Dr. Caroline Lanskey and Dr. Fr. John Mbai co-teaching at Karatina University

We sat down with Dr. Caroline Lanskey, an Associate Professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice at the University of Cambridge and Dr. Fr. John Muthee Mbai, a Lecturer in the School of Education and Social Sciences and Coordinator, Criminology, Criminal Justice and Public Safety programme for an informal interview.

Thank you for agreeing to have this interview with us. Please tell us the purpose of Dr. Lanskey’s visit?

I visited the UK in 2022 where I established initial contact with Dr. Lanskey. I thought we could take advantage of her presence in Kenya to benefit our Criminology, Criminal Justice and Public Safety students. I, therefore, requested the University to allow her co-teach with me in the area of Criminology since that is her specialization. Co-teaching gives students exposure especially when there is mutual sharing of information.

 What has been her itinerary so far?

So far, we have met with all the undergraduate (1st Year to 4th Year) students. She has taught them Introduction to Criminology, Youth Justice, Juvenile and Delinquency, Information Technology and Crime, Intelligence Gathering and Management among others. She will also have an opportunity to speak to 4th Year students on their research projects.

We will also make courtesy visits to various offices within the University as well as visit other institutions of criminal justice in order for her to be oriented to the Kenyan system. If time allows, she may also conduct training on research to members of staff in the School of Education and Social Sciences. We desire to learn from her rich wealth of experience from the University of Cambridge.

What are these other institutions that you will visit?

We intend to visit police stations, prisons, courts, probation offices, magistrates and lawyers. Once she gets this exposure of the Kenyan criminal justice system, we can, then, start discussions on possible areas of common research and academic publishing. It will also help us in conducting comparative studies between the criminal justice systems in Kenya and the UK.

Dr. Lanskey, you have been in charge of the Masters Programme in the Institute of Criminology at the University of Cambridge, are there any plans to mentor Karatina University in developing/reviewing its Masters programmes?

When we first met with Fr. John, there was definitely expression of interest to review the Masters programme. I have been the Director of the Masters programme at the Institute for the last three years. I will be glad to share this idea with my successor. We will be happy to offer advice on the development of a Masters programme that might work here.

Only recently in Kenya have we started seeing security agencies go out of their way to reach out to the public. They have heavily invested in information sharing through various platforms. What is the UK experience?

In the UK, the Police use the internet for visibility and publicity. They invite the public to help them with cases and crimes. They have Twitter and Facebook accounts where they ask you to share information. They are also using social media in the detection of some crimes.

The internet is used by other arms like prosecution services to explain how the criminal justice system works, describe what it does and will also carry information about different punishments for different crimes. In addition, courts publish online statements from judges and the sentences they make. Probation services also have a page that talks about what they do.

There is certainly information that is shared to try and inform the public on the work of the criminal justice system but there are precautions not to reveal too much about individual cases or victims. For example, in reporting offenses committed by a child under eighteen years, these may not be published to protect his/her identity. There is certainly control of information released usually to protect vulnerable people who have broken the law or vulnerable victims.

Awhile back, the Washington Post carried an article on how the Kenyan police is using social media to fight crime. What is your take on the use of social media to communicate crime-related news/information in the manner they do? This is in view of the fact that there seems to be divided public opinion on how crime should be reported? (See link to the article at end of interview)

Dr. Fr. Mbai: I see no problem with the way the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) is breaking crime-related news on social media because, in the process of the public giving comments, intelligence is gathered. The Police are, therefore, able to capture a lot of information from the comments even though they may not be able to verify authenticity. There are undercover investigations taking place in these virtual platforms.

However, the sharing of alleged criminals’ faces on social media as a form of punishment is where the catch is. Some people say that labelling a person an offender alludes to secondary criminality. When much has been repeated about an individual, he/she will likely behave in a certain way as though to confirm. It is referred to as the self-fulfilled prophecy. Others say, however, that the sharing of such information may deter an offender from engaging in crime. When it causes stigmatization, however, it becomes excessive. Having been a consumer of what they post, I haven’t seen any excesses. Within the theatrics and comical language, many people read and, in the process, make a comment. That comment is very significant in intelligence gathering because the police are able to profile the different clusters of people and draw conclusions from it. To me, that the posts are being read means that it is positive.

 What has caused the shift though?

Dr. Fr. Mbai: The police service has, for a long time, been seen as a closed organization. In the process, there have been suspicions of forceful disappearances of people and extra judicial killings. Now, there is an openness. Mistrust in the police service is slowly dying thanks to this openness.

The public also wants legitimacy and a justification of why such an office exists. They want you to show them that you are doing what you are employed to do. If you do not communicate, and you remain unknown, you become an amorphous body. At the same time, these agencies want to appear to have acted within the requisite procedures. Corporates the world over communicate about who they are and what they are doing. Even security agencies are within these societies that are demanding for best practices. You want to be known because when you are known, your existence becomes legitimate.

In addition, society needs to know the offenders in their surroundings. Communicating to the public brings more on board on matters policing.

The opposite of this open communication is that the Police are also being reported. You will come across video clips on social media of police officers receiving bribes and other offenses they commit. Interestingly, in the UK, as Dr. Lanskey informed one class, if you try to bribe a police officer, the officer will add another charge of attempting to bribe a police officer. This is unheard of in Kenya. In the UK criminal justice system, the police are rewarded each time they solve a case that leads to prosecution. In the long run, police work to get this reward because it is a form of recognition and pride. In Kenya, however, no matter how hard a police officer works, they are not recognized, therefore, leading to more bribe taking.

Dr. Lanskey, can the police be a friend to the public?

Defining it as being a friend to the public may not really capture the spirit of the police service. In some ways, it is important for the public to feel like they can go to the police. The police are there to protect the public. They should be seen to be a body that people feel they can approach and get a response which will help them. I think it is more important that the police are seen to be accessible. This is one of the reasons they have developed an online presence because they recognize that people use the internet all the time and if they are to be accessible then that is where they need to be.

Of course, amongst the population, there are certain groups that will trust the police while others, due to past history and experiences, will have less trust. Police have a difficult job of ensuring that they develop relationships with people because they depend on them to do their job. It is not only the public that needs the police but the police needs the public to report crimes, be witnesses and so on. Relationships are very important.

What is your opinion on the seemingly arbitrary change of police uniforms in Kenya? Should there be a defined and standing entity to govern the instruments of the police service?

Dr. Lanskey: I think the main purpose of the uniforms is for easy recognition of the police. Someone will see a police officer and know that he/she is an officer of the law. That should guide any decisions about what the police officers wear. They also need to be practicable and comfortable. Uniforms can be changed but not to the extent that the public will not recognize/know that that is a police officer.

Dr. Fr. Mbai: To me, this brings in the question of politics, policy versus research. There is a very big disconnect between research, politics and policy. The political class works for expediency. What they think is popular is what is advantageous to them. Involving research which may, sometimes, give a contrary view of that is popular may not be well received.

I am not sure whether there was a survey that necessitated the change of police uniforms as much as I do not think there has been a survey that is necessitating the return to the original uniforms. What we should be seeing, if we had research, is the involvement of the police officers themselves. This would have created ownership. Had there been ownership, there would have been no resistance to change the uniform. As it is now, however, they are in a hurry to go back to the old ones. They also needed to involve the public. Opticians should have a say on the color of the uniforms. So, what informed the change?

In my opinion, there is total disregard of researchers in the formulation of Government policies. It is a weakness of the political system when there is no separation of governance and politics.

Apart from conducting research to inform policy, what other ways can universities work with criminal justice agencies?

Dr. Lanskey: University of Cambridge has two Masters programmes which are part time. There are four academic leaders who are professionals within the criminal justice system; police, prisons, probation services and courts. These are programmes that professionals can take alongside their jobs. Since they are part time, employers sponsor their staff to take the courses. That is one way in which they make a connection with the University.

Also, there are various consulting committees. There may be a policy that the Government may want developed, for example, improving the living conditions in prisons or finding ways to reduce youth involvement in crime. All these committees will have practitioners from different organizations as well as the academia who provide research findings and empirical data to support policy. Therefore, training and contribution of knowledge for policy discussion can lead to closer links with criminal justice agencies.

Dr. Fr. Mbai: Universities can offer short courses. For example, with Dr. Lanskey at Karatina University, it would have been possible to engage with the security agencies in the region. These agencies can also involve students in creating awareness on social media platforms and mainstream television and radio stations. County governments can engage with universities to facilitate training of their security staff.

Any prospects for further collaborations?

In terms of collaborations, I am happy to take back with me contacts from different disciplines to pursue opportunities for collaboration with University of Cambridge.

Refereed article: Kenyan police are using Twitter to become known as crime-fighters, not killers – The Washington Post