30 January 2013

Kenya: Public to Report Crimes, Hate Speech Via SMS

Photo: © Julius Mwelu/IRIN
Youth carry crude weapons ready to fight during 2008 election violence (file photo).

Nairobi — The National Police Service Commission (NPSC) on Wednesday unveiled a crime reporting mobile application that would help monitor hate speech, corruption, and electoral offences, as the country prepares for the highly anticipated elections.

Commission chairperson Johnston Kavuludi said the application would also enable Kenyans make reports on gender based violence and traffic offenses.

The application requires an individual to send a text starting with the offense, an asterisk followed by the location to 0727-414475.

"The text will then be received at police headquarters and would also trigger an e-mail notification of the report to the relevant commission. So a notification will go to the National Cohesion and Integration Commission if the crime is on hate speech," he explained.

Speaking on behalf of Rapid Communications, which will manage the application on behalf of police as part of its Corporate Social Responsibility, Christine Oguna said that the incidences would be captured in a web portal.

She added that a text would be charged at the normal SMS rates by various network providers.

"We have already made trials and we will soon move to the number 999-999 which is easier to remember. We are just waiting to register the number with Safaricom Limited so we should be up and running in a few days," she said.

Kavuludi also noted that the application would set up an audit trail for police that would help them analyse various criminal elements.

Although he added that the application would enhance prompt reporting and ensure anonymity, the portal takes a while before loading newly reported crimes and also records the mobile numbers of those who send such texts.

Journalists sent texts to the number as part of a trial and in some cases it took as long as 40 minutes before they eventually appeared on the portal.

Oguna however explained that slow Internet speeds were to blame.

"The Internet could be acting up and the number of texts going through might also be slowing it down," she said.

She also assured Kenyans that their details would remain private arguing that they would only be visible to a few members of the police force.

"The information police will receive is very private so even though we will be servicing the portal on their behalf we will not be privy to any details because we are civilians," she promised before adding that the police control room would be manned on a 24-hour basis to ensure that all reported crimes got the attention they deserved.

Kavuludi lauded the application for its convenience, ability to enhance accountability and ability to help the Criminal Investigations Department obtain intelligence.

He added that it would also deter would-be criminals from committing any offenses for fear of being promptly reported.

"The NPSC considers this tool to be ground breaking and the first of its kind globally. It will assist in the tackling and prevention of crimes particularly in the run up to the March 2013 elections and beyond," he argued.

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