Understanding Community Policing: Opinion by George Ohoko

November 16, 2011

This post is the first of a series of opinion pieces from SNA-K Chapter Leaders. The post comes from George Ohoko who is in charge of Partnerships for SNA-K’s Kasarani Chapter:

Security is Nairobi is difficult to quantify. Crime comes in all forms on every socioeconomic level. We can’t label a single source of crime or plan out just one cure-all solution. We can’t discuss the issue of security in Nairobi without discussing community policing. In this city of informality, private community groups must fill the gaps left by government police. Recently, Sisi ni Amani sent an SMS to the Baba Dogo and Korogocho communities asking about ways to improve security. The most popular response was increased community patrolling. I’m tentative to agree. In fact, community policing is hurting communities more than helping them.

Accountability for vigilante groups is nonexistent. They don’t need to answer to the government or official police. Many consider themselves equal to such official policemen. They go overboard, getting excessively involved in domestic issues and committing caning and flogging. These men add to the violence rather than reduce it. Even when community patrols are doing their work, there are cases of mistaken identity. Sadly, too many innocent individuals have died at the hands of these vigilantes.

Without a set of standards for who they recruit, vigilante groups often devolve into gangs of youth, going door to door, collecting fifty bob to offer protection that doesn’t come through. Where the Kasarani chapter of SnA is located in Baba Dogo’s ACREF, we were asked by a group to pay 500 shillings a month for protection. We paid it for a while but ACREF was broken into a few months ago and robbed. Next time they came to collect, we asked those guys for some accountability, telling them, “If you want our money then we need a contract.” They refused so we refused to pay them. Why should we pay if they won’t follow through?  We do have a good rapport with the neighbors around. They’re willing to let us know what’s going on, what’s safe and what’s not. It’s a different kind of community policing, based in solidarity and mutual trust. If the community can be their brother’s keeper then we won’t need other people to take care of us.

Both the government and community police are part of a system that cannot deal with criminals effectively. When so many suspects are released, most likely because criminals are well connected and most can pay a bribe, the community suffers. Often the official and unofficial police kill suspected criminals. They see it as their own personal criminal justice. I see why they do this but I cannot justify it. We can’t condone the killing of our fellow human being, especially when, all too often, the wrong man is killed.

People love to talk about the cause of crime in Nairobi. Many blame it on the lack of employment, drug problems, or instability but ultimately it comes down to ignorance. Being broke doesn’t justify killing someone or stealing. It comes down to educating people not only on their options to build a better life, but also on morality. Sometimes the lessons just need to be forced into people’s psyche. An educated community is the foundation for a secure community. People do not bring peace to other people; people make peace wherever they are.