Mombasa and stole Sh35 million.

Some officers say the rise in robberies has put police chiefs under intense pressure and their options include ruthlessness with criminals.

This has led to a rise in extra-judicial killings. Some shootings have raised suspicion because police killed suspects they had arrested and disarmed or from whom they only recovered toy pistols.

Officials at Nairobi’s City Mortuary—where all crime-related deaths in Nairobi and adjacent towns are recorded—told the Nation that victims of police shootings had shot up from between 30 and 40 each month to about 60. On Saturday, 13 people were shot dead by police in various incidents in Nairobi alone.

Fears over rising police killings were confirmed by two research findings carried out in 2002 and last year by former chief Government pathologist Kirasi Olumbe. In his first study covering a five-year span, and drawing on autopsies he had conducted at City Mortuary, Dr Olumbe concluded that up to 90 per cent of the people who were shot dead were victims of police bullets, meaning, police killed more people than gangsters did.

Gunshot deaths

In the second study released in October last year, which covered a seven-year period, Dr Olumbe made similar conclusions that police killed more people and that 70 per cent of gunshot deaths were a result of police bullets.

But the two studies did not establish if the victims were criminals.

In an interview with the Nation, police spokesman Gideon Kibunjah said the force does not have a shoot-to-kill policy.

“The law requires the police to arrest and take suspects to court. However, the law is clear on circumstances in which police officers are allowed to open fire and what should be done thereafter.”

He said the recent shootings would be investigated and officers found to have been trigger-happy will be dealt with according to the law.

A recent incident happened a week ago in Nairobi’s Kawangware 46 area, where police shot dead six men, all in their early 20s, claiming they were members of a dangerous gang. The shooting happened in full view of the public.

A close look at the bodies showed they were shot from the back. There were no bullet holes on the iron sheet walls of the adjacent food kiosk. However, bullet marks were visible on the ground.

Police chiefs claimed the six were shot as they tried to escape after a pistol and bullets were found on one of them. They said they opened fire to prevent escape bid. But it was unclear how the suspects wanted to flee when their bullet-riddled bodies were piled on top of each other when journalists arrived at the scene.

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