, NAIROBI, Kenya, Aug 5 – Do you recall the days when police officers would stop you and ask questions ‘unatoka wapi, unaenda wapi na wapi kitambulisho?” (where are you from, where are you going and where is your Identification Card).
Woe unto you if you failed to answer any of those questions affirmatively.
You would be handcuffed, bundled up in a police truck and locked away in the dirtiest of cells but for one saving grace: parting with a not-so-small bribe.
Your crime, you may ask? ‘Loitering with intent,’ the officer would reply. Your manner was likely to cause disturbance or result in some kind of criminal activity.
So scared were many people at the sight of a police officer, particularly at night, because these law enforcers were associated with brutality and force.
A long time friend (let’s call him Jackson Karanja) tells me when he was a student at the University of Nairobi, some 15 years ago, he would be happier to meet a thug than a cop.
“I preferred to meet criminals than the police because all gangsters could do is to rob me whatever I had in my pocket and let me go,” he said. “I feared encountering the police because if they demand Sh500 and you fail to offer, they would handcuff you and brand you a criminal,” he recalls.
In fact, he said: “It once happened to me when I encountered the police on Tom Mboya Street at night and I did not have a national identification card with me. They teared my campus ID and threw it away.”
Mr Karanja recalls that he was saved by colleagues who rushed to his rescue and offered the officers Sh1000.
Mr Karanja, now a Sales Executive with a local communications company, is a perfect example of people who have suffered in the hands of brutal police officers.
Those old days are slowly fading away thanks to Consultants for Effective Training, a company training police officers on the need to embrace Customer Care and good relations with suspects and inmates.
“I started training senior police officers at the level of Assistant Commissioners 10 years ago. I would often go to the Kiganjo Police College to hold session with them and this has really helped,” Managing Director Robert Foulser said.
At that level, Foulser says, it was important because he advised senior officers to then advise their juniors on the need to be humane when handling suspects or inmates.
“During the training sessions, I for instance engaged the senior officers in debate on the need to greet their inmates every morning and every evening,” he said. “I told them there was no harm in a police officer greeting inmates ‘good morning’ before they are served with tea instead of harassing them, and they agreed with me,” he said.
From his 3rd floor office at Sarit Centre in Westlands, Mr Foulser is proud of the achievements made in the police force so far.
“We’ve come a long way, although the police have not fully transformed itself, things are far much better from what they used to be,” he said.
Over time, Fousler said he has seen positive results as the public now interacts freely with police officers and now there are even Customer Care desks at police stations.
Asked what should be done to improve the image of the force even more, he said: “There is now need to introduce customer relations courses to target fresh recruits so that the concept is fully entrenched in them.”
A task force on police reforms due to present its report later this month recommending that the agency’s name be changed from a ‘Police Force’ to a ‘Police Service.’
“This way people will stop associating the police with force and brutality. It should be a security agency to serve the people not to oppress,” Foulser said adding that Kenya’s police can meet the standards of their counterparts in the developed world.