The National, Tuesday January 5th, 2016
OVER the New Year Prime Minister Peter O’Neill stated in his message to the nation that he wanted to see a major improvement in police services.
It has been proven time and time again through the course of the last 12 months that Papua New Guinea’s Royal Constabulary has failed to maintain a standard of policing that would see public confidence rise to levels in keeping with one of the leading Pacific Island countries.
In fact, one would not be off the mark to expect quite a bit more from the men in blue given the pace of development and the rise in PNG’s prominence over the past two years.
O’Neill’s main concern is a considerable lack of discipline, control and structure exhibited by this so-called disciplined force.
He took aim at “undisciplined officers” who had collectively tarnished the name of the force with transgressions ranging from beating up without cause members of the public, behaving in unprofessional, inappropriate and questionable ways and literally breaking the law themselves whether by default or deliberately.
“The people have had enough of ill-discipline from police. We need to restore honour in our constabulary,” O’Neill said.
According to the new policy O’Neill wants implemented rogue elements and problem officers within the police will be dealt with on a “one strike and you’re out policy”.
The gross abuse and in several extreme cases, the shooting deaths of members of the public while in the line of duty has been a major area of concern.
If the police attracted negative perceptions in the public’s eyes it was because they earned it by brutalising the public as a means to doing their jobs and turning a blind eye to instances of human rights abuse perpetrated by their own, or members of the public.
That kind of lack of action over or conversely overkill is a genuine and immediate concern for O’Neill for obvious reasons because it reflects badly on the nation and on him as the commander in chief.
But calling for an improvement in performance however great is not enough, even coming from the PM himself. What the police and their equally at-times volatile brethren in the Defence Force have shown in 2015 is that they need a fair dose of discipline themselves in order to keep on the straight and narrow.
To this end, Police headquarters has taken affirmative action by suspending some 50 police officers for various offences but the public waits with bated breath on just how many of these individuals will actually be dismissed and how many will receive punitive measures in keeping with the gravity of their transgressions.
National Capital District Metropolitan Superintendent Ben Turi said last week all the charges were on police brutality and were before the courts or in the process to be heard by magistrates and judges.
That sounds reassuring but police brutality is usually not a crime of its own. It usually has some underlying cause.
For instance, if a police officer catches a member of the public trying to smuggle contraband such as betel nuts into the city limits the standard operating procedure is to make an arrest take offending party into custody and log the case in the official records.
There have been numerous cases of police extorting money from errant traders for a “free pass” in scenes reminiscent of the bootlegging in 1920s America.
The brutality has occurred when the smuggler refused to pay “keep quiet” money. Should this be the something that is investigated as well if not more so since without this situation the reason for shooting first and asking questions later would have been for most intents and purposes avoided altogether.
Aside from having a penchant for abusing their constitutional duties to protect and serve the public, police personnel are sorely in need of a revamped training programme that produces law men and women who carry out their duties within the confines of the law they have sworn to uphold.
If the judiciary and other arms of state can do this then it only seems natural and just for the men and women in law enforcement to complement that.
All the public wants is for the police to be professional and accountable for the actions and to give them a reasonable sense of safety, security and justice.