The fallout and debate triggered by the shooting of three suspects last week on the Langata Road, Nairobi, continues.
The killings were caught on camera by a passing motorist and the photographs appear to show armed police officers shooting the suspects at close range even though they are laying face down on the ground, arms spread forward in surrendered supplication.
As a result, three police officers have been relieved of duty and are under investigation for alleged extra-judicial killings. Minister of Internal Security, George Saitoti, was quoted in the press as saying “there are a few rotten eggs” in the force and that “we shall get rid of them”.
On the front page of yesterday’s Nation newspaper Police Commissioner Mathew Iteere was photographed visiting police officers in the Aga Khan and Forces Memorial hospital who were recovering after being shot in the line of duty. He used the occasion to declare that weapons “are the preserve of the security services” and that the police would not relent in the “war” against armed criminals.
On the same day, speaking at a CID training school, the officer in charge of police reforms, Jonathan Koskei, said: “We are in the process of coming up with a new police reform Bill, but up to now, we are using the old Police Act whereby section 28 stipulates when a police officer should use a firearm against an individual.”
Same day, same newspaper, The Nation, and a Professor Mwangi, who apparently teaches at North-western University in Evanson, USA, was arguing for traffic police to carry guns. It seems he was moved to such a conclusion by viewing a video on YouTube, now turned into an on-line fictional film version entitled Mortal Kombat, which shows a Kenyan traffic policeman being beaten up by a truck driver as a crowd of on-lookers stands by.
The Forum does not doubt the sincerity of Police Commissioner Iteere or the need to tackle armed crime, and we certainly commend and wish a speedy recovery to police officers wounded in the line of duty.
However, The Forum fears that are more than “a few rotten eggs” in the Kenyan police force. We also presume that current laws and regulations, even if a new Act is required, should be enough to require police officers not to shoot surrendering suspects as they lie on the ground.
We urge the Commissioner of Police to remember that the bearing of arms by the security services comes with a duty and responsibility to use them legitimately and that a legitimate “war” on crime should not be used as a cover for the illegitimate use of weapons and criminal activity by those supposedly enforcing the law. We also urge him to ignore Professor Mwangi and not to arm Kenya’s traffic police. Whatever the danger posed by lorry drivers, extra armament seems, to the Forum, more likely to result in an escalation rather than the de-escalation of tensions.