While law enforcement is premised on investigations, arrests and punishment, research shows that punishment temporarily halts criminal activity but does not stop the growth of crime


Do you have a friend who is exceedingly short or tall, has a small head but large face, large protruding ears and eyes, a skull protruding at the back, a beaked nose, shifty eyes, bushy eyebrows, enormous jaws, high cheekbones, mighty incisors, a thin neck, sloping shoulders with a large chest and long arms? According to a school of thought in criminology which was influential until as recently as 1950, your friend is a “criminal man”. He is predestined by nature to commit criminal acts as any of these features were indications of criminal tendencies.

The proposition of this school of thought, known as the atavists, derived their hypothesis from Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. They believed that some people had not yet fully evolved and their physical features were akin to the prehistoric an. According to one of the most famous atavists, Cesare Lombroso, who died in 1909, such people reproduced in them “the ferocious instincts of primitive humanity and the inferior animals”.

The development of science and the study of sociology has, however, brought new thinking about crime. It is now rarely in dispute that crime is largely a product of social organization. Each person’s relationship with society and their place in the social structure determines whether they become criminals and what type of criminal activity they engage in.

To arrest the growth in crime, one therefore needs to address the economic structure of the society, the integrity of the family, the administration of the schooling system, and the social and financial realities of the youth. But while the sociological approach to crime has become the new thinking internationally, law enforcement initiatives are based on the assumptions of the atavists. Crime being the result of the activities of the “criminal man”, law enforcement was built on the need to establish a society that was hostile to crime and in which criminals were speedily detected and severely punished.

The mission statement for law enforcement was: investigate, arrest, punish. But scientific research has shown that while punishment may temporarily halt criminal activity, it does not stop the growth of crime.

Heavy police presence simply shifts crime from one place to another

A series of researches in some communities in America, for instance, has shown that police patrols in themselves have little effect on the occurrence of crime. Since the police cannot be everywhere at the same time, heavy police presence simply shifts crime from one place to another.

Stamping out existing crime does not prevent the occurrence of crime in the future. Emphasis is therefore, now being laid equally on crime prevention which seeks to deal with the source of crime and to address the factors that promote criminal activity. The strategy views law enforcement as just one of the factors needed to protect society from crime.

The International Centre for the Prevention of Crime (ICPC) has recently become the focal point of this strategy. It was started in 1994 to help cities and countries to reduce delinquency, violence and insecurity, formulate crime prevention strategies and to come up with a “best practice” in these strategies. Even prior to the establishment of the ICPC, several developed countries had already formulated crime prevention strategies. France has the National Crime Prevention Council, Britain’s Home Office Crime Prevention Unit, Belgium’s Permanent Secretariat for Crime Prevention Policy and National Sheriffs Association in the US. These associations bring together various government ministries, local authorities, law enforcement agencies, intelligence services and scientific researchers as a single initiative to combat crime. Their interest is to identify crime before it occurs and solve it at that stage.

Two developments in Kenya over the past… The ousting of President Said Barre of Somalia saw the collapse of the country and ay form of government. A flood of refugees moved to Kenya to escape the civil war that erupted. Within a few years, Nairobi was awash with small firearms and automatic rifles from Somalia. The legendary AK-47, the rifle of choice for guerilla movements the world over, became the standard issue for criminals in the city. The United Nations justifiably listed Nairobi as one of the most dangerous cities in the world.

This was followed by the rise of vigilante groups in the country: Mungiki, Kamjesh, Angola Msumbiji, to name the most notorious, which were allowed to grow and even legitimize themselves in business. As they fought for control of matatu routes, they were regards as of little consequence to the security of the rest of the society.

Early this year, Transport and Communication minister John Michuki moved in to streamline public transport. Vigilante groups were removed from the matatu business by requiring all drivers and touts to obtain security clearance before being employed in the industry. The down side of it was that all the criminal elements who had invaded the business were out on the streets without a crumb to eat.

To add to the gravity of the situation, the City Council had also moved in to clean the city. It demolished road side kiosks and removed hawkers from the city centre. Together with the Ministry of Water, it also prohibited unlicensed car washes, which acted as the last gate to the criminal society.

A friend recently had a dramatic portrayal of the reality when he parked his car one evening at an entertainment joint. A weather-beaten but otherwise very healthy fellow, exhibiting many of the features identified by Lombroso, approached him and requested to wash his car at Sh. 50. My friend, of course, dismissed him despite the increasingly desperate pleas. The “criminal man” finally told him: “It’s okay. You keep your money; we shall meet later in town.” My friend promptly gave him Sh 100 and told him not to touch the car.

Need an effective, highly disciplined police force

The upsurge in crime today has both to do with the laxity of police administration as well as inadequate strategies of crime prevention. We undoubtedly need an effective, highly disciplined and committed police force. Without it, we cannot stamp out existing crime. The appointment of a new Police Commissioner from the military should establish new standards of discipline and efficacy in the Force. That is the challenge of Brigadier Mohammed Hussein Ali, and it may be a good thing that his appointment has been quoted as sending “shivers” to both the police and the criminals.

Brig. Ali may stamp out the existing crime but he cannot prevent the outbreak of crime in the future. Only a good crime prevention initiative can deal with the factors that create crime in our society. He may bomb Mungiku and Kamjesh out of town, and we hope he does, but he cannot prevent the creation and growth of another “innocent” group that eventually turns crim for its survival.

Only a National crime prevention council would have identified the potential threat posed by the refugee influx and devised way of dealing with it.

Intelligence check on refugees entering Nairobi

How many refugees, for instance, were body searched before they crossed the border? Did we undertake a security and intelligence check on those refugees we allowed into our city? We did not. Instead, we booked President Said Barre into the presidential suite of Safari Park Hotel, and allowed all his political orphans to roam the city undeterred.

Only a crime prevention initiative would have identified the sociological foundations of vigilante groups and dealt with them. Only a criminal intelligence expert would have identified the sociological foundations of vigilante groups and dealt with them. Only a criminal intelligence expert would have predicted how these vigilante groups would eventually turn to crime and become a threat to everyone.

Our crime prevention strategy must also deal with the inadequacy of our laws in combating crime. The basic criminal law in Kenya is found in Penal Code and the Criminal Procedure Code, which came into operation on August 1, 1930. Both laws were inherited from India where they were used by Britain to administer the population in its colony. How do we expect to fight crime in Kenya using strategies that were more than 100 years old and such archaic law?