Constabulary needs to regain trust

Editorial, Normal

The National, Monday September 21st, 2015

 THE decision by former Police Commissioner Geoffrey Vaki to disband the NCD reserve police unit earlier this year was unfortunate but unavoidable.

There had been numerous complaints by residents in the capital city about the antics of some members of the reserve police unit over the past years. 

The Hanuabada shooting incident in January left the police hierarchy no option but to disband the reserve unit and take back their police uniforms and arms.  

Evidence had suggested that the members of the reserve force were responsible for the fatal shootings in the villager. 

While Vaki’s decision was hailed by NCD residents, it has left a void in the NCDC operations to maintain order and cleanliness in the city, especially its efforts to police the so-called buai (betel-nut) ban.

NCDC still needs to reinforce its city rangers’ concept but with properly trained personnel to take on the job of the reserve police unit. 

An official from City Hall explained last week that it was difficult to police the buai ban without an effective reserve unit.

The Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary’s reputation had been battered to such an extent that restoring it will take considerable injection of resources and time plus some drastic measures to lift the general welfare and working conditions of members of the force. 

This is merely repeating what has become a litany of sorts. People have made disparaging comments against the police force and some policemen have actually been attacked because of the loss of confidence in police work in the country.

The unruly behaviour of reservists coupled with a decline in discipline and use of brute force in the regular force against civilians had added insult to injury.  

Thus, the decision had to be made to disband reserve unit.

According to then Deputy Commissioner Operations Jim Andrews, the NCDC would have to explore other options on how to enforce by-laws governing the city without the direct involvement of police.

It is understood all vehicles, uniforms and firearms issued to the city’s reserve unit have been returned to the constabulary. 

Moreover, the decision to disband the NCDC reserve police unit was to ensure proper care and management of the constabulary’s resources, particularly the use of firearms.

The police hierarchy also ordered the Bank of South Pacific reserve unit to be disbanded because police uniforms and firearms were being used to perform security work for a commercial bank.

It was also suggested that the same directive be extended to other institutions or commercial entities who hired men in police uniforms to act as security guards on their premises or as escorts.

The police uniform is the identity of the RPNGC and must remain so and not be used by any other person and purpose. 

The NCD reserve police unit had produced desired results in ensuring order in the city but certain members of the unit had also stepped out of their line of duty and out of control. 

The killings in the first month of 2015 have only heightened the sense of fear among many law-abiding citizens in the NCD who started to lose confidence and respect in the police force. 

The public had demanded quick answers as to why it became necessary to kill citizens in Lae and Port Moresby who has posed no real threat to the lives of police officers attending to those particular cases.

Investigations by police and the ensuing court cases would eventually bring out the truth but the process has been agonizingly slow for the victims’ families. 

The decision to disband the reserve units was viewed as a way to start re-organising the police force with the view to regain and rebuild public trust. 

However, the police hierarchy still has a lot of work to do amid the continuous incidences of brutality by its personnel.  

Police Commissioner Gari Baki should seriously consider restricting the use of firearms only to men and women in command because already there had been disastrous consequences of arming all members of the force. 

Indeed, the decision to take back arms from the police reserve unit was a step in the right direction.  

It is a start and the biggest challenge remains for the constabulary to regain public trust and confidence.