Kenyans will be shocked by a harsh indictment against the National Police Service by a public watchdog that reveals impunity and cover-up of serious crimes committed by officers are the order of the day in the service. Police bosses shield their juniors involved in crimes against civilians by either tampering with or substituting evidence, the Independent Policing Oversight Authority (IPOA) chairman Macharia Njeru has said. IPOA is the authority created to monitor injustices committed by police officers against citizens, but the chairman says its work has been a litany of frustrations and embarrassment as they work against a work of self-defence by senior officers.
Officers routinely ignore probe summons by the oversight body, thus frustrating investigations, says Njeru. Only three cases, out of 1,090, lodged by civilians against police officers and undertaken by IPOA have been concluded in about two years, with files ready for submission to the Director of Public Prosecutions. While revealing that his team is contemplating commencing prosecutions against some senior officers for tempering with evidence, Njeru cited incidences where his team demanded bullet heads retrieved from bodies of suspects shot by police, only to discover they had been replaced with exhibits from other cases.
“There has been a consistent pattern of substitution of evidence, tampering with evidence and ignoring of summons by the police with the intention of stalling investigations. Some cases involve homicide and in some instances it has proved difficult to unearth the truth. Exhibit bullet are sometimes substituted,” said Macharia. Twenty seven other investigations are in the final stages of conclusion, according to Macharia. This year alone, IPOA has received 140 complaints from members of the public, he added.
Senior officers found to have covered up crimes committed by their juniors are at the level of station commanders. “We want to send a clear message to the police that we are here and we mean business. It’s important for the rule of law to preserve evidence so that we can deal with cases of impunity. We have to hold police accountable. We shall be fair and professional in doing so,” Njeru added. Crimes allegedly covered up by the police bosses, according to Njeri, range from rape, extra judicial killings and assault.
The law mandates the civilian oversight body to recommend that rogue officers be prosecuted, reprimanded or dismissed from service altogether. In a bid to receive and process complaints from the public and police, Njeru said the authority has also established a complaints and legal department, currently with 13 staff members, including a deputy director and a head of complaints. He was speaking yesterday at IPOA headquarters while receiving forensic kits from the US ambassador Robert Godec, valued at Sh85million.
IPOA has negotiated with the US government to aid in training of investigators with the help of Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) to ensure quality and impeccable investigations are carried out. An inspection and monitoring department, which consists of forensic experts who pick relevant evidence in order to process prosecutable cases, has been set up.
Its work includes investigating complaints of criminal nature committed members of the National Police Service and to conduct inspections of police premises to ensure they meet basic standards and that the rights of suspects and detainees are protected. Set up in June 2012, the public oversight agency on police operations has 22 investigators.
IPOA also receives and acts on complaints from within the police service. Last August, Macharia disclosed that cases of sexual harassment affecting junior, female officers were on the rise in the police service. Sex, he said, was being used to influence transfers, promotions, deployment and general postings. “One area that we are going to focus on as IPOA is sexual harassment within the service itself. These are complaints by the police against the police,” he was quoted as saying. Godec said security is the foundation of economic prosperity and is therefore important to build capacity for its improvement.
“It is important that everyone is held accountable for their actions. It is fundamentally important to help them get their job done,” he said. Some of the equipment donated include gunshot residue evidence collection kits, sexual assault evidence collection kits, post-mortem DNA blood stain card collection kits, evidence tapes and trace evidence collection tapes. In the past, police have been accused of extra judicial killings of innocent members of the public, but majority of cases flopped due to lack of evidence.
Investigations of homicide cases have also proved challenging to members of the National Police Service particularly the Directorate of Criminal Investigations due to lack of capacity in forensic training and tooling, resulting in degradation or complete loss of evidence crucial to sustain a case in court.