Police battling to enforce law face their own Covid-19 fears - Beaking Kenya News

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Tuesday, 12 May 2020

Police battling to enforce law face their own Covid-19 fears

Health workers spray disinfectant on the walls
At Dog-Section Police Station in Nakuru, a number police officers who have just finished their early morning jog converge at the field, ready to part, as those who have been on night duty hand over their firearms to the incoming squad.
Outside the police station, there are a number of water points for handwashing.
There is also an empty bottle of hand sanitiser and a few officers have masks on — some white, some light blue and others made from different Ankara fabrics.
The station commander briefs the officers as they listen attentively.
“Hapa ni kujipanga (everyone for himself)!” quips an officer as he wipes the AK-47 rifle he just took from a colleague using a wet piece of cloth. He then detaches the magazine to counts the bullets.
Officers in the National Police Service (NPS) have being deployed to enforce the laws and regulations put in place to contain the spread of the pandemic in different capacities including border patrols, movement control, and enforcement of curfew.
Although no single police officer has been reported to have contracted the much dreaded disease, NPS Director of Communications Charles Owino says the greatest challenge is that they are working within a population that lacks discipline.
“We are handling people who refuse to keep distance, wear masks, stay at home, wash hands and they even want to move around contrary to cessation of movement directives. They do not want to follow the rules and this makes it extremely difficult for the police,” Mr Owino says.
Mr Owino admits that the service does not have sufficient equipment, but said that the available resources were being used appropriately to ensure that the highly infectious disease is contained.
The national government, he says, had provided a number of essential protective equipment and fumigated police stations and cells and is still in the process of doing more. Donors like Kibos Sugar, KWAL, Chandaria and many others had also provide the police with protective equipment.
“The nature of police training does not contain specifics of handling a pandemic. However, the modules on disaster management equips them with enough knowledge on floods, disease outbreaks, attacks and natural disasters and so we are equal to the task,” Mr Owino says.
Spot-checks by the Nation revealed that very little has been done in stations and in the officers’ areas of deployment to ensure that they are safe and there is compliance with preventive guidelines.
“Our stations are rarely fumigated and when they do, they are done by well-wishers. Even the cells are not fumigated as regularly as they should,” says an officer at the Menengai Police Station in Kabarak.
“Some stations have never even been fumigated. Some do not even have water. The OB book is handled by tens of police officers. The digital OB that the IG launched last year has not been rolled out in all stations. It is just a crisis,” he adds.
The digital OB platform has not been rolled out in all stations visited by the Nation, and officers still record incidents on a book that is handled by all sentry officers.
Mr Owino says the digital OB comes with other pieces of technology such as fibre internet, computers and electricity, which are not available in some stations.
In stations like Parklands, Buruburu, Central, Kamukunji, Makadara, and Industrial Area, officers share computers risking further spread of the virus.
Although only the very necessary arrests and detention in cells are being effected, stations like Kamukunji and Central get a high number of detainees arrested because of breaching curfew rules.
Mr Owino says that there have been forced to spread inmates in different police stations so as to avoid crowding.
“Petty offenders are being released on bond and some are given notices to appear in court. Only capital offenders are being detained and we are doing as much as we can to ensure that there is no crowding,” he said.
Crimes such as mugging, assault and robbery have reduced and officers are concentrating on enforcing rules pertaining to controlling the spread of the disease.
Yet, for these officers, social distancing amongst themselves is hard to achieve inside the stations and vehicles because the mode of operation in the entire service has remained the same.
“We cannot change that now. No one foresaw such a crisis when police infrastructure was being put in place. We cannot demand for expansion of offices or cells at such a time.
“And, unlike the other institutions within the criminal justice system, we cannot do teleconferencing for example. You cannot enforce the law via Zoom. You cannot use social media to control crowds or monitor movement. You have to be there physically,” a police Sergeant in Nairobi said, adding that the officers’ greatest fear is contracting the virus and then infecting their families when they go back to their homes.
Security analyst Kiyo Ng’ang’a says that security agencies are faced with multiple challenges in enforcing the law during the Covid-19 period.
“The cost of operation in policing a pandemic is definitely high. We have not seen anything like this before. We have police officers as front-liners and so now they need more than just uniforms and guns,” he said.
And although the cessation of movement, curfews and constant patrols have resulted in the reduction of other forms of crimes, Mr Ng’ang’a says that crime rates are likely to shoot up when some of these regulations are relaxed because of a depressed economy, lack of jobs and low purchasing powers among the citizens.

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