Private Column by Frank Short, CBE
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Wednesday, 16 January 2013 12:00 AM

Policing a Clash of Cultures Part 4: Seeking Support

Excerpt from my memoirs.

Once I had accepted the Commissioner’s job in 1997, I knew that I would have my work cut out and I felt it important that I get as much help as possible in aiding the work of the policemen and policewomen of the Solomon Islands.

It wasn’t so much a sense of compulsion but my cumulative experience and many years of police service in other overseas territories that led me to know that police training, development support and technical assistance would most likely feature highly on my forthcoming agenda.

I knew that Britain, through the auspices of its Department of Overseas Development, had an advisory and support service providing for restructuring, man management and training in specialized and technical fields; it also offered advice on police development projects.
I had in mind to seek British help once the opportunity of assessing local policing requirements in the Solomons had been completed.

With an expected appointment date just two weeks away, I began a serious study of the history, culture and customs of the Solomon Islands, as well as the government system, religion, health and way of the people. It became obvious pretty quickly, that apart from the economic woes I had read about, there was widespread unemployment, urban drift and a high population growth: concerns exacerbated all the more by the fact that the country had experienced serious incursions and hostilities on its border with Bougainville.

Paying my own way, I opted to visit Singapore and Canberra in order to liaise and to seek support from the Singapore Police Force and the Australian Federal Police (AFP).

My particular interest in Singapore centered on the overwhelming success the Singapore Police Force had achieved in community policing, with a lessening of crime each year since 1983.
I met with the Commissioner of Police, Mr. Koo Boon Hui, and he offered to help with training in community policing.

I left Singapore with assurances that the Singapore Police Force would pay for and train selected local officers from the Solomons in community policing, both in Singapore and in Japan.

Having successfully obtained the promise of help from Singapore, I optimistically travelled to Canberra to seek support from the Australian Federal Police, whom I thought best able to help a neighbouring police force in Australia’s strategic back yard.

Unfortunately, the visit to the AFP was totally disappointing. I received what can best be described as the ‘cold shoulder.’
The Pacific Islands Liaison Officer, Superintendent John Murray, who met me on arrival at the AFP headquarters ushered me into a meeting room filled with a group of people I assumed to have been other AFP officers. After a brief introduction, Murray asked me to say why I was seeking help from the AFP. I had hardly begun to explain when Murray interrupted and said from enquiries he had made; based on my job application and CV, my qualifications and experience were unsuitable for the Commissioner’s job in the Solomon Islands.
I was taken aback by his unfounded statements and made my feelings known. I was astounded by his unprofessional behavior; especially since my application for the job and my CV had only been sent to the British High Commission in Honiara for forwarding to the Solomon Islands Government. On what authority had Murray obtained copies of those documents and on who’s authority, and why, had Murray and the AFP carried out vetting on me?

I left the AFP headquarters feeling bitterly disappointed and, unlike my reception in Singapore, came away with no support whatsoever from Canberra.

Murray’s criticism of me didn’t stop at that. When he eventually retired from the AFP he published a book in which he repeated his claims as to my unsuitability for the job. His actions in putting into print his earlier opinions contravened what surely was forbidden in the AFP’s Police Act and Regulations. Any information sourced or obtained in the course of official enquiries, must remain confidential and any unauthorized release or publication of such information a punishable offence.

It was not until 1998,nearly a year after I had been in the job in the Solomons, that the then AFP’s Deputy Commissioner, Adrian Whiddett, when addressing a Pacific Chiefs of Police Conference in Nadi, Fiji, which I was attending, said, “Frank Short passed us the ball but we dropped it.”

In the months following Nadi,Deputy Commissioner Whiddet contacted all Australian police forces and collected surplus police uniform items and equipment which he sent to me. Given the shortage of such items they were readily utilized.

Later when I left the Solomon Islands, I paid a courtesy visit to the AFP in Canberra to thank Mr Whiddet for his generous assistance. After leaving his office, I received the following compliment from Terry Allan, the successor to Murray as the Pacific Islands Liaison Officer: “You achieved alone in the Solomons what we in the AFP could not achieve in PNG having spent A$60 million on aiding the police there.”

From the two comments made above, one wishes that only if the same level of understanding and support had been reached at the beginning of my tour, how much more successful would have been the changes for the better in the resources and training of the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force?

Such, alas, is history.

To be continued …

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of Frank Short, CBE and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Solomon Times Online.

This post is part of a series. Next post: Policing a Clash of Cultures Part 5: Getting there