Ayan Abdi, Sophia Ismael and Amina Mohammed residents of Eastleigh narrate the agony of police they undergo through everyday in Eastleigh yesterday. photo/PATRICK VIDIJA
CLAIMS of police extortion have emerged in the wake of Operation Usalama Watch, but officers have denied any wrongdoing. This follows the release of a report by the Independent Police Oversight Authority indicating that, though well-intentioned, the operation did not adhere to the laid-down statutory requirements, rules and procedural regulations, as well as human rights.
The report, released on Monday, also noted that the exercise was marred by bribery allegations. Residents yesterday said since the operation begun, they have known no peace as police have used it as an excuse to profile, harass, brutalize, and extort money from them.
However, Starehe-Pangani OCPD Barasa Wabomba denied the claims. "To the best of my knowledge these claims are false. But this is not to deny it completely, because there are some people who are masquerading as police officers in Eastleigh and are extorting unsuspecting members of the public," he said.
He did not say what action he has taken against those posing as police officers. "There are guidelines that we follow when conducting our operations, so cases of harassment cannot arise. We expect members of the public who have been harassed to follow the complaints procedure and lodge their grievances and, so far, we have not received any complaints against any officer," he said.
Residents narrated to the Star how police have repeatedly conducted raids on their houses, threatening them with arrests and detention at the Kasarani international sports centre and stadium.
"They knock on our doors in the the middle of the night. Others jump in through the balconies, rounding everyone up, whether you have an identity card or not your only saviour is always the amount of cash you part with," Ayan Abdi said.
"They always threaten to lock us up at Kasarani when we attempt to question the validity of their actions. Now that they know they can come and get money from us, they are frequenting this place. To the police, we have been turned to an ATM," she added, saying the officers are usually dressed in civilian clothes and do not identify themselves.
She said that sometimes they are even forced to wake up two or three times in a single night as successive extortionate police contingents come knocking on their doors.
"We cannot sleep peacefully. The police have made our lives and those of our children unbearable," she said. Amina Mohamed, another resident, claimed that police round up school-going children and lock them up at either the Pangani police station or at the Air Base area chief's camp, until their parents buy their freedom. The air base is a reference to the Moi Air Base, a Kenya Air Force military airport.
"It is also becoming a trend that when our children are walking home from the mosques or shops in the evening, the police arrest and beat them, accusing them of either belonging to al-Shabaab or a criminal group called Superpower," she said.
"It is painful to see a government that is supposed to protect us sanctioning such operations. Our children are now not only fearful of al Shaababs, but also the police who are now targeting them wrongfully," she said.
The women identified several police officers from the neighboring chief's camp and the Pangani police as those behind the harassment and extortion. They said they are forced to pay between Sh5,000 and Sh10,000 for the release of their kin.
Air Base location chief Peter Mose confirmed that some underage children had been arrested. "Some of these children we arrest are part of the criminal gangs in the area, but we only arrest them for investigations and those whom we find with no mistake are released," he said.
He denied that police officers from his station named by the locals were involved in extortion and harassment. "We do not take bribes here, but some of the residents are too uncooperative and our officers are forced to use some force to have their premises searched," he said.
The chief said the operation in Eastleigh had been sanctioned by the government and any police officer was free to come and participate. "Therefore, if you have further questions about the operation call the Interior Cabinet Secretary or the PS. For us, the operation was not stopped and we will carry out the work of sanitizing Eastleigh as laid out," he concluded.