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William Oeri | NATION The scene at Parklands Police Station in Nairobi after a police officer shot dead his superior, a colleague and then killed himself earlier this month.
By KIPCHUMBA SOME firstname.lastname@example.org
Posted Saturday, May 28 2011 at 22:00
Members of the force say recent tragedies can be linked to internal graft, an archaic code of conduct and the high-handedness of senior colleagues
On the morning of Saturday, May 13, 2011, Police Constable Jacob Rop shot dead his boss, Senior Sergeant Hassan Yusuf, following what was termed a “brief argument” at Parklands police station in Nairobi.
He then turned his weapon on his colleague, Constable Stephen Maganga, who had tried to intervene, and shot him near the abdomen. The “gentle” constable, as his friends describe him, finally directed his smoking weapon at himself and pulled the trigger, shattering his head.
In this sad affair, his close friends regret only one thing; that Rop killed himself and Constable Maganga who they say was innocent.
What about Senior Sergeant Yusuf? “It was sad, too, but he brought it upon himself,” a close friend of Rop told the Sunday Nation.
This was not the first time a junior officer was turning his weapon on his seniors and colleagues.
On March 26 this year at the Narumoru police station, Police Constable Mark Mutwiri Mbogo allegedly shot dead two of his superiors – Senior Sergeant John Koros and acting Inspector Hudson Orwenyo Morang’a.
In February, a GSU officer shot his boss 14 times and injured another officer in Mombasa before turning the gun on himself.
In November last year, AP constable Peter Karanja allegedly shot 10 people dead in three bars in Siakago and then tried to kill himself only to realise he had run out of bullets. He handed himself over to police officers.
In the wake of the Parklands incident, Police Commissioner Matthew Iteere explained that high stress levels were to blame for the increasing incidence of junior police officers turning their weapons on their bosses and the public. He constituted a task force to look into the issue.
Problems afflicting the police force tend to be viewed in a larger perspective – low wages and poor housing – that overlooks the details.
However, a dozen junior and mid-level officers dissatisfied with their bosses’ explanations sat down with the Sunday Nation and candidly explained what, in their view, is ailing their force.
And what they said, which the Sunday Nation confirmed in independent investigations, points to unfettered corruption within the police hierarchy, a breakdown in communication between junior officers and their superiors, and an archaic code of conduct and discipline that seems to oppress and suppress rather than guide.
Their grievances are best expressed by illustrating what happened on that fateful Saturday morning when Rop, a man described as polite by his colleagues, suddenly turned murderous.
“Yusuf should have stuck to the agreement,” a colleague who was at the station during the shooting incident said.
Apparently, as the Sunday Nation learnt, there are “lucrative” areas in the city.
These are basically places where money changes hands a lot. They include banks, casinos and popular night clubs.
“In casinos, the management gives you something small at the end of the night. Maybe Sh1,000 or even Sh3,000. You might also get tips from customers who have won and want armed escort. You will never go broke when you are working in a casino,” explained an officer.
Expectedly, officers crave to be assigned to work in these areas. But this does not come free, as we learnt.
“Our bosses know these places are lucrative and they demand something in return in order to post us to these areas,” explained an officer who asked not to be named due to the sensitivity of the issue.
The standard amount given to an officer in charge for one to be assigned to, for instance, a casino in Westlands for a whole week is usually Sh5,000 per person, plus a daily commission, explained the officer who works at Parklands police station.
He further explained that Rop had come to such an agreement with Sergeant Yusuf and he was to be assigned duties for a whole week inside one of the casinos in Westlands.
“But Rop did not have the full Sh5,000, so he gave him half with the promise to pay the other half within the week, plus the daily commissions,” explained one of his friends.
But Sergeant Yusuf apparently reneged on the agreement.
“When he reported to work, Rop discovered that he had been assigned outside the casino and not inside,” continued his friend. The group says there is more money to make inside rather than outside a casino.
Things might not have gone awry the way they did had Sergeant Yusuf the following morning not demanded from Rop the remaining Sh2,500 and the commission, according to officers who witnessed the incident.
“Rop told him that he had not made any money but Yusuf wouldn’t listen to him. Rop pleaded with him, but Yusuf was not interested in hearing him out,” said his colleague.
The disagreement escalated and it is alleged that Sergeant Yusuf slapped him in the process. When Rop realised his senior was not going to listen to him, he reached for his gun and added to the grim statistics of police directing fire at themselves.
And tragic as it was, this incident illustrates the endemic corruption within the police force.
“You always accuse us of being corrupt, but we are simply passing down to you a cost that has been imposed on us by our seniors. You will never go far in the police force if you do not grease some bosses’ hands,” said the officers.
Take, for example, the police uniform. Officers are supposed to get it free of charge but none of the dozen officers who talked to us remembered getting the items free.
“Depending on who is in the store, we give the storeman between Sh200 and Sh500,” they said.
The same applies to promotions. “I gave out Sh30,000 for this post,” said a senior sergeant who also requested anonymity. “But I consider myself lucky. Some of my friends have taken loans to facilitate their promotions,” he added.
Getting information about training and promotion opportunities in the first place is near impossible, which, the officers argue, contravenes their constitutional right to information.
“When signals are sent from Vigilance House about such training and promotion opportunities, they are hardly posted on the notice boards of our stations as the rules stipulate,” said another officer.
He continued: “Some of our bosses sit on them. They then call their favourite officers aside or those who are willing to pay and inform them of these opportunities. We only learn that such opportunities were available when our colleagues leave for training."
A junior female officer said that for them to get promoted, they had to be “willing to do anything for it”.
“I have been asked on two occasions for sexual favours for a promotion and I refused. But I know of colleagues who have made sacrifices and they are doing well,” she said.
Retired military captain Simiyu Werunga, who is also a security analyst, contends that the high-level corruption in the police force is slowly but gradually eroding the respect junior officers hold for their seniors.
“It creates an impression among junior officers that their superiors hold positions not as a result of due merit but because they bribed their way to those positions. They might be wrong, they might be right. The bottom line is that it breeds a lot of disrespect,” he said.
There is also a feeling among police officers that their seniors are using them to enrich themselves, either through direct corruption – asking for bribes – or through what they termed ‘‘soft corruption’’– withholding services from them.
For example, although it is a right for police officers to be given transport and an accommodation allowance to attend court cases in towns or stations far from the ones they are serving in at that time, this hardly happens.
“We use our own money to go for these cases. When we ask, we may be told there is no cash. And you cannot afford to miss such court hearings because, besides constituting disciplinary action, the court can issue a warrant of arrest,” said an officer.
The belief among junior officers is that when these allowances are released, their bosses keep the money for themselves.
Further, in an effort to modernise the force, the police began to employ highly qualified candidates. As a result, among junior police ranks are degree and diploma holders qualified in various fields. But in most cases, this has caused tension between them and their seniors.
“A good number of our bosses possess low academic qualifications and therefore feel threatened by more qualified juniors. They neutralise the threat by making their lives as difficult as possible,” said another officer.
In this respect, the force’s standing orders – the set of rules that guide conduct and discipline of police officers – have become a great source of oppression and suppression to the police officers rather than a guiding document.
Constituted in 1961, the document is archaic and out of step with the new Constitution and modern policing practices.
“We are a disciplined force and we follow orders. But these rules have reduced us to school children. A malicious senior can level all manner of accusations against you.”
Mutwiri, alleged to have shot his seniors in Narumoru, is said to have done so to protest a sentence handed by an orderly room – a type of court proceeding that addresses disciplinary matters in police stations.
Usually such proceedings against a junior officer are presided over by an officer with the rank of an acting inspector of police and above.
Depending on the case, penalties include salary deduction, extra duties or even dismissals.
“The sad thing is that people come with a pre-determined mind,” said an officer who has been through such a trial. “When I tried to defend myself, I was accused of using insubordinate language. This carries a heavier penalty, including dismissal from the force. I just accepted my mistakes and given extra duties. But I felt I was unfairly tried and sentenced.”
And then there is the circuitous process the standing orders require officers to go through when asking for permission to attend to emergencies at home on short notice.
The rule is that a family member of the particular officer must report to the police station nearest to them. The station will then send a request to Vigilance House which will then transmit it to the station where the particular officer is working. There is no room for the use of technology, such as mobile phones, which would make such communication much faster.
“And under such circumstances you are given a weapon to report to duty. Aren’t you a danger to yourself and the people you are supposed to watch over?” asked an officer.
The officers also have a dim view of the team constituted by Mr Iteere to look into their problems and think it will lead nowhere.
“The officers in the team are the same ones who are the primary causes of our problems. How will they look at our issues objectively? Junior officers fear being victimised for speaking truthfully about these issues,” one said.
In the officers’ view, an independent team consisting of retired officers and members of the public ought to have been given the job.
Efforts to get an official response from Vigilance House were not fruitful. Police Spokesman Eric Kiraithe did not pick up calls made to his mobile phone or respond to text messages we sent him.
The deputy director in charge of police reforms, Mr Kingori Mwangi, declined to comment and instead referred us to Gina Din Communications, which he says has been mandated by the Police Reforms Implementation Committee to speak on the pace of the reform process.