Private Column by Frank Short, CBE
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Friday, 26 April 2013 12:00 AM

Policing a Clash of Cultures Part 47: RSIPF - Policy and Orders - Clear and Understandable.


Extract from my memoirs.

Within the first week of my appointment as the Commissioner of Police in July 1997, it became obvious that our Policy and Orders doctrine needed updating in the light of local ongoing events.

A clear policy statement for the Force was needed: especially as we were just seeing an end to the Boungainville crisis and there was a continuing intermingling of police and military actions under the guise of standard police activity.

A copy of this document was presented to the then Police Minister, as mentioned in an earlier chapter.

It covered standing orders for the serving members of the police service and was based on my years of experience coupled with the specific requirements of the Solomon Islands at the time.

It included these subjects:

Introduction

Policing in the Solomons has been shaped throughout by the political and constitutional conditions which have existed, but it was perhaps during the protectorate period that the style of policing we have today took shape and style. Over the years and since independence in July 1978, the police service has played a crucial part in maintaining peace and stability and many within the service have displayed outstanding professionalism and loyalty.

Most policemen and women are dedicated to their work and often perform their daily duties without receiving sufficient appreciation from the public. They make sacrifices, not in their own interest, but in the interest of the community they serve.

The approach of the 21st century will see the Solomon Islands facing many challenges, not least of which will be in the economic sector. Alternative development strategies will have to be followed to boost the economy and to aid infrastructural development.

Such strategies will, in turn, impact upon the police service and necessitate a transformation process at the national, provincial and local level in order to create a flatter, more efficient and capable police organization.

An organization free from political interference at the operational level; and an organization stripped of authoritarian police culture which perhaps has tended to inhibit effective devolution of decision making and therefore limit the ability of the police officers on the ground to solve problems on the basis of professional discretion; and an organization willing to work with a democratic government in the promotion and advancement of community policing ideals.

It will be my task, along with my senior colleagues, to devise policy objectives, for the consideration of government, to improve the working conditions of the police service, as well as making recommendations for the supply of equipment and resources to bring about the strategic objectives.

The obstacles, which lie in the way of transformation, should not be under-estimated. It could be that some of the policies and practices of the past will have to be changed and the result could affect every member of the service. It will be essential that our policemen and women are made fully aware and participants in any process of change. Uncertainty and anxiety must be avoided, but rather change should be seen as presenting challenges and opportunities for everyone concerned.

Our police officers have rights and any new move towards policing with a more human rights approach should therefore start by educating the members of the service about their individual rights and those of the members of society dependent on the police service for their safety.

The Evironment

While the likely developments in the economic sphere pose certain challenges to the police service, they will also create new opportunities.

Some of the significant factors to be considering policy options for the future include:

The Solomons is governed by a democratic government. This impacts on the public legitimacy of the police service.

The Solomons has a written Constitution, which means the Constitution is the fundamental legal framework within which the police service must operate. In addition, the police service is regulated by a Police Act.

There are growing differences between urban and rural lifestyles in the Solomons. The police service must become more sensitive to, and be equipped to deal with, very different conditions in different parts of the country.

The socio-economic conditions prevailing in the larger urban centres, particularly in Honiara, are conducive to increased levels of crime. Whilst government seeks to ameliorate these conditions, effective policing must be an indispensable part of any social reform.

The police service is located within a constitutional arrangement, with government and police structures being located at the national and provincial levels. In such circumstances effective communications are fundamental to administrative and operational policing.

Democratic Control Over the Police Service

The police in the Solomon Islands operate as an arm of government, with powers that are allocated to them by the public, through the democratic process. They are therefore obliged to exercise their powers in accordance with the views of the public, who are represented through a democratic process in the structures of government.

The Commissioner of Police, and his management team, are responsible for operational decision making and for the implementation of policy, but the democratically elected political leaders are required to give direction, guidance and support the police service as a whole.

The professional integrity of the police must, however, be respected by the political leaders and, likewise, the police must respect the authority of the democratically elected representatives of the people.

The principles of consultation, negotiation, transparency and accountability must apply to both elected political leaders and the police service.

Accountability of the Police Service.

It will be my policy as the Commissioner of Police to ensure that the police service is fully accountable and that our professional ethics will be informed by international standards of police professionalism.

In practicing its accountability to the community, the police service should not only hear one voice. It must be sensitive to the needs of special interest groups, like the young and the aged, but especially to those most vulnerable to crime.

I believe it is the duty of all police officers to cultivate good relations with all sections of the community for it should be remembered that where good relations do not exist, the members of the police service have to work under a severe handicap and their efficiency is impaired.

A police officer is often required to exercise firmness, and sometimes has to resort to force in the execution of his or her duty. Firmness must always be tempered with tact, patience and good humour and any force used must be the minimum necessary to secure compliance with the law.
Harsh or oppressive conduct, incivility or the use of unnecessary force can never be justified or tolerated and are punishable offences against discipline.

I will seek to encourage the members of the police service to always be alert and observant, but good humoured, discreet but friendly and, above all, to be scrupulously fair and impartial in dealing with the public.

Behaviour which is unprofessional and unacceptable, will be effectively condemned by the police leadership.

Community Consultation and Involvement.

Community consultation has always been a feature of good government in the Solomon Islands and, indeed, the very culture of the people embraces consultation at every level, particularly at village level.

It is my vision that policing must, increasingly, focus on community consultation. Communities must be empowered to engage meaningfully with their local police about problems and priorities. If consultation is effective, I believe it will result in improvements to the quality of police service, but also in greater public legitimacy and acceptance of our police.

The police are the servants, not the masters, of the community. The community must be understood in all its complexity. The real social divisions, and there are increasingly many, in the community must be taken into account.

In order for consultation to be effective, I consider there must be greater devolution of decision making to ensure local flexibility in the police organization. Not only will this require our police officials on the ground to be empowered to exercise their professional discretion, but the community too must become willing to exercise their responsibility and obligations to interact with the police service.

There are, however, limitations on the role of the community in informing decision making. Operational decisions must remain the responsibility of police professionals. However, effective consultation will ensure the police operational planning takes into account community needs.

Service and Community Development.

There is an important relationship between stability and development. Development initiatives, however, can and sometimes do, lead to conflict within and between communities, which the police service is often called upon to manage. For this reason, it will be my policy to insist that the police play an increasing role in local development forums. Socio-economic upgrading will increase community safety and security, and it will also improve people’s perceptions concerning their own security.

I believe that the provincial administrations, local government and other community structures can all play a central role in managing the relationships around security and development at the community level. Local government, especially in the capital, must be encouraged to co-ordinate the work of the various agencies concerned with community safety at the local level, such as the health and welfare services and the police service.

Increasing levels of urban violence have become a feature of social life, including domestic life. Our approach to problems of development and security, needs above all, to take these factors into account.

Crime prevention must be geared at crime problems, which are identified and prioritized by the community. Priority must be given to the safety of vulnerable groups, such as children, women, the elderly and the unemployed.

Early research must be commissioned to uncover the incidence of crime and to assess community priorities. Once identified, the data must be used to form the basis for a national crime prevention programme, which will have to be developed in consultation with other government departments and non –government agencies.

It is now universally accepted that traditional policing methods alone are unable substantially to reduce crime levels and in the Solomons, too, there is a clear need to re-orientate our crime prevention efforts to address the specific causes of crime and to recognize that crime prevention is fundamentally a community responsibility.

In seeking to devise strategies for effective crime fighting, one will have to be aware of certain cultural attitudes and values that could have a significant impact on the implementation of crime prevention initiatives.

It is of serious concern to me in that in and around Honiara, there are many young people unemployed. Without employment the youths very often fail to realize their full potential. Attitudes associated with unemployment include anger, depression, guilt, anxiety, loss of self- esteem and powerlessness. In consequence, unemployment is both directly and indirectly linked to a range of problems – mental and physical ill health, suicide, crime and drug use, which is of increasing concern.

I believe that while government seeks to address the socio-economic ills associated with unemployment, the police service must develop new crime prevention programmes for dealing with the youth, programmes which set them apart from older forms. Such programmes must, I think, concentrate on promoting activities directed to the personal, physical and cultural development of the youth, but also designed to.

Develop a better relationship between the police service and the youth in the community.

To create in young people and understanding of the police role in the structure of society.

To encourage the youth to demonstrate sufficient self-esteem to say no to drug abuse and other anti-social behavior, and

To equip young people with the necessary skills to become good citizens and to avoid dangerous and threatening situations.

The Purpose and Direction of the Police Service and the need for a Corporate Vision.

Development in the Solomon Islands has been considerable in recent years and greater responsibilities have devolved – and will continue to devolve on the police service. It is therefore necessary, in order to meet the resulting challenges, that we have the ability to successfully assess and forecast the impact of such changes on the profession of policing and the provision of community safety and security.

It will be my priority to prepare a Corporate Vision for the Solomon Island Police in order to provide strategic direction by giving a clear definition of:

The Mission of the Service, which will indicate why we exist and the fundamental reason for being:

The Core Functions of the Service, which will define our business.

Our Strategic intentions, which will describe the future style and direction of the police organization, together with a framework within which programmes and plans can be developed and implemented; and

A statement of Common Values, which clearly illustrate the shared organizational beliefs which will govern the work practices, decision-making and behavior of the members of the Service.

The Nature of the Police Organization.

The Police Service in the Solomons must become a dynamic and accessible service, which is known for the professionalism, skill and effectiveness of its members.

The managerial level, too, must be staffed by motivated personnel committed to achieving vision, and who are not afraid of shouldering responsibility and promoting change.

The resources of the organization, including equipment, must be improved and then placed at the most functional level. The structure of all police operational units must be reviewed with a view to the utmost service delivery.

The development of improved management techniques and effective organizational structures must be a continuous process. Effective and speedy information and communication systems must also be considered.

Financial procedures must be examined with a view to streamlining, and budgeting must be informed by policy, planning and consultation.

The question of replacing trained police officers with civilians in those posts, which do not require the exercise of police powers, is something that will be examined. Such a move would allow police personnel to be deployed in the communities where they are most needed.

Equality in Policing

The principle of equality must be upheld within the Service and in all dealings with the public. This must include a commitment to the values of non-discrimination and respect for human rights.

We must ensure equality, both in the internal treatment of the members of the police service, and in dealing with the members of the public we serve. The police service, as protectors of democratic values, must achieve excellent standards of fairness and equality.

The Use of Force by the Police.

Every mindful of my duty of care, both to the public and the police service, these are the orders I issued.

“The members of the Solomon Islands Police should be able to carry out most of their duties without having to resort to force. Conflict resolution skills must be learned for resolving all types of conflicts.

“We must be committed to the use of minimum force when dealing with incidents. The members of the service must, therefore, have access to training and equipment, which obviate the need for force to resolve problems. Any laws and police regulations, which act contrary to the use of minimum force, should be amended to bring them in line with international standards. Although the members of the police service will still need to be issued with adequate equipment to protect them in dangerous situations, they must only be issued with weapons which are appropriate to the situation they are likely to encounter.

“Clear and concise orders will be issued regarding the use of force.”

Subsequently, and at the onset of the inter-island conflict, I wrote this order:

“It should be constantly borne in mind that, however well justified a police officer may consider himself in firing, the act, whether it results in loss of life, or otherwise, may become the subject of investigation. He must therefore be prepared to prove that he acted with humanity, caution and prudence, and that he was compelled by necessity alone to have recourse to firearms. At the same time he must not be deterred from doing what, in the circumstances in which he is placed, appears to be absolutely necessary, as a last resort, in the interests of law and order.”

When the militancy intensified in both the west and east sections of Honiara, police personnel were deployed on 24 hour static guard duties at key installations; which included the main electricity generating station, water sources, government buildings, diplomatic facilities and other key points. The written orders for such operations were these:

“The utmost care must be exercised if firearms are issued to personnel, especially those on static guard duties in isolated locations. Firearms must be kept secure and watched over at all times. The rules for opening fire must be known by everyone and I suggest Senior Superintendent Hosking makes quite sure that every person on the standby detail is fully briefed about the rules of engagement.”

The tragic shooting incident which occurred on Bungana Island in the Ngela Group of Islands is covered elsewhere. However, it is reiterated that the ‘rogue’ police constable who, despite having been earlier suspended from duty pending a misconduct hearing, unlawfully discharged a police firearm, shooting and fatally injuring Ishmael Pada in the process. The officer was himself investigated, convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to imprisonment.
Likewise his commanding officer was also investigated and disciplined by being given a severe reprimand.

This particular police constable clearly had disobeyed Force standing orders concerning his responsibilities about the use of force: those orders he admitted, he was fully aware of and understood.

I was determined to see him brought to justice.

This incident was considered serious enough to bring in experts from the New Zealand Police to make a separate, uninvolved investigation which would stand up to any and all complaints about police activity here.

The New Zealand Police detectives, at the end of their detailed, investigation of the Bungana shooting, submitted a report to the Solomon Islands government. Part of that report concluded, as mentioned in an earlier chapter.

“All the documents seen in an endeavour to assimilate and understand aspects of the Royal Solomon Islands Police Policy, Practice and Procedures, clearly and succinctly confirms the Commissioner’s determination to ensure the use of minimum force when dealing with incidents – and the Commissioner has a particular vision and commitment to ensuring accountability in the police service, equally the Commissioner espouses the principles of fairness and equity of a commitment to human rights.”

The differences between standard police duties, para military up scaling and full military operations have been covered fully in a previous part of these memoirs.

And RAMSI’s subsequent arrival and actions reinforced those criteria for all to see.

One reason for bringing in the New Zealand police was to make it clear to all persons from the average citizen, to other members of the RSIPF, the media, the politicians, that the RSIPF was a non corrupt, fair, yet firm, law abiding force that would enforce justice at its working level.

However, there are two levels of law above the police operations which need to be considered. They tend to be overlooked by the populace at large.

First level – presiding magistrates and local prosecutors who decide what steps to take with arrested citizens. Remember Keku and Sangu – out on bail – and the following consequences of that bail?

Second level – political interference for political personal reasons.

Both of these steps are generally beyond the reach of police actions.

In recent debate in the Solomon’s National Parliament, it was acknowledged that the Royal Solomon Islands Police was abused in the past, and this would include political interference in addition to false, inaccurate and untruthful media stories targeting the service.

Let us remain watchful, guarded and committed to ensuring that such abuses do not re-occur.

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 48: RAMSI - Taking Stock.