BBI proposes to transform police into an ethical, public-spirited service

Written By: Peter Wafula Murumba

National Police Service make sweeping changes in 100 sub counties

The Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) report seeks to revamp Kenya’s national security architecture by enhancing the ability of the police service to respond to emerging security threats but more crucially, transforming it into a modern, professional and ethical law enforcement agency. 

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Kenyans told the BBI Taskforce that insecurity is a big problem, notably, violent crimes, unsolved murders, terrorism, cyber-crimes, rampant theft and proliferation of counterfeit goods.

But even as Kenyans decried the high level of insecurity in the country, they also expressed concern about police brutality and other human rights violations perpetrated by the same institution tasked with protecting them. Not to forget numerous reports by anti-graft watchdogs consistently ranking the police among the most corrupt institutions in Kenya.

BBI proposes institutional reforms aimed at modernizing our police service to not only effectively tackle these challenges but also function optimally in a democratic society guided by professional and ethical principles.

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For example, BBI recommends the adoption of the Peelian Principles to govern policing in Kenya. The Peelian Principles were developed by Sir Robert Peel, a former British Home Secretary in the nineteenth century, credited with introducing far-reaching reforms leading to the creation of a modern police force.

He argued that the basic mission of police was prevention of crime and not catching criminals. The Peelian model emphasizes that police are citizens in uniform and that police are the public and the public are the police. As such, police exercise their powers with the consent of their fellow citizens. They must therefore discharge their duties ethically, professionally and respect democratic principles.

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Historically, the relationship between the police and the Kenyan public has not always been cordial or based on mutual respect. While a lot of effort has gone into improving the welfare of police officers and modernizing the force to meet emerging security threats like violent extremism and cyber-crime, the relationship between the law enforcers and the public has been undermined by mutual suspicion, excessive use of violence by police and corruption.

BBI proposes to address these challenges by instilling democratic principles into our police service by ensuring the service secures and maintains the respect of the public upon which its legitimacy rests. One of the core Peelian principles is that prevention of crime is the best alternative to repression of crime by violent force or severe legal punishment. And that the greater the level of public cooperation, the less the need for use of physical force to achieve law enforcement objectives. According to Sir Peel, “the test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder and not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with them.”   

A good example of the application of the Peelian Principles in Kenya is the ‘Nyumba Kumi’ community policing initiative which has significantly improved security management and crime prevention at the local level.

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However, this cooperation needs to be strengthened further through institutional reforms that instil a more humane, public-friendly approach to policing in Kenya. BBI will achieve that and even more, by modernizing our police system, to make it responsive to the security needs of Kenyans.

For police reforms to succeed, we have to also improve the working environment for our men and women in uniform. BBI goes beyond basic welfare issues like housing by also prioritizing mental health and wellness, including counselling and treatment for police officers especially those in frontline roles of protecting the public, and thus exposed to severe stress and trauma.

Mental illness has been flagged as a major challenge in the police service as seen in the surge in suicide, domestic violence, murder and other undesirable outcomes linked to stress among officers. Police need psycho-social support to enable them handle stress in the course of duty and lead happy family lives while fulfilling their important role in society. This could be the reason why, during his 7th State of the Nation Address in November 2020, President Uhuru Kenyatta issued an Executive Order establishing an ultra-modern National Mental Hospital by elevating Mathari National Teaching and Referral Hospital as a semi-autonomous hospital to offer training and research on specialised, forensic psychiatry services and rehabilitation services, among others.

Other important BBI proposals on policing include realigning policing, investigation and prosecution functions to address the delay in delivering justice especially to the poor. Police have often been blamed for bungling investigations leading to miscarriage of justice. There is need to strengthen the role of police and other actors in justice delivery to deal with the common adage in Kenya “guilty until proven rich”.

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There are also aspects of police performance, recruitment and promotion to be addressed under the proposed reforms. Capacity building in cybersecurity and other emerging criminal threats is also highlighted in the BBI Report.

The foregoing should be seen in the context of the proposed re-engineering of national security framework under the Kenya National Policy Guide on National Security and Safety. The BBI report notes the need to develop mechanisms that make the security agencies as locally-based and as people-related as possible.

Given our long history of violations and injustices linked to police actions, and the loud plea by Kenyans for further reforms in the service, BBI offers an opportunity to build on recent gains towards making the police a more transparent and accountable institution.

Above all, the national security landscape will change with the shift to a modern, professional, democratic and ethical policing approach. The hostility and suspicion between police and the public will be a thing of the past. A police service that focuses on citizen safety, security and dignity as opposed to merely chasing after criminals.


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