When the public trusts the police, the war against crime will be won.

When the public trusts the police, the war against crime will be won.

(photo: mpasho.co.ke)

This week I woke up to a tweet that a person had been robbed of Kshs. 75,000 worth of household items – all that they had. What was interesting to me was that they had chosen not to report the matter to the police, saying, “the thought and process of dealing with the police was not worth the loss.” Other Kenyans on Twitter agreed.

Two weeks ago, a lady working for a large non-profit had taken the wrong way of a one way street at 7.30pm. She was stopped by an administrative policeman, who insisted on her switching off her vehicle’s lights and parking, got into her car and harassed her into opening her wallet, which he personally cleaned out. Administrative policemen walk around with big AK-47 guns, which they don’t put down ever. She did not go to the police station immediately – in fact, many people convinced her that there was no need. After all, she was advised, they are only likely to further harass her and then do nothing.

Two months ago, a popular poet went public to shame a popular writer and journalist of having inappropriately touched her during a party. In that case, she and her friends decided to take to social media to shame the man. She did not go to the police until more than ten days after the alleged incident and when she did, she went accompanied by a bevy of lawyers and human rights activists. It was said at the time, that was the only way she could feel safe making the report.

In examining these three cases, one can see the challenge that Uhuru Kenyatta has to deal with, while trying to establish a robust security framework protect the citizens of Kenya. In each of the cases, none of the victims felt compelled to run to the police station, which should ideally be a place of first refuge.  In each of the cases, they have doubts that they will be treated with dignity and care or that any action will be taken.

The great investor Warren Buffett said, “Trust is like the air we breathe. When it’s present, nobody really notices. But when it’s absent, everybody notices.” In Kenya, everyone has noticed the lack of trust in the police.

Policing is a duty of the highest honor – also of the highest responsibility, the highest visibility, and the greatest challenge. When the police are excellent at their job (including the customer service and public relations), then trust and confidence are built with the public.  What is interesting is that even when you interact with the police men and women, you don’t get a sense of this pride of this honour.

The foundation on which all trust is built is credibility. In fact, in the long run, none of us ever has more trust than we have credibility. This is particularly true for police chiefs and law enforcement officers. Credibility literally means believability, which flows out of competence and character.

The fact is, even where there are bad apples among them, these men and women do sacrifice a great deal – put themselves in harms way and offer even their lives, for the maintenance of order and peace. They do this despite the fact that their pay is still too low and often their benefits are not of the best quality.

From the start of his administration, Uhuru Kenyatta has initiated interesting ideas that have sought to convince the public to partner with the police in the investigation and prevention of crimes – especially terrorism. The Nyumba Kumi initiative for example invites the public to get to know their neighbours and report any suspicious activities to the police. When the public does not trust the police, such initiatives cannot work.

Granted, the police service has done a great deal to improve their image over the past 10 years – “rebranding” to Kenya Police Service, instituting community policing as part of their work and establishing gender and children desks. In ten years, the community policing should yield a great deal more outcomes with regard to growing public confidence in the police.

One hopes that as the government ponders on a new inspector general a line shall be added at the top of his or her job description: to build confidence and trust in the police.

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