Malaitans are peaceful:by police
POLICING is a challenging career at the best of times. It is even more challenging when police officers are confronted with situations in remote areas that call for a combination of bush skills, fitness, common sense, community relationships and good old fashioned police work.
It may sound hard, but just ask any of the police officers posted to Malaita Province and they will tell you that it is all worth it when you are policing one of the most beautiful places in the world.
Provincial Police Commander Superintendent Gideon Kadi says that among the problems police face in Malaita are geographic location, in some cases limited accessibility to communities and distance.
“Malaita is one of the most populated Provinces in the country with a population of more than 140,000 people. It is very large not only in population but also in size. We have roads that take us in all directions so we use vehicles to visit communities along the tracks but generally we rely on boats to visit coastal villages. In other cases our officers simply pack up and walk to inland villages.
“The greater percentages of people in Malaita are peaceful and law abiding citizens, but like every other community on earth we have a very small element that don’t want to live according to the law. So, we need to have well trained police strategically placed across the province.” the Police Commander said.
Throughout the province permanent Police Stations have been established at Auki, Malu’u, Maka, Atori and Atoifi. The Province has an authorised police strength of 91 officers, however, the are working with 71 officers in the Province. Most of the police deployed to Malaita are multi-skilled and hold qualifications in fire fighting, coxswain, investigations, general policing, training and driving.
Recently the Solomon Islands Police Force introduced a system to streamline training and skills updates to police officers serving outside Honiara. Selected members qualified at the Police Academy to provide training to the provincial centres. The Regional Trainers now deliver training packages to police within their own Province. This has given police the opportunity to maintain a high level of police skills through modern training techniques, without the expense of traveling to Honiara.
Another expansion of skills took place recently when police from Malaita joined their counterparts from across the nation to take part in a Sexual Assault Investigations course in Honiara.
“As far as training is concerned we also have the benefit of Participating Police Force members stationed with our officers in a capacity development role. In our case this is more of a knowledge sharing arrangement. While we gain a lot of experience from them, they too gather experience from us. It is a system that is working well here.” the Police Commander said.
According to the Superintendent Kadi, crime is not at alarming proportions in the Province. Most of the crime follows on from land disputes with logging companies.
“The police are dealing with a range of community crime including assaults, stealing and demanding money. Quite a lot of the crime though is low level anti-social issues. In a lot of cases we find that the suspect was under the influence of alcohol or kwaso. More recently we have seen an increase in the cultivation and use of Marijuana.
“The assaults are generally civil matters that relate to land ownership. Often we will see a civil matter escalate to a criminal complaint. That is when the police become involved. We do have strategies in place through our Community Policing Unit where we actually take part in a negotiation and conciliation process. If the matter can not be sorted out we advise the parties to take the matter to court.” he said.
The brewing and consumption of kwaso and the cultivation of marijuana is also a concern for both the police and the citizens of Malaita. Recently a police operation specifically targeting kwaso and marijuana resulted in the arrest 13 people. During the operation police seized kwaso brewing implements and almost 300 marijuana plants.
The Police Commander for Malaita was happy to talk about their crime clearance rate that sits well above average at 53%.
“We have noticed an increase in the number of crimes reported. We do not believe that actual crime occurrence rate has gone up but as public confidence in the police grows then people are actually reporting crime.
“I will take the opportunity to sincerely thank the community leaders, church leaders and most importantly the people of the community for their support and cooperation in keeping Malaita a safe and peaceful place to live.” he said.
The one thing common to policing in the Solomon Islands is the state of police housing. In Malaita the housing situation is critical.
“We know the police executive are pushing hard to improve the standard of police housing and we appreciate that it is going to be a slow process. Our problems are that we are currently operating under strength because we simply cannot provide housing to move more police to the province. The current state of housing also brings health issues, and that in turn leads to absenteeism. I know this is a long term problem with no short term answer, but, I am confident that the problem is being examined.” he said.
Police Constable Solomon Sisimia heads up the Community Policing Unit and has been stationed at Malaita for the past five years. Over the years Sisimia has developed an excellent relationship with the community at Auki and in the more remote areas. The dedication of this officer is evidenced by his easy going answer when asked how he gets to communities in the highlands or where they are not accessible by vehicle.
“Easy,” he says with a wry smile, “I just pack up some food and a sleeping mat and walk to see them. If it is a long distance, I stay the night and walk back.”
According to Sisimia his role as in the Community Policing Unit is to make people aware of police and educate the public on matters of concern to police and, very importantly, make regular contact with the remote communities.
“We are trying to build confidence within the community so they will come forward with information about crimes and know the police will take action of some kind.” Constable Sisimia said.
Community Police conduct regular meetings with schools, church groups and village chiefs and elders to get their message across. They take advantage of any large gathering such public celebration days and community events.
“Community policing is an important and vital link between police and the community. We give the community a link to police so they can report crime and we try to keep them aware of crime trends.
“The villagers always welcome us and sit down and talk about their problems. Quite often their concerns are not really related to crime, but more social problems. But either way we sit and listen and offer advice where necessary. They are always grateful for any assistance we offer. We do, however, make it clear that we can only act on issues that involve police intervention.” he said.
“Our patrols have increased to the more remote areas now we have boats and we recently benefited from four of the 27 cars that were presented by the PPF. The foot patrols into the highlands are far more demanding physically, but we get the job done.” Sisimia said.
Police now plan their patrols and what they hope to achieve. The patrol plan is devised by the Crime Manager and Operations Manager with input from the CID, Intelligence and Community Police. The plan is generally based on where crime has been reported or where there has been a noticeable increase in crime.
Head of Traffic Branch, Sergeant Frederick Pado, was pleased with his statistics despite only having two people to investigate traffic matters. Pado estimates there are in the vicinity of 800 vehicles on Malaita. In the first part of this year he and his Constable investigated about 160 traffic offences and there have only been nine reported motor vehicle accidents. This is an indication that Pado’s strategy of educating motorists is working.
“We have strategies in place like education of drivers and we have our own traffic operation going, but I am concerned about the number of large vehicles that are operating on Malaita. Big vehicles like trucks and bull dozers are damaging the roads and making them unsafe. The other issue is that while the roads are improving the cars are going faster.”
We will soon be starting a campaign to ensure we maintain our safe driving record. We will also start our Christmas Road Safety campaign. I am sure we will get the utmost cooperation from the public during the Christmas break.” Sergeant Pado said.
Malu’u and Atori
Malu’u is the second largest police station on Malaita. With a staff of eight, the station is operating a few members short. However, they get the job done under the command of Staff Sergeant Nelson Waiwori. Police at Malu’u have support from two PPF Officers. Again it is a harmonious arrangement with SIPF and PPF sharing ideas and experiences.
They say crime in the area is low. Their main concern is people who demand money from others and like everywhere, the brewing of kwaso and assault.
Recently Malu’u police were quick to react to a report of two visitors being robbed while their yacht was anchored in Bita’ama bay on 23 October 2006. The police instigated an immediate investigation and within a very short time had arrested four suspects and recovered a substantial amount of stolen property.
Like the other police stations in Malaita Malu’u have people dedicated to community cooperation. Police visit schools and community groups to build public confidence.
“We are continually visiting and working with the community. We have noticed a drop in crime in the past month, and I believe this is connected with our proactive approach to reducing crime. We feel that it is better to take a proactive approach and stop the crime before it happens rather than investigate it after it happens.” Community Police Officer Constable Bulu said.
The village of Atori reported that they have a very small station consisting of two Solomon Islands Police Officers and two PPF Officers. Again it was a story of working together.
“This is a very friendly town with peace loving people. We work with the community and our PPF Advisors to keep the peace. Sometimes we assist in settling a dispute before it develops into a criminal matter. I think that is what it is all about. Preventing crime before it happens.” one officer said.
The police in Malaita are achieving their goals through sound initiatives that encourage the community to come forward with information that support investigations. Most importantly, their incentive that crime prevention is better than crime detection, has merit and is certainly working well within the community.
—Police Media Unit