Baringo: Institutional problems that Police cannot shoot down

Ill-equipped, inexperienced, underpaid, demotivated… A police recruit paints the picture of police officers who stand no chance against bandits

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By Chrispine Aguko

In the latest demonstration of impunity in Baringo, a two-week old baby was left orphaned when bandits attacked a police van and killed a woman. It’s not clear how police officers, the other travelers in the van, escaped.

Security chiefs are economical with information, only insisting that the situation is being handled. A conversation with a police recruits in Baringo, however, reveals deep-lying problems.

First is the perennial question of dismal wages. Officers at the frontline are entitled to a measly Sh500 allowance. Worse, as Troon*, a recruit explains, deductions are made on salaries for basic items like basins, mattress and rubber shoes, never mind that recruits report with each of these as part of the admission requirements. They also pay for beds and general accommodation, after which the officers are left with very little for their personal use. Asked whether they had complained about this, Troon is coy about it, as that would mean losing their jobs.

“We just have to survive like men,” he says with a bitter laugh.

There is also the problem of posting. Juniors must pay a bribe if they are to be posted to “friendly zones” otherwise; they have to contend with posting to hostile areas. President Uhuru Kenyatta’s directive that 85% of police recruits be incorporated into the dreaded anti-stock theft has only heightened the incentive. Prices for friendly posting have skyrocketed.

Yet, the worst of problems, according to Troon, is that recruits will often take to the battlefield without the necessary combact gear or ammunition. The incident in Baragoi where 43 police recruits were shot dead by cattle rustlers immediately comes to mind.

Recruits are immediately thrown into action yet normal procedure demands that they be allowed at least a month’s rest from duty after training. Without necessary equipment or the benefit of intelligence, security forces are often overrun by bandits so well armed and with full appreciation of the local terrain.

Because of this, officers have grown increasingly demotivated and disillusioned. A common phrase in the camps, according to Troon, is, “none of you came with cows and none of you will leave with cows.” This mindset has also been transferred to recruits who are encouraged to mind their own business, particularly when raiders come for livestock. The wisdom in that phrase is that they should never confront the rustlers.

Troon told us that bandits kill a lot of police officers, but that the Police Service keeps this information secret because “the public needs to se the police as being in charge”. The case above – where a police vehicle is riddled with bullets and only a woman seated between police officers dies – demonstrates that indeed this is the case.

The Daily Nation reported last month that police are so scared of the bandits that they do not allow civilians into their camps for fear of being overrun. Police, Troon confirms, would rather have the bandits have their way rather than provoke the armed herders. “They are fearsome,” he says.

The Nairobi Law Monthly reached police spokesperson Charles Owino for comment, and he categorical that the police posting is done in a free and fair manner. “The postings are done in companies and you can therefore not say there are hotspots and what you call “cool areas” in the process of posting.” On the security of VIPs, Owino said the VIPs choose the police to guard them and it is not the role of the police to do any posting to VIPs.

The takeaway from this is that the Independence Police Oversight Authority (IPOA) should come to the rescue of the young officers who are exploited by their seniors. This is the root of all corruption in the police line. The agency should also step up efforts at auditing Official statements from the police as well as pushing for the exercise of due care in police operations. It would be a great motivation if Troon and his colleagues would properly compensated and equipped. Like the KDF, the police need to be seen and valued as important beings.

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