Even after the Constitution was enacted in 2010, he operated like it did not exist in the manner in which he took on perceived critics of the State including journalists.
Joseph Nkaissery’s first loyalty was always to the crown. He was very protective of the uniformed officers to the point of being seen as a stumbling block to police reforms.
Perhaps because of his military background, Maj-Gen (Rtd) Nkaissery believed strongly that civilians did not understand police work so they could not have an oversight role over the officers.
Ever since his service in the military, Mr Nkaissery has been strongly opposed to weapons being in the hands of civilians.
Between February 22 and May 22, Nkaissery spearheaded Operation “Nyundo” in West Pokot whose objective was to disarm civilians.
Many people died and more than 20,000 animals starved to death during the operation.
The operation was also punctuated with rape and beating of the locals.
The disarmament resulted in deaths of civilians in what has come to be known as “Lotiriri Massacre”, according to the Truth Justice and Reconciliation Commission.
Mr Nkaissery ignored summons to appear before the commission to answer questions on the operation.
In its report, the commission recommended that Mr Nkaissery be barred from holding public office and that the Director of Public Prosecutions prosecutes him for the rights abuses under his command.
No case was brought against him and of course he died as a public servant.
Civilian oversight of the police force is a key pillar of the Constitution.
The supreme law created the National Police Service Commission (NPSC) and the Independent Police Oversight Authority (Ipoa) both headed by civilians – Johnstone Kavuludi and Macharia Njeru respectively.
One of the Kavuludi commission’s key mandates was the vetting of officers to weed out those found to be unfit to serve because of corruption and other vices.
Ipoa investigates abuses by police during the course of their work including extra-judicial killings and has the power to take officers to court.
Mr Nkaissery’s position put him on a collision course with both constitutional commissions and other advocates of police reforms.
But, he also had his supporters, mostly in the security and political establishment.
This support led to questions about the Executive’s commitment to police reforms.
Mr Njeru, the Ipoa chairman, said the General did not seem to appreciate the fact that police vetting was a requirement in law.
“It is not like NPSC has an option and it does not matter whether the CS is happy or not,” he said at the time Mr Nkaissery criticised the vetting.
Security expert Simiyu Werunga, who served on the vetting panel, said the CS was grossly mistaken to question the suitability and qualifications of the Kavuludi commission.
“NPSC was established under certain criteria and qualifications. Nobody was employed in the NPSC without meeting the qualifications,” he said.
Mr Werunga said the Executive and political forces were interfering with the vetting.
He said the Executive’s resistance to police vetting was making Kenyans feel that the exercise had not delivered the intended results in professionalising the service.
Mr Werunga said police vetting was to achieve two key outcomes: suitability and competence of the officers to continue serving.
But Major (Rtd) Bashir Abdullaih of Vickers Security said the CS’s concerns on the police vetting should be understood in the context of national security.
“I think the CS’s concern is the public scrutiny of the officers. How it is being done but not why. Vetting is part of their (NPSC) mandate,” Mr Abdullaih said.
But Mr Njeru states that should not be a concern.
“It is not a question of embarrassing anyone but addressing the question of integrity.
There is really nothing special about the police that they should be vetted differently from other public office holders,” he said.
He added: “And it should also be made clear that whether done in public or in private, it is not about the public against them but just to make them accountable on matters of integrity like every other public office holder.”
After uproar over his initial statement, Mr Nkaissery clarified that he was not opposed to police vetting but only wanted to ensure it is not “used to victimise officers but should be done with an intention to professionalise the service”.
Under his watch, the police force has grown exponentially both in numbers and equipment. But it is evident that the radical reforms envisaged under the Constitution are still a work in progress.
And Mr Nkaissery’s pronouncements did little to inspire confidence in Kenyans that there will be substantive reforms beyond the change of name from “Force” to “Service”.
It is no wonder that the vices associated with the police, including extra-judicial killings, extortion and disappearances continue unabated.