28 July 2014

Kenyan Police Ill-Equipped to Investigate Crimes, Pursue Convictions

Nairobi — Kenyan lawyers and police officers have joined the public in calling for urgent reform of Kenya's police force, starting with an overhaul of the country's police stations.

The calls for reform have gained momentum following a recent study on the state of Kenya's police stations carried out by Usalama Reforms Forum and published in a report released July 9th.

Kenya's police stations are in deplorable condition and ill-equipped to manage serious crimes that require proper storage of evidence and suspects' records, according to the report, which reviewed 21 of Kenya's 456 police stations.

The report, titled "Communities and Their Police Stations", calls on the government to establish a fund and rehabilitation programme for repairs and renovations of existing police stations.

Further, the report says, the government should help police "co-ordinate the procurement and supply of tools and equipment", as police stations throughout the country lack communications and tactical equipment, as well as weapons, protective clothing and other essential crime fighting and evidence gathering equipment.

The report also calls for the implementation of a digital case file management system and secure storage rooms to record and preserve evidence.

"In most of the police stations visited, case files including murder investigation files, were found lying on open shelves and desks," the report said. "The police officers further lacked adequate writing materials including paper and pens, photocopy machines, paper shredders, safes, office desks and chairs."

Lawyer Kenneth Mwangi Mburu said the findings from the report are worrisome and that the Kenyan government should act on the recommendations immediately in order to ensure justice is served.

He said murderers, terrorists and rapists could be escaping from justice because of poor handling of evidence.

"It is worrisome because as the Usalama Forum report observed, all the police stations visited had poor storage facilities for exhibits," Mburu told Sabahi.

The risk of deterioration, deformation, degradation or total loss of evidence is high when poorly stored or handled, he said, adding that police stations need specialised evidence storage rooms and facilities such as refrigerators, lockboxes and air-tight storage containers.

"Police are lacking work tools which clearly hamper their efficiency, productivity and delivery of credible forensic and prosecutorial work," Mburu said. "The report talks of exhibits being thrown in open yards or in empty halls. Obviously, these are not areas initially designated as storage for fragile exhibits."

Police unable to respond to distress calls

Charles Otieno, the lead researcher on the Usalama Reforms Forum report, said ill-equipped police stations endanger the lives of Kenyans and contribute to insecurity by emboldening criminals.

"Since criminals are aware police stations have inadequate fuel rations, are limited in their operations because [they lack vehicles], therefore they may be confident to engage in crimes and not worry about getting caught," Otieno told Sabahi.

The research also revealed that because police stations were sharing vehicles to conduct patrols, visit crime scenes and respond to distress calls, their response time was slower and their presence on the ground inconsistent.

Anne Njoroge, 27, a student at Kenya Methodist University, said when her apartment in Nairobi was broken into while she was at home on May 10th, she called Mwiki Police Station, but the police officer on duty advised her to try another police station since one of their cars was out for repairs and the other was out of fuel.

"Luckily, the burglars ran away after the neighbourhood raised relentless alarm," she said, wondering what the point is of having a police station open if officers are immobile because they lack of fuel or cars.

Police officers corroborate report findings

Harun Kimanthi, a detective at Kasarani Police Station in Nairobi, said that last August he had to request that a case be postponed at the Milimani Law Courts because he could not trace the weapons and other evidence recovered at a burglary crime scene.

"For lack of safe storage, I stored the machete, a crowbar and pliers in a ramshackle metal box in an office I share with other police officers, but I guess someone inadvertently misplaced them," Kimanthi told Sabahi. Three days after the original court date, he said, he traced the misplaced evidence to a different office.

Evidence is often misplaced or lost due to haphazard inventory logs and the lack of universal coding, he said.

"The main evidence room is crammed with items that should have been returned to the owners or discarded," he said, adding that investigators should be provided with individual secure storage areas.

Another police officer, Simon Irungu of Dandora Police Station in Nairobi, said entire case files on open investigations are also regularly misplaced due to the lack of a filing system and secure file cabinets.

When a file is lost, he said, a police officer has to start the investigation from scratch, taking notes and gathering evidence anew, since they lack backup.

Police should move away from keeping paper files and officers should be given access to computers to store digital reports on secure servers that are backed up to ensure digital files are not lost in the event of a system failure, he told Sabahi.

"I have seen the [Usalama] report and its contents cannot be contested," Kenyan police spokesperson Zipporah Gatiria Mboroki told Sabahi. "Most of our police stations are in dire need of a total overhaul."

"A number operate on building structures which either were not meant to host a police station in the first place or which are now old and dilapidated under years of use without regular maintenance," she said.

Nonetheless, Mboroki said she was optimistic that the situation would gradually improve as the Treasury has provided the National Police Service with 4 billion shillings ($46 million) to facilitate the modernisation of police operational equipment during the current fiscal year.

She said the National Police Service has established seven reform implementation committees, including one auditing all police stations and operations whose report will be completed this year.

"The Usalama report will be very useful as comparative material when the findings of the official [committee] report is tabled later this year," she said.

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