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How unethical policing hurts citizens

brutal

Police brutality. FILE PHOTO | NMG

My Saturday turned into a Kenyan police day last week. It began with a phone call, telling me that one of my staff, a young, female, graduate PR executive, was wanted by the police for violent robbery.

That’s a powerful statement, and, I would say, definitely reputation damaging. But it was also improbable. Not that violent robbers wear hats saying ‘I’m a violent robber’, but the idea that this timid, hard-working youngster was running a side hustle of violence was close to inconceivable.

But our police were a little over-excited. When I said I didn’t think she was likely to have been involved in anything violent, the policeman, who had introduced himself as Evans from a police station in Thika, told me, well, she may not have attacked anyone herself, but she was definitely with the perpetrators now, as he could see her location and she was with them.

‘‘So, why are you calling me?’’, I asked. Could I persuade her to meet them?, was his answer I said I would ask my general manager to look at it. ‘‘You mean ‘name’,’’ he said, correctly naming my GM? Like, what? How had this cold caller got my whole staff’s names and jobs now?

It took a while to get my GM, but when I did, she had been called too, by a different number, one Charles, also purportedly from Thika, regarding a different former member of staff –a social media manager who left us last November – who she was told had been involved in a violent carjacking.

So, my normal-looking PR team is actually a hotbed of competing violent crimes in Thika?

But it got worse. Where were the police getting all our numbers? Moreover, when my GM said she didn’t have or know the former employee’s address, ‘Charles’ said, ‘Well have a good afternoon in Kitengela’, which is where she was, visiting a friend.

Getting calls from strange men claiming violent crimes, telling you where you are standing is unsettling. So, whoever, these ‘police’ were, they were tracking location - shame they couldn’t do that when my driver ran off with my son’s school fees with a phone in hand that we traced.

In fact, it turned out later that those police called all that girl’s friends with their violent robbery stories, and claimed to others of my staff that the two staff were boyfriend and girlfriend – which maybe they are or maybe they are not – all of which finally got defused, because it just so happened that the lucky girl’s father is a police officer, so the madness calmed down.

And the cause for telling her employer she was a violent robber – she had bought a second-hand phone that had been in a car that was carjacked.

This isn’t the first time I have heard of someone buying a second-hand phone that turned out to be stolen, and, indeed, it’s a risk big enough to probably avoid second-hand phones. But if you told me that the proscribed police practice, academy-training, when a phone has been traced from a crime is to call every person who knows the new holder and say they’re a violent robber, I would wonder at the purpose of that particular manual of professionalism.

Of course, I don’t know how the story would have unfolded if her father had not been a police officer, and the police are very broke right now with all this lockdown.

But clearly, those police had gained access to a mobile phone company’s signal information, not just for my one employee, but for all of us and thus any number at all.

Are there no rules on who you locate with your signal, just general managers generally, in case they know someone who knows someone who knows someone with the address of someone who bought a phone that turned out to be stolen? So that’s everyone then?

Truly, when can we ever limit this plague of hopelessly unethical and incompetent policing? Wouldn’t some rules be a good idea: maybe some rules the police observe even? For never let it be said that our police think policing, itself, is lawlessness.