"NO CRISIS": COOK ISLANDS POLICE COMMISSIONER WICHMAN

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By Jason Brown

AVARUA, Cook Islands (March 20 2001 – Cook Islands News)---Police Commissioner Pira Greenfield Wichman says there is no staffing crisis within the ranks.

"Officers are not leaving, contrary to your newspaper’s assertions," he told Cook Islands News in a written response to questions.

(See: COOK ISLANDS POLICE FACE STAFFING CRISIS)

"There has only been one resignation since I took command."

Wichman questions a Cook Islands News story about the two senior officers who intend resigning soon.

"If ... true," says Wichman, "out of a force of 85, this can hardly be called a crisis."

However, the source had pointed out the fact that there was almost no one of similar seniority to replace Deputy Commissioner Maara Tetava and Chief Inspector Upoko Vaiimene.

Tetava is said to be thinking of joining the Public Service Commission while Vaiimene may have applied for the soon to be vacant position as the Superintendent of Prison Services.

"The police will miss both gentlemen should they leave, because they are fine, honest and hard-working Cook Islanders and their new employers stand to gain a lot," says Wichman.

He denies his office suffers from a lack of independence from the Minister of Police and Deputy Prime Minister, Norman George.

Wichman also denies favoring the Pitt family media services, in which he has appeared often.

He points to other interviews with four reporters from the independent media, including Cook Islands News, Radio New Zealand and Radio Australia.

"Somehow, according to your reporter, ‘this shows lack of independence from government. We are not after ‘nice stories,’ only ‘fair and impartial’ stories."

Wichman did not comment on his regular visits to the office of the Deputy Prime Minister or the fact that the list of nominations for "honorary" police officers in the outer islands came straight from the same office. As well as Tetava and Vaiimene, Wichman also points to a number of absences that total 17 officers, including the one resignation.

"The officer was encouraged by me to leave, for the sake of his family. I personally counseled the officer together with a close member of his family and in the end I advised him to leave and his file was endorsed as being ‘suitable for re-employment’ should he wish to return to policing in the future."

However, Wichman did not explain why he had advised the officer to resign. Wichman approved two officers to go to the Solomon Islands to serve as peace keepers. Two were approved to study in Fiji and one officer was seconded to another government department. Nine officers were approved to go to the Police Super Games later this month, while two officers are on leave without pay, approved before Wichman took over.

"All these officers are valuable assets to the police and I look forward to them returning soon and serving the people of the Cook Islands."

Wichman did not comment on why he did not respond to a large number of Cook Islands News questions he has left unanswered for months.

"You are asking not to be denied access to information, how about acknowledging the cooperation that you already receive from police. As for future cooperation, the jury is still out," he said.

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