THE story surrounding the arrest and detention of presiding officer, Joe Kaim, at the Goroka police cells needs clarification from the police and from the PNG Electoral Commission.
The officer has told The National that he feared for his life, that he was arrested by two men in police uniform who might have been impersonating as police officers and another man he knew to be a personal bodyguard of a candidate.
No official of the State ought to feel threatened while performing his job or even while he is inside a police cell. That he was refused bail, that police told lies about Mr Kaim having been released when fellow Electoral Commission staff came around to enquire; and the fact that he was told he would be taken to Wabag, all led Mr Kaim to conclude that the police meant to do serious harm to him.
According to Mr Kaim, a false bail receipt was produced to convince his fellow workers who went looking that he had left the cells. Under the circumstances, it is reasonable for Mr Kaim to fear for his life.
There is, of course, another side to this as well. Mr Kaim might also have feared for his life if he did indeed do something wrong during the elections and feared exposure. The counter allegation levelled against Mr Kaim is that he signed all ballot papers at Imapiak and Mambol polling places at Wage LLG of Kandep is itself a serious accusation and one that needs corroboration and investigation.
Either way, both Mr Kaim’s arrest and detention and the allegation that he might have illegally signed all ballot papers in favour of a certain candidate need corroboration through independent investigation.
There are other aspects of this story that warrant closer scrutiny. Mr Kaim was picked up in East Goroka by the policemen in a hired motor vehicle.
We have had serious crimes committed by criminals in police uniform travelling in hired 10-seater motor vehicles. This happened during the robbery at the MRO in Port Moresby and during the Madang BSP robbery.
It is high time that police devise a means whereby every car obtained and driven by police has clear police identification – either by way of flashing lights or police “Z” plates or even stick-on “police” labels. As it is, with police personnel travelling from different barracks and from different parts of the country to conduct elections or undertake any other operation, it is easy for persons to impersonate police.
They would only need police uniforms and weapons – both of which appear to be readily available these days to a select few – and a vehicle and bravado.
This is a very serious situation and where persons are found to be impersonating police, serious action ought to be taken against them. Left unattended, the people will not know when they are being questioned by genuine police and when they are not. The tendency would be to make a run for it and could lead to dangerous situations where police end up shooting innocent citizens.
Eastern Highlands provincial police commander Chief Supt Augustine Wampe ordered Mr Kaim’s release following preliminary investigations. He also ordered Mt Hagen-based Mobile Squad Six and the bodyguard to be brought to Goroka police station but while the squad turned up, the bodyguard had fled.
Goroka police are said to have disarmed what they described as “two alien” policemen and impounded their hired vehicle, which is still at the police station. If the “aliens” are found to be commissioned policemen who had no orders to be in that area of operation, then clearly they did something wrong and they must be disciplined under the Constabulary’s regulations.
If they are found to be ordinary persons who have impersonated policemen, then they must face the full consequences of having acquired and dressed in police uniforms and badges illegally, of acquiring and carrying State-issued highly dangerous weapons which they used to arrest and detain another civilian.
Goroka police did right in confiscating the police issue M16 rifle and impounding the vehicle they were using but we wonder why on earth the police decided to ask the two policemen to take a PMV and return to where they came from. They ought to have been detained for questioning.
As it is two renegade policemen or two impersonators are still at large with absolutely nothing done against them.
Such sloppiness will encourage others out there and indeed, these two policemen or impersonators, to continue their illegal deeds, knowing full well that they will get off with it every time.