Private Column by Frank Short, CBE
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Wednesday, 20 March 2013 12:00 AM

Policing a Clash of Cultures Part 31: Rapid Response Unit (RRU)


Extract from my memoirs.

Despite the improvement in overall effectiveness of our police operations leading up to mid-1998 there were still major limitations on what could be done.

The first limitation as previously stated was the shortfall in the police establishment of some 250 personnel and the strict moratorium on recruitment because, in simple terms, the government was broke.

Then there was the resource impact of deploying large numbers of the NRSF to the border on a rotational basis. There was also my unwillingness to deploy para military personnel to general duties assignments, for the reasons already fully explained.

Initiatives were needed to improve police performance in specific areas such as crowd control, traffic control and community policing, but especially by developing a capacity to respond quickly and effectively to incidents of public disorder and natural disasters.

Using legislation providing for a Special Constabulary; essentially a volunteer auxiliary police organization, over which I had essential jurisdiction and control as Commissioner of Police, I recruited a number of young men with broad community and ethnic representation and had them trained to operate as a Rapid Response Unit (RRU).

This was formulated as a crowd control measure, or to deal with small groups of unruly people who were usually drunk – the Saturday Night crowd. They could normally be quickly and easily dealt with, without use of force; so that by the next day everything was quiet and forgotten.

The Unit very soon established a good reputation for swiftly dealing with incidences and attending to public disturbances without having to resort to heavy handed tactics. This was acceptable to the area inhabitants, who understood the need for basic law and order in their community.

I put Senior Superintendent Hosking, in terms of the provisions of the Act covering the Special Constabulary, to take charge of the Unit and to oversee operational training.

At first, it was never envisaged that the RRU personnel would be given any arms training and would concentrate on field craft, riot drill and crowd control duties. This fitted my policy of minimum force, minimum weapons involvement within the Islands.

However, in late September 1998 at the onset of militancy, which now surfaced and intensified this began to demand a different focus in the RRU’s duties.

Reluctantly, orders were given for arms instruction, coupled with the introduction of very rigid standing orders on the use and control of firearms; orders which I have identified in a further chapter.

Personnel selected for duties as members of an armed Police Response Unit of necessity undergo proper vetting, medical tests, physical assessment and, importantly, psychological assessments.

Assessments of the RRU personnel were not adequate, I admit, given ‘normal’ conditions pertaining in other external police forces, particularly regionally, but I relied on the professional judgment of Hosking and, frankly, I was not to be disappointed in the unit's performance prior to my leaving the Solomons.

A selected member of the unit, along with a civilian local community leader, were able to participate in community policing training in Singapore and Japan, thanks to the support of the Singapore Police Commissioner, Mr.Koo Boon Hui, and the Japanese Government.

Australia, as part of the Strategic Review insisted on a ’sunset clause’ for the disbandment of the RRU and even New Zealand claimed I had given the Unit’s personnel what was termed a ‘dummy pass.’ The problem here was that I was here in the Islands and their bureaucracy was not.

There was nothing, ‘normal’ at the time I had to authorize arms training and faced with growing militancy and a critical shortage of police officers, one had little choice, especially as it soon became vital to provide 24 hour protection at key installations in and around Honiara.

Hosking’s training methods, included at my insistence, focused on human rights instruction and conflict resolution skills, as earlier reported.

Also, as previously covered, he examined the need for less lethal arms for use during internal security situations.

His final and detailed report on the subject was submitted to the government but, like the one I had earlier commissioned on the reforms needed in the CID, the report was neither acknowledged nor acted upon by the SIAC government.

To be continued..

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