The National Police Service (NPS) has introduced 38 patrol cars on major highways. Consequently, roadblocks that had degenerated into toll stations for unscrupulous traffic police officers have been phased out. Their removal comes as a welcome relief for motorists and other road users.
Early this month, Deputy Inspector General (DIG) of Police Edward Mbugua ordered the recall of excess traffic police officers. The manner in which Officers Commanding Stations (OCSs) had taken advantage of the power to oversee traffic duties to deploy excess traffic police officers had alarmed him. When crime prevention ceases to be the prime concern for OCSs, it is easy to understand the motivation behind deploying excess officers on the roads.
Despite the heavy presence of law enforcers, our roads have been anything but safe. Statistics from the National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA) show increases in road fatalities almost each year. For instance, in 2019, NTSA documented 3,388 deaths from accidents, which was an increment of 13.5 per cent in the same period in 2018. These statistics are an indictment on traffic police officers who, time and again, have been accused of soliciting bribes from motorists.
Cases abound in which public service vehicles made it past police roadblocks only to cause tragic accidents a few minutes later because they were either unroadworthy or lacked relevant inspection stickers allowing them to be on the road. For a bribe, some traffic police officers look the other way while errant drivers knowingly put lives at risk.
No doubt, highway patrols will keep motorists on guard. This is because, unlike road blocks that are stationed at specific places and can be evaded, mobile units are hard to monitor. Moreover, the fixed rules by which traffic police officers in patrol cars are supposed to operate will ensure fair play, but only if enforcement is made to work. Let us not have a situation where the forest is changed but the monkeys remain largely the same.
With focus now on patrols, it would do NPS good to send redundant traffic officers to crime-prone areas. Such officers would be more useful if deployed to schools in Garissa County where teachers have fled due to terror attacks.
That said, it is incumbent upon NPS to keep the patrol cars in good shape through regular servicing and repairs. Good maintenance of vehicles has never been a forte of NPS. The high number of broken down police vehicles attests to this. Further, mobile patrols require enough and ready funds to carter for fuel. Too often, members of the public seeking police assistance in emergencies are required to bear the cost of fuel.
On the other hand, motorists should exercise self-discipline by observing road rules instead of waiting for traffic police officers to remind them. Removing traffic police officers from the roads should not give motorists the licence to misbehave.