Last week, 28-year-old mother of two, Peninah Kaimenti, lost her life to a police bullet. The incident happened in Mtongwe, when Likoni police station deputy OCS Joab Omondi approached her shop, where she was selling mogoka in the company of her family and friends.
The officer, who was dressed in civilian clothing, is reported to have demanded they switch off the music that was playing from the shop. Upon being questioned who he was and why he wanted the music turned off, it is reported that he got agitated and removed his pistol demanding his orders be followed.
Soon thereafter, witnesses reported that he shot in the air before aiming his pistol at those around him. In the process, he shot Peninah in the head. Upon realising what he had done, he turned his gun and shot himself. He died instantly. Onlookers were shocked to see what had happened. On following up, Haki Africa learnt that Omondi actually had a Masters’ degree in Psychology from an Indian University. How did a highly qualified and experienced police officer end up in such a situation?
One month earlier in March, officers at Luala-Kotiende police station in Bondo subcounty discovered the body of one of their colleagues hanging from the roof of his house. The officer left behind a suicide note. It is suspected the incident occurred as a result of domestic problems. Fast rewind to January 2019 and 27-year-old constable Cosmas Kipchumba Biwott is said to have picked a piece of broken glass and seriously injured himself on the right side of his neck and started bleeding profusely. This happened after he had been detained pending investigations into a case of attempted robbery.
Constable Biwott was pronounced dead on arrival at the county referral hospital.
In the same month of January, officer Charles Ndolo, who was stationed at Kipevu police post, is reported to have gone to the toilet before using his AK-47 to shoot himself in the head. He died on the spot. In December last year, a police officer attached to former Inspector General Joseph Boinnet is reported to have killed himself. Reports say he used his Jericho pistol to shoot himself on the chin and the bullet exited through the head.
A few weeks earlier in October 2018, AP officer attached to Othori police post hanged himself with a piece of rope from a tree branch.
Cases of police suicides have become rife. It would appear those expected to protect life are themselves taking their own lives. This brings into sharp focus the state of mental health of these officers. What we are witnessing are symptoms of an overworked, underpaid and unappreciated police service. Just like all other persons, police officers are human beings too. They have families and friends as well as professional and social lives. Behind the hardcore faces they portray while in uniforms, are ordinary civilians with normal ups and downs like everybody else.
However, the stress of work sometimes takes a toll on their mental health. Officers engage and deal with crime on a daily basis. They receive and handle matters of defilement, rape, murder, suicide and other serious crimes every other day. These issues affect their mental health and ability to cope with normal situations. As a result, some of the officers end up depressed and psychologically affected. When there is no way of debriefing and dealing with the stress, they end up with mental health issues thus engage in ungodly acts such as suicide.
As a country, we must critically analyse our police service and their status of mental health. The numbers of suicide committed by officers are alarming. The new Inspector General of Police, Hillary Mutyambai, needs to prioritise mental health of his officers.
To begin with, as Haki Africa we have called for a professional psychologist to be posted to each police station to offer psychosocial support to the officers. Kenyans can no longer just watch as the situation deteriorates. A mentally sick police service is a danger not just to themselves but also to the entire nation.