NAIROBI, Kenya, Jan 10 – Tales have been told of how ruthless criminal gangs in the country have caused pain and suffering to Kenyans.
From Kayole in Nairobi, Kisauni in Mombasa and Kisumu, members of the public and police officers have a story to tell- they have lost lives.
On the other side, we have the watchful Independent Policing Oversight Authority (IPOA) and human rights organisations like the Independent Medico-Legal Unit (IMLU) that check police excesses.
Capital FM News sought to hear the cops’ side in dealing with criminal gangs in Kenya and specifically Mombasa County.
And according to National Police spokesman Charles Owino, dealing with an armed criminal gang is not all rosy.
“I hear people talk of shoot in the leg an armed gang and wonder whether they understand just how bad it is…” Owino quipped during an interview with Capital FM News.
He went further to use an anecdote in an attempt to pain the paint a picture; “If you (a criminal) have come out with a gun, are you chasing an antelope? You want to kill people.”
“The trauma police officers face when they meet a person with a gun, it is so huge that the first thing he considers is to protect his life. So, a police officer would rather shoot you and have himself go to court rather than being killed.”
According to Owino, there is a 90 percent likelihood that police will fire a fatal shot in such a circumstance and an almost a hundred percent chance of police being killed.
In June 2018, a detective was stabbed to death in Kisauni area, Mombasa County. In August last year, a cop was also stabbed to death in Mathare by a suspected member of criminal gang.
A similar incident happened in Muranga County the same month.
Still in 2018, between June and December, 15 suspected members of criminal gangs were shot by police in Mombasa.
-Can these deaths be stopped?-
Owino said police officers are equal to the challenge and are determined to end the menace by dismantling the criminal gangs and those found culpable brought to book.
“If we can manage to handle terrorism and make the country quiet, a small gang in Kisauni cannot be a threat to us as a service. But we must balance so many things in crime management,” the vocal police spokesperson said.
“We have to try our level best to make arrests to most of the gangs and have them taken before court.”
Tens of members of the public have fallen victims to their illegal activities and while some have sustained serious injuries, others lost their lives.
High levels of school dropouts and spiraling unemployment levels are some of the factors attributed to blossoming of criminal gangs in various parts of the country, with major cities worst affected.
“We are dealing with very young people and we want to try as much as possible to limit a possibility of death. We want to ensure that they are arrested and taken to court,” he said.
-What does research on criminal gangs say?-
According to a report by the National Crime Research Centre, published in 2012, criminal gangs continue to thrive in the country because of several reasons among them social, economic and geographical demographic factors.
In Kenya, the report indicates that some of the challenges posed by organized criminal gangs include terrorism, maritime piracy, human/arms/drugs trafficking and cyber
Then, the country had 48 known criminal gangs, a number that has since risen.
“Organized criminal gangs are a product of society. They come up and develop because society accepts them but society turns against them only when their negative effects begin to weigh too heavily on it.The general conclusion is that the number of organized criminal gangs is increasing as new ones are formed or break from existing ones,” reads the report.
To curb the menace, “this implies need for increased surveillance, increased investment in crime prevention and continued research into conditions that generate their growth. The impact of organized crime can be felt at both individual and collective levels. In particular the negative impact or business and people’s freedom is considerable.”
As indicated in the report and proved in areas where the criminal gangs operate from, more people now walk in fear than ever before.
The National Police Service has not been spared either by these criminal gangs as it has too, lost its members to the attacks.
As a result, he said chances of police killing an armed criminal gang is higher than effecting an arrest.
“We are trying to balance because we are dealing with very young people. We want to ensure you don’t shoot them but instead arrest and charge them in court. No country wants to kill a population,” he asserted.
But this, he said, is not an excuse for a rogue police officer to execute a suspect of crime.
Over time, police have been put on the spot by rights groups over cases of extra-judicial killings and enforced disappearances.
According to studies by the Independent Medico-Legal Unit, a youth in an urban slum is likely to be shot by police.
It is in slum areas where majority of the country’s criminal gangs also operate from largely because of poverty that has denied them basic amenities.
In the process, innocent youths have fallen victims.
For example, in late December last year, Carlton David Maina, a student from Leeds University was shot dead by police in Kibera, in what was described by locals and lobby groups as a cold-blood murder.
Maina, who police accused of being a suspect of crime, was heading home after watching a football match, in the company of friends when he was confronted by officers on patrol.
The case is being investigated by the Independent Policing Oversight Authority while some right groups like Amnesty International are undertaking an independent probe.
Maina joins an ever-rising curve of people killed by police either while committing a crime or for mere suspicion.
Last year, IPOA said they were investigating more than 240 cases of extra-judicial killings across the country.
According to IMLU statistics, 822 people died from police bullets between 2013 and June 2018.