Bullet proofing the National Police governance reforms

There are many definitions of policing and policing strategies. The one I like most defines policing as the process of a state providing security, safety, peaceful environment, law, order and welfare to all its citizens through a standing, yet effective, efficient professional police service. Whereas community's need for effective and trusted policing is a fact of life, in one of his famous nine principles, Sir Robert Peel, founder of London's Metropolitan Police, in 1829 captured the heart of the strategy of modern policing in a democratic society.

He said, "The police are the public and the public are the police; the police being members of the public who are paid to give full time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen, in the interest of the community welfare and existence." The fundamental principle of policing in a democratic, non-authoritarian society is that without overwhelming public cooperation and trust, police cannot effectively manage crime, disorder and antisocial behavior. We recognized this basic policing axiom in the Independent Constitution of the Republic in 1963 before any other African country. When we look up to Nigeria, Ghana and South Africa among others as inspirational models of best police practice, it is a demonstration of how much we have fallen behind.

The 1963 constitution provided for a Police Service Commission (PSC), autonomy to the police, Inspector General of the police who was to be appointed by the President on the advice of the PSC and with security of tenure (Articles 157-162). Over time all those constitutional firewall provisions evaporated through series of regressive amendments that culminated in a one party state in 1982 and the President possessing absolute authority over the Kenya police through the right to appoint and terminate the commissioner of police.

If the various recent reports on the performance of the Kenya police are anything to go by, the majority of Kenyans strongly believe that cherished communal relationship between the members of the public and the police has broken down and broken badly. This reality had hit us hard during the Post-election Violence of January, 2008. The Reports of the Committees of Justice Philip Waki, Philip Ransley on Police Reforms, Prof. Philip Alston on Extra-judicial killings and own Kenya Police and Administration Police's strategic plans of 2003-2007 confirmed what were public worry all the time; that owing to multi-storied factors the police and the public are not getting on well together. According to Ransley Task Force Report the citizen's trust of their police is, at 8 %, among the lowest in the world.

It is argued that these African-wide factors which impede policing success range from colonial and post colonial legacies of authoritarian rule, lack of autonomy of policing institutions because of the prevalence of patrimonial- big man rule, lack of appropriate normative and legal framework, weak institutional resourcing and capacity and pervasive insecurity. The Kenya police have 125 years non-linear history beginning in 1887 with Sir William Mackinnon of East Africa Trading Company recruiting Indian police and watchmen for the security of its stores and premises, while invoking the laws of India. Even though the foundation of modern Kenya police was first built in 1920 with the proclamation of Kenya as a crown colony, our police and administration police have had a punitive, authoritarian citizen containment history lasting to the present day.

Despite the current systemic police governance reforms being in top gear, there is skepticism among the public that the rhetoric behind the police transformation may be a public relations exercise, common feel good platitudes. Apparently there are waves of resistance to the reforms within the higher echelons of the service. Both the public skepticism and the resistance to change coming from the institution's top flight are all understandable and expected. Some of the anxieties of the officers concerns little bolts and nuts of internal policing base ball affairs.

The public's low level confidence in our security agencies is based on their past historical experiences. This is curable. The negative signals coming from the top hierarchy of the police are not all bad. Some of their apprehensions may be based on genuine fear of the institution falling into “a speed trap"" and also the present inability to see through the fog of change. Besides, there are the challenges of habit, insecurity and the fear of the unknown to overcome. Reforms are also threat to the expertise specialized groups, established power relationships and resource allocations. Good communication, participation and building of support and commitment will easily overcome any undue resistance

At this point in time there are number factors that can have bullet proofing effects on the national police governance reforms. First, we have new, very progressive constitution in which the police reforms are safely anchored. Second, the three Acts of National Police Service, National Police Service Commission (NPSC) and Independent Police Oversight Authority have together created powerful armoured mechanisms with the potential of making the NPS one of the best, most effective, efficient and respected in the world. Yes, it will take quiet inordinate amount of resource inputs to unfreeze the current police structure, mindset and group inertia. The Kenyan people are seemingly ready to provide the required resource for the police service to perform beyond the expectations of the public, the wow! Factor.

There is however serious danger of miscarriage of the much awaited police reforms. Despite the existence of battery of legislation to help the reforms, there is high likelihood of business remaining as usual in our public safety and law and order sector, if we do not bullet proof these nationally critical reforms from inherent in-competencies, resources inadequacies, lack of state goodwill, and much needed managerial policing smarts at all levels. Managerial policing smarts are best described as police officers who are clear thinkers, brave, innovative, good at identifying what needs to be done in a given situation and skilled in making it happen and delivering not only good but great results. Kenyans will demand and expect nothing less from occupiers of the state offices of NPSC.

Studies done elsewhere regarding what distinguishes great police departments from their peers-those whose performance are only good, found that the great law enforcement departments had some ten crucial practices in common, almost in tandem with Jim Collins' book of 'Good To Great' fame. These best practices include; humble, non-egocentric leadership with vision and values, selective hiring of the best and high premium on officers training and education. Others include, excellent equipment and technology, employee empowerment through synchronized thinking, delegation and “letting the horses run in the direction they are running". Finally, first class customer service, police innovation teams, result orientation  management approach and supportive, progressive distinct institutional culture distinguish great police departments from mediocre, average, or just plain good departments. As management Guru Collins put it, good is enemy of great. No doubt these are great lessons for the management of our reformed, restructured, re-branded, resourced and reformatted NPS to attain global place of merit.

The Kenya police governance reforms are uniquely placed to fundamentally change how we have been doing policing business since 1908 when the first colonial commissioner of police,  Brig-Gen F S Edwards, was appointed. It is strategy, structure and combination of top of the range resources which brings about a form of policing, locally focused, operationally independent and accountable, that is recognized was world class. A policing style where performance is measured against reduced crime rates, absence of disorder and comparatively low per capita public expenditure on general policing. Presently our per capita police expenditure is about US$ 12. Per any standard this is high.

As a country this year, 2012, we should and must have NPSC members who have the confidence and commitment to look direct into the eyes of 40 million Kenyans and say, “Trust us. We shall know within short time what problems you face with crimes, motor vehicles traffic, human rights abuses, corruptions, and disorders every day. Together we shall address these issues to the best of our abilities and we won’t be satisfied until you, Kenyans, are and join us in calling the Kenya National Police is for sure one of the best in the world".

 Institutions are hardly murdered. They simply commit suicide by failing to do what the public wants them done. The National police governance reforms are efforts in that direction, saving the country's law enforcement agencies from reckless demise. Thus bullet proofing and protecting the reforms.