Rising police suicides blamed on poor pay and frustrations

It is getting dark and a client is struggling to fill forms, yet her mother is waiting for Anne Wanjohi outside the city’s Web Link Cyber Café, so they can go to their Gachie home together.

She seems to be racing against time, yet her boyfriend, a General Service Unit officer attached to the presidential escort, also wants a part of it. They had argued earlier when he talked of marriage.

Constable Simon Njoroge Njau insists on talking now.

Ms Wanjohi decides to call her mother to persuade her to ask Njau to reason with her.

Suddenly, as customers, the caretaker who is waiting to close the shop and Ms Wanjohi’s mother watch, the officer removes his official firearm secured in his belt’s holster. He cocks it, points at Ms Wanjohi and to everybody’s horror, shoots her in the left arm.

PULLS TRIGGER

Convinced that things have got out of hand, Ms Wanjohi picks up her handbag and turns away to leave.

Her lover pulls the trigger three more times. The young woman falls to the ground with gunshot wounds to her chest, stomach, back and arm.

When she is on the floor, another bullet is pumped into her. She dies. That was what witnesses said happened on Saturday September, 16.

It added to the trend of police murders and suicides. Njau then pointed the gun to his chest and pulled the trigger. 

When everything was quiet, police arrived at the scene to find their colleague bleeding profusely but still alive. He died two days later at the Kenyatta National Hospital.

The constable used his official firearm — a Jericho pistol — to commit the crime.

TWO LOVERS

The killing and suicide shocked many. But even before they could comprehend it and before the two lovers could be buried, Stephen Kimani Mungai reportedly used his official AK-47 rifle to shoot his girlfriend Susan Njeri Kinuthia, 25, in Nakuru town.

After killing her and as their horrified seven-year-old son watched, the officer shot himself, dying instantly.

All the neighbours knew was that the two had a scuffle before gunshots were heard from their house on Kanu Street.

Less than a week later, an Anti-Stock Theft Unit officer blew up his head using his firearm.

Witnesses said Simon Waweru shot himself in the head at Ridding School on September 30.

Felix Mutinda, an Administration Police officer in Sultan Hamud  shot himself dead moments after posting on Facebook that his life was not worth living.

The incidents have become too common to the point of not being given the seriousness they deserve by the media.

TRAUMA

Studies carried out elsewhere show that second-hand trauma — exposure to murders, road crashes and other gory incidents — are the leading causes of police suicides.

The National Police Service Commission is tasked with managing, regulating and supervising reforms, but the anticipated changes have been slow and morale within the service has taken a nosedive.

Mr Oscar Githua, a forensic psychologist and assistant professor of psychology at the United States International University, Nairobi, believes police and the disciplined forces have been neglected by the society and government.

Prof Githua said officers needed to live like any other person but society perceived them differently.

“We speak to them rudely, we do not hear them out and their pay does not measure up to the risks and dangers they are exposed to,” he said.

Some officers blame the high number of suicides and homicides by colleagues on frustrations, low salaries and poor working conditions.

“This is a human being who has to leave his family, go to a far-flung area where he works under dangerous conditions and under a boss whom he cannot speak openly to. He has to share a room with three others. The list is endless,” said an officer who requested anonymity. 

MISERY

A constable earns a monthly salary of Sh32,880, before tax.

A corporal gets about Sh42,660 while a sergeant’s pay is about Sh45,540.

“We are constantly exposed to human misery, suffering and death. In a police officer’s day, there are many bodies, many accidents, so much blood and a lot of listening to people’s problems. And then no one understands,” said the officer.

Studies have shown that police officers and soldiers are significantly at higher risk for a host of long-term mental ailments than the general populace.

The most common condition is the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

“When he leaves for work, a police officer never knows if he will see his children again. Many a time, they see colleagues being killed and they are the ones to clean up the mess. This takes a toll on them,” said Prof Githua.

Although there is no data at the headquarters on police suicides, the Nation has documented 32 cases since January, with more than half involving loss of two or more lives.

In some cases, officers shot their colleagues or bosses before turning the guns on themselves.

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