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Is there 1 police officer serving every 390 Kenyans, as Kenyatta said?

This article is more than 7 years old

While commissioning hundreds of police vehicles recently, Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta said his administration had improved national security by swelling police ranks.

“In terms of human capital, we now have 98,732 officers in our ranks compared to 78,885 in 2013, an increase of more than 25%,” he said in Nairobi’s Uhuru Park, as he listed government’s efforts in improving police effectiveness.

This, he said, reflected a current personnel-to-population ratio of 1:390, “compared to the recommended [United Nations] ratio of 1:450”.

But Kenyatta then appeared to contradict himself, saying: “Indeed, we are not far from that optimal benchmark and we are committed to achieving it.”

No response from country's police chief

Africa Check contacted presidential spokesman Manoah Esipisu, asking for the data on which the president’s statements were based and to explain the apparent contradiction. His office referred us to the police inspector general's office. (Note: The inspector-general is yet to provide the data but we will update this report if he does.)

Kenya’s National Police Service is composed of the Kenya Police Service, the Administrative Police Service and the Directorate of Criminal Investigation.

The service’s strategic plan for 2013 to 2018, launched in May 2014, showed that 75,325 people (not 78,885) served in the service’s three branches in 2013. This included 41,009 officers in the Police Service and the Directorate of Criminal Investigation and 34,316 Administration Police personnel.

A National Police Service Commission was set up in 2012 and is by law mandated to make new police hires. In the commission’s latest available annual report, it counted 90,442 police members at the end of June 2016.

Of these, 44,705 served in the Kenya Police, 40,330 as Administrative Police and 5,405 in the Directorate of Criminal Investigation. A total of 9,937 recruits entered training in April 2016 but they will only graduate next month, the president indicated last year.

However, we were unable to confirm the current number of police personnel with either George Kinoti or Charles Owino, who both speak on behalf of the police.

President’s figure points to 1:448 ratio

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta stands inside an armoured personal carrier during the commissioning of 500 police vehicles at Nairobi's Uhuru Park on January 16, 2017. President Kenyatta said the Armoured personal carriers will help Kenyan police to counter the terrorism in the country. Kenya is preparing for General Elections on August 8, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / JOHN MUCHUCHA
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta stands inside an armoured personnel carrier while commissioning 500 police vehicles at Nairobi's Uhuru Park on 16 January, 2017. The country holds General Elections on 8 August, 2017. Photo: AFP/ John Muchucha

If we take the president’s current staffing figure as correct, his ratio of 1 police member for every 390 Kenyans would be incorrect.

(Note: A different ratio was used at least 2 times in the last 3  months. In November 2016, Kenya’s interior ministry stated in a newspaper announcement that the ratio was 1:1,000, while the ministry’s senior-most civil servant, Karanja Kibicho, reportedly told senior security officers a day before that it was 1:800.)

The police-population ratio indicates the number of police officers serving a community, relative to its size. For example, if a community has 1 police officer serving 100 people, the ratio is 1:100.

The most recent estimate by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics put the country’s population at 44.2 million people in 2015. If 98,732 people were serving in the police as the president said, the ratio works out to 1 police member for every 448 Kenyans.

For the president’s ratio of 1:390 to be correct, the country’s population would need to be 38.5 million - Kenya’s population when the last census was conducted 8 years ago. Or, when Kenya’s population estimate of 44.2 million is used, the number of police would need to exceed 113,333.

But… the UN only counts regular police

A second issue with the ratio is that the UN defines police personnel as “those whose principal functions are the prevention, detection and investigation of crime and the apprehension of alleged offenders”.

The UN therefore only includes the number of Kenya Police members, who are often referred to as the regular police, in their database.

If we use the number of regular police members at last count (44,705), the ratio works out to 1 police officer for every 989 Kenyans.

Does the UN really recommend a 1:450 ratio?

Most importantly, though, is that Africa Check was unable to confirm whether the UN really does recommend a police-population ratio of 1:450. (Note: We asked the UN for comment but have not yet received an answer.)

The often-cited ratio can be traced back to the United States’ policing of occupied Germany in 1945. Back then one American policeman oversaw 450 German civilians. Available literature shows that its success at the time has tended to inform international policing.

The United Nations headquarters in New York is shown in this photo taken 12 August 2003. Photo: DON EMMERT / AFP
The United Nations headquarters in New York is shown in this photo taken 12 August 2003. Photo: AFP/Don Emmert

It seems the UN uses this ratio as a guideline in peace missions but Gareth Newman, who focuses on governance, crime and justice at the Institute for Security Studies, said he doubted it was an international directive.

“I would be surprised if there was such a recommendation given the substantial difference in the capabilities and functions of the police across the world. It would therefore not make much sense to give a particular figure,” he said.

Analyst Andrew Franklin, who comments on security issues in Kenya, also argues that the police-population ratio is not the best way to judge police effectiveness.

“The fascination with the ratio of cops to people misses the point: How are police trained, led and deployed?” he told Africa Check.

Two prominent human rights organisations say that while several key reforms in policing have been achieved, such as the creation of a civilian oversight agency, a lot still needs to be done.

“Besides the policy developments, there is little improvement in the quality of policing which is what the public is more concerned about. This remains a major area of concern to several Kenyans,” a joint audit by the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights and the Centre for Human Rights and Peace stated.

Conclusion: Police-population ratio of 1:390 incorrect

All publicly available data on the number of police officers in Kenya show that the police to population ratio is not 1:390.

Kenya had 90,442 police members and 44.2 million inhabitants at last count, giving a ratio of 1:489. Even if the number of police members currently stood at 98,732, as President Uhuru Kenyatta has claimed, the ratio works out to 1:448.

This is better than what is widely referred to as the “UN-recommended ratio” of 1:450. However, Africa Check was unable to confirm that the United Nations ever issued this as an international policing guideline.

When judging police effectiveness, it is far more important to focus on the quality of policing than ratios, an analyst told Africa Check.

Edited by Lee Mwiti & Anim van Wyk

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