Private Column by Frank Short, CBE
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Monday, 28 January 2013 12:00 AM

Policing a Clash of Cultures Part 9: The Police Force I Joined

Excerpt from my memoirs.

The Royal Solomon Islands Police Force had its roots as a colonial police force during the time of the former British Protectorate of the Solomon Islands.

Its members were organized mainly with a view to suppressing crimes of violence and mass outbreaks against the peace within the Islands.

The Island police had over time successfully combined standard police work with para military activity; going back to the ‘Masina Ruru,’ a locally formed nationalist movement, which surfaced in the American Labour Camps during the occupation of Guadalcanal in the Second World War, circa 1942.

In fact the roots of ‘Masina Ruru’ were believed to go back even further in time. The more recent elements developed the ‘Cargo Cult’ belief – Americans would be returning with ships loaded with cargo that would then be given free to members of the movement. Incentive, sales talk, or real belief – take your choice.

The movement was successfully put down, but it did focus the then current administration’s attention to the needs of the local people.

Local Councils were set up in 1952 with the original aim of handling in a positive manner, the needs of the community:time and people passed by…likewise governments also. The Councils faded and disappeared into obscurity along with their effectiveness – out of sight – out of mind, comes to mind. Add the later years' economic downturn, as well as the Mamaloni government's financial mis-management, incurring staggering debts and the air was rife for political change.

It could be said by mid 1997 the lid of the people’s cooking pot began to quiver, as the rising genetics inside moved closer to boiling point and the general election loomed.

One needs to look at a map of the south Pacific, and understand the overall geography of the Solomon Islands before drawing conclusions about area Governance:

There are about 992 islands – yes…that many… covering approximately 28,500 sq. km within a total sea area of 1,600,000 sq km. Add the fact that the islands are a mixture of volcanic and atoll construction which means -- dense rain forests; active volcanoes; tropical monsoons; cyclones, wind, fog, other assorted conditions – and salt water -- all related to being a series of outcroppings in the gigantic Pacific ocean.

On the islands are nine administrative provinces, with close to 87 different languages spoken; along with their dialects. The overall predominantly used language is Pijin.

Although not all of the 992 islands and atolls are populated, the operational mandate of the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force is as can be visualized – huge. One cannot just hop in a vehicle; drive to an afflicted area; demonstrate the Solomon’s sovereignty.

The remoteness of many of the islands and the large expanse of ocean calls for adequate police numbers and capabilities. For effective surveillance and control measures, ocean viable fast boats and or aircraft, along with their support facilities, including both sea and land communications are essential.

This effectiveness of course needs feeding – money!

Unfortunately without the means to reach the scattered Islands, and any other coastal communities by sea; or to travel hinterland by vehicle quickly, incidents that were instant crimes become events of history by the time the police were informed and finally arrived. By this time all parties to the incident had dispersed, decided on their own particular action, or brushed it off and conveniently forgotten what happened.

Real insurgency gets encouraged by this type of response and starts to grow by gathering adherents. No legal reaction to criminal action usually allows dissidents of all kinds to grow their own autonomy.

Today, the estimated population of the Solomon Islands is close to 600,000, but in 1997 the population figure was quoted at around 450,000, with an authorized police establishment below 1000 and a deficiency in the ranks of about 250 members when I arrived.

In addition, there was a strict moratorium on recruitment because of the state of the government’s finances.

The scope of the police task and the inadequacies within the ranks were plain for all to see, but there was much, much more, I was soon to discover.

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.

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