Study by the University of Nairobi’s Department of Sociology recently revealed that common type of crime in Kenyan slums is robbery followed by pick pocketing.
The study also revealed that majority of the respondents had witnessed a crime in their neighbourhood in the past one year.
However, security improvement has been noted due to collaboration between the community and the police, the study found.
Alcoholism, idleness, unemployment and drug abuse were noted as the major catalysts of the crime in the slum areas.
To find out if the results of the findings were reflective of what is happening at the grassroot level, Sun Magazine crime reporter decided to interview the residents and the security officers. Brian Owino, not his real name, decided to give up his life of crime in Kibera slums after he saw a speeding police car aim for him and his four friends as they tried to snatch a woman’s purse.
“I thought that was the end of our lives. I knew the police had seen what we wanted to do and they were to determine to shoot at us. I was really terrified,” Brian said.
Not long before, the bullet-ridden bodies of three of Brian’s friends were found in a forest after they had left Mathare, Nairobi’s second largest slum, to mug people in richer neighborhoods.
Police often use deadly force against suspected criminals, with hundreds of people killed in the past two years. The emergence of private security providers, ranging from social networks and opportunistic enforcers to tireless local guardians, has helped the government in neutralizing the crime in the slum areas.
“Although it is the function of the government to ensure security of every Kenyan, we should also try our best to protect ourselves and property.
We are the ones living in these areas and we know the landscape better. We can tell where criminals stay. We know who is a robber and who is not. We are better placed to guide security agencies,” Stephen Macharia, a resident of Mathare slums told SUN Magazine.
In Mathare slums most parts do not have streets wide enough for police vehicles to patrol and poor lighting makes it risky even for officers, police spokesman Charles Owino said. “A criminal can hide in a place the police may not be able to see him,” he said.
“He may be able to even shoot at a police officer and run away.” Six policemen have died in shoot-outs between them and the criminals in the past two years, says one officer on a night patrol in Mathare declining to give his name.
“We need to be strong. We do want want the situation to get out of hand. Nearly every week there is a shooting, a robbery, and a murder,” he said.
Apart from the known police officers, there have been those whose identities are not known and residents refer to them as ‘Hessy’. They mostly post suspected criminals on Facebook and warning them stop criminal activities or else they will be shot dead.
From Benteke in Makadara, to Blackie in Kibera to Rashid in Mathare, certain officers are a law unto themselves.While the general public refers to them as ‘Hessy’, slum dwellers know them as either super or killer cops.
Here, they are dreaded and revered in equal measure. One of the officers who works at Huruma area of Nairobi said when a crime is reported, he can recognise the gang involved in the attack from a physical description and the type of arms they carry.
The officers then profile you and hunt you down, dead or alive.