Kenyan Community Policing Needs Public Buy-In
As the Kenyan government rolls out a nationwide community policing strategy, there are fears it will be undermined by widespread mistrust in law enforcement.
The Community Policing Project seeks to build ties between the public and the police in an effort to increase cooperation and improve security.
A similar initiative was launched almost a decade ago, but soon collapsed because of lack of public confidence in the police.
Elected in March, President Uhuru Kenyatta has ordered a renewed drive to help tackle a surge in security problems, following attacks in both urban and rural areas around the country.
The inspector-general of police, David Kimaiyo, has instructed county-level police chiefs to form community policing teams.
But analysts warn this system will not work until the police implement changes set out by Kenya’s 2010 constitution to encourage transparency, increase accountability, and clarify command structures within the force.
“The police service is still embroiled in internal wrangles over reforms, and it will be difficult for them to bring on board or work with members of the public in implementing the community policing strategy,” Richard Maina, programme officer at the Kenya branch of the anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International, said. “The police service is still rated as the most corrupt institution in this country, and with such a record, it’s an uphill task for the force to reinvent itself and create the required confidence and trust with members of the public.”
Human rights groups have expressed similar reservations. Abubakar Barusi of the Centre Against Torture in Eldoret, for example, argues that the police have not yet shed their reputation for abuse, and that this will inhibit community policing efforts.
“Due to the tainted record, the number of ordinary people who fear police officers is still high,” Barusi said. “People who are at the community level believe it’s like betraying oneself to [tip off] the police about crime.”
Barusi noted that some police informants have been targeted by suspects after the officers revealed their identities.
Although the police reforms which have already been instituted have begun improving levels of public confidence, Barusi argues that a record of arbitrary arrests and involvement in extrajudicial killings remains an obstacle.
“Unless [these problems] are eliminated, community policing cannot work,” he said.
Other experts point to the police’s poor track-record in tackling crimes of rape and sexual violence.
Jane Katwe, a member of the Rural Women Peace Link NGO, said that even though special desks have been set up at police stations to handle gender-based violence, women are still afraid to report cases.
“Women can play a critical role in strategies like community policing, but the police service has not been able to tackle issues or crimes like gender-based violence to endear them into a working relationship,” Katwe said.
Ken Wafula, chairman of the National Association of Human Rights Activists, is unsure that all the reforms will be implemented.
“The will to drive the reforms within the government itself is lacking, and the changes are likely to take time,” Wafula said.
If outsiders are sceptical, the police themselves are confident that the community policing project will work.
“The police service is not the same [as] it was years ago,” Selasie Nyagah, a police commander in Uasin Gishu County in the Rift Valley, told IWPR. “Despite the challenges we still go through, the majority of officers have embraced reforms and are working more closely with the public in dealing with insecurity.”
Nyagah says the number of tip-offs received from members of the public has risen in recent years, something he puts down to increasing confidence in the force.
“Most of the incidents of crime we deal with, there is an element of the public giving us information,” Nyagah said. “And that is what we plan to strengthen through the Community Policing Project.”
George Wanyonyi from Rural Focus for Development, an NGO based in western Kenya, agrees that community policing is going to work in both urban and rural areas.
“In the last few months, since the reforms began, we have seen increased interaction and communication between the police service and the public,” Wanyonyi said. “That is the starting point for the success of the plan.”
Wanyonyi pointed to two newly-established institutions as examples of mechanisms that would increase public confidence. The National Police Service promotes or rewards officers based on merit and hard work, helping to build professionalism within the service, and the Police Oversight Authority has powers to independently investigate complaints against members of the force.
At grassroots level¸ Wanyonyi said, community policing teams needed to bring in individual officers whom the public trusted.
Some of the county governors elected in March have expressed their support for bringing back community policing.
Governor Jackson Mandago of Uasin Gishu county told IWPR that past efforts generally failed because of the police’s poor working conditions and a lack of basic facilities and equipment. This meant some forces were unable to respond even to emergency calls.
Mandago believes the new strategy will take off because both central government and individual county authorities have allocated more resources to the police service. President Kenyatta has committed the national government to setting aside four billion Kenyan shillings, 45 million US dollars, annually to buy vehicles and other equipment for the force.
Counties like Mombasa have already bought fleets of police vehicles specifically for the community project.
“You cannot expect a demoralised officer who has no facilities like vehicles to serve the public effectively,” Mandago told IWPR. “The best way to govern people is to do so with [the community’s] consent and consultation, and we have seen the police service moving towards that. Hence, the project will work effectively.”
Community policing is also being held up as a way of fighting violent crime where more conventional law enforcement methods have failed. In Baringo County in the Rift Valley, for example, the police’s use of force to deal with cattle-rustling have been unsuccessful.
Asman Kamama, who comes from Baringo and is the chairman of Kenya’s Parliamentary Security Committee, argues that building strong relationships with local people could be a more effective strategy. Since the police set up community teams last month, more than 300 firearms have been voluntarily handed in by cattle rustlers.
Kamama said his committee would throw its weight behind every move to fund the police properly.
“As a committee of parliament we will strive to ensure that the house allocates adequate money to support reforms in the police service, provision of facilities and equipment and also to back up security strategies like community policing,” he told IWPR.
This article was produced as part of a media development programme by IWPR and Wayamo Communication Foundation in partnership with The Star.