POLICE AND COMMUNITY PARTNERSHIP CAN WORK IN SOLOMONS

Commentary

By Frank Short

Following the grim tragedy that occurred earlier this month at the Atoifi Adventist Hospital on the island of Malaita when an Australian missionary was attacked and murdered, we witnessed an out pouring of grief by many Solomon Islanders, but especially by the East Kwaio community who quickly demonstrated their abhorrence at the missionary’s death by uniting in a practical way to aid the police with the arrest of a suspect.

The presence of the Atoifi Adventist Hospital has a significant beneficial influence on the local community’s health and welfare and the doctors and staff of the hospital have, for years, been treated with respect. It must have been with deep shock and a sense of utter disbelief that galvanized the people into action to avenge the killing and to safeguard the continuing presence of the much needed hospital.

By aiding the police in their investigation of the incident, many hours of detective work may have been saved. It serves to illustrate a point that I made in a previous letter entitled "Full Support Needed to Address Solomon Islands Law and Order Problems" (http://166.122.164.43/archive/2002/March/03-20-26.htm) in which I said, "As much as it is true that the Solomon Islands Police is hugely under-resourced, I believe that the bulk of crime detection owes little to the investigative skill displayed by detectives, but on the public’s ability to provide the police with reliable and straight forward leads."

The Atoifi community’s action also serves to highlight that, despite the much-quoted difficulties in policing being complicated by the "wantok" culture, where there is genuine anger and concern over a particular crime, or where livelihood or institutions connected to the vital interests of the people are concerned, then there is often a willingness to assist the police.

In the wider context of the prevailing lawlessness in the Solomons, it is clear that the uneven development that has occurred in the country since Independence is a major factor and there is a clear correlation between inequality and the crime trends. Factors such as unemployment, lack of health care and education, especially in rural areas, urban drift, high population growth, limited vocational skills training and poor housing, are just some of the socio-economic measures that are needing political investment in order to address the causes of crime. I believe that it is vitally important that targeted and monitored aid by donors to rural communities is greatly enhanced to influence the people’s lifestyles in practical ways in order to influence the incidence of crime and help to generate more support for the police and the enforcement of the law.

It was encouraging to learn that a team of New Zealand Army engineers had recently arrived in Honiara to begin work on building several police posts and rural clinics. This is the kind of practical aid I requested from New Zealand and other countries when I addressed a Pacific Armies Management Seminar (PAMS) held in Manila in February 1998. I said at the time, when referring to police patrols in rural areas, "Such patrols might deploy tradesmen to assist in village repairs such as minor construction work." With a present-day increased emphasis on peace time missions, given their available skilled manpower, resources, equipment and funds, the regions military could make a substantial difference in improving rural life for many in the Solomons.

Given that the ultimate goal is a safer society in the Solomon Islands, then individuals and communities have a crucial role to play in establishing a partnership with the police. The police, too, through their community policing policy must aim at creating an environment, which is conducive to professional policing in which the members have the opportunity to enforce the law in interaction with the community which they serve.

While the government’s development program must seek to ameliorate the socio-economic conditions, which prevail in most parts of the country and which are conducive to high levels of crime, there must be greater emphasis placed on the re-building and normalization of the community-police relationship. The police can best do their part by an orientation towards community development, in the sense of helping to improve the quality of life of the various communities. The beginnings of this are already being seen with the joint work undertaken with the New Zealand Army engineers. But they must also play a major role in managing conflicts within and between communities – using negotiation rather than force.

Of course, given all that has occurred in the Solomons during the past 5 years, it will take time, confidence and trust to re-emerge, but it should be clear that there can be no development and reconstruction without security and stability. Effective policing and the maintenance of law and order is therefore the key to the success of the entire society.

Singapore’s Police Commissioner, in his latest Annual Report, stated that in 2001, 50.2% of the criminals involved in major crimes were arrested with the assistance of the public – an attestation to the strong support the community gave to the police force. This level of support had been fostered by the widespread introduction of Neighborhood Police Posts and by a strong build up of community-police partnerships. While there can be no comparison with the highly sophisticated and developed island nation of Singapore and the Solomon Islands, it can be said of both countries that in a climate of heightened security and economic uncertainty, the community will look to its law enforcement agency for protection and reassurance.

In recent times in the Solomons, the various peace negotiators, the women’s groups and the church workers, including the Melanesian Brothers, the members of Civil Society and the peace monitors have all demonstrated a commitment towards a just peace and a lessening of crime. Their efforts have now been strengthened by the commendable support of the East Kwaio community and their traditional and political leaders.

May 30, 2003

 

Frank Short is a former Police Commissioner in the Solomon Islands whose tenure, from 1997 to 1999, saw the rise of ethnic conflict between residents of Guadalcanal and Malaita. A founding member of the Australia Solomon Islands Friendship Association, he is currently a consultant to the Australian Prime Minister and lives in Kuranda, Queensland.

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