Between 2016 and 2020, the National Police Service recorded 57 cases where officers took their own lives.
In another 65 incidents officers killed other people, mostly close relations like spouses and family members, as well as colleagues and friends, during the same period.
This high incidence of wanton loss of lives triggered an analysis by the Independent Policing Oversight Authority with the aim of identifying the causes and proposing remedial interventions.
Findings of this analysis are contained in the report: Murders and Suicides in the National Police Service: An Analysis on Causes and Prevention Strategies.
It is one of the documents launched by the Authority on April 22, 2022 and among others, highlights the causes of suicides and murders within the ranks of the police as:
- Mental instability
- Stigma against mental illness
- Ease of access to firearms
- Nature of recruitment and training
- Highhandedness by Police Commanders
- Criminal links by rogue officers
High incidence of police officers taking their own lives has exposed the ordinarily unattended soft underbelly of policing in Kenya.
This follows a report by the Independent Policing Oversight Authority which shows that mental instability among officers, unsolid assessment of recruits at entry level, highhandedness by commanders and creeping of criminal habits within the ranks, are some of the causes of the alarming rate of suicides and murders among the law enforcement officers.
The situation is made worse by ease of access to guns by all police officers serving across all units of the Service, their state of mental soundness notwithstanding.
And in a significant number of the suicides, the officers also kill their close relations particularly their spouses and other family members, colleagues, as well as acquaintances and friends.
Commanders and other senior officers, in some of the incidents, have either been injured or killed by their juniors.
The report – Murders and Suicides in the National Police Service: An Analysis on Causes and Prevention Strategies – says: “The leading factor attributed to murders and suicides among the police is psychological stress which usually leads to poor mental health,” and attributes it to “exposure to gruesome working environments with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Depression.”
These trauma-causing exposures include defilement cases, decapitated bodies, dangerous criminals and mockery of their daily assignments.
Others are long working hours, alcohol and drugs abuse, unfair deployments and transfers, poor handling of disciplinary procedures and prolonged absence from their families.
As a relief, the report proposes full implementation of the NPS Psychological Counselling Policy (2018), meaning psychologists and counsellors will be available at all levels of police establishments, including the lowest – police stations.
Besides, it challenges the police command to extend the Service Medical Insurance Cover to cater for mental related illnesses and rehabilitation costs.
This report echoes an earlier call, in December 2021, by IPOA Chairperson Mrs. Anne Makori, when she delivered a lecture to officers who were undertaking promotional courses at NPS College in Kiganjo Nyeri, where she urged the prospective commanders then, to take command responsibility in order to curb the high incidence of suicides and murders among their Juniors.
Easy access to firearms
And since all officers can easily access firearms the report proposes controlled issue of firearms.
It reads: “Police commanders should apply informed judgment when issuing firearms to officers who are suspected to be suffering from a mental disorder. Such officers should be assigned duties that do not necessarily require use of firearms as they continue with counselling and other therapies.”
Recruitment and Training
In conducting the analysis, IPOA revisited findings of an earlier police recruitment, which was monitored by the Authority.
IPOA observers had noted that aptitude tests are useful in determining potential recruits’ natural abilities, their “knowledge, understanding, learned and acquired attitudes to policing and solving skills.”
However, this was not the case since the aptitude tests were never administered.
In selecting the fresh officers, the report notes: “The inclinations have been too much on physical and medical tests. Further, the training that officers undergo after the recruitment are hardy, intense and discourteous.”
It adds: “The training is difficult and substantially masculine. One has to become hardy to sail through. While this may appear positive in the face of it, for policing work is intricate under all circumstances, such a training converts the officers into hardy, ruthless, callous and somehow obstinate people who may not find it wrong to injure, assault, harm or even kill their colleagues, friends and relatives.”
But there are other causes; the report notes some of the perpetrators are rogue officers with criminal habits.
They are identified as officers who were facing either investigations or disciplinary proceedings before they resulted in ending lives.
“In 2016, there were 57 cases of police involvement in crime, a number that rose to 86 in 2017 and more than doubled to 174 in 2018,” according to this report.
In this report, the Authority calls for a firm and apt strategy of dealing with officers involved in crime, indiscipline and misconduct; not just directing transfers as a remedy for such vices.
It directs the onus to the Internal Affairs Unit, which the law demands must set best practices and standards in the Service by dealing with cases of indiscipline.
Over the years, IPOA has received a total of 812 complaints from officers who are aggrieved by actions of their commanders and supervisors.
The grievances revolve around mistreatment when determining deployments, off days and leave, transfers, promotions, disciplinary proceedings as well as internal handling of complaints. This report recommends: “Enrich communication and feedback from supervisors to junior officers and vice versa for effective and efficient policing, improved coordination, relationships and accountability, and especially at the station levels where people centred service delivery is anchored.”
Download the entire document, in pdf format: Murders and Suicides in the National Police Service: An Analysis on Causes and Prevention Strategies