The Editor
Solomon Times Online

Dear Sir,
The question of re-arming the Royal Solomon Islands Police (RSIP) continues to capture public attention in the Solomons since my own comments on the subject in your online publication some weeks ago.
In a letter to the Editor of the Solomon Star newspaper on 23 December 2008, Honiara's Andrew Radclyffe, in his usual deft manner, correctly quoted the provision in the Police Act which provides for the Commissioner of Police to authorise the issuing of fireams to the members of the force, but he also raised another interesting question. This is what he wrote -

"There have been a number of calls in recent times for the police to be re-armed.

It is worth recalling that police officers did not in fact carry arms on a day to day basis so those in favour of "re-arming" should make it clear what they mean.

The Police Act says that the police shall be entitled to carry arms for the performance of their duties but that no firearms shall be carried except with the authority of the Commissioner of Police given under and in accordance with the general or special directions of the Prime Minister acting in his discretion.

It is clear from the Act that it is intended that firearms not be carried as a matter of course but only when authorised by the Commissioner.

So far as I am aware that provision is still in force.

Do the supporters of firearms want those same rules to apply or do they want police officers to carry guns at all times?

Andrew Radclyffe"

On occasions when I, as the Commissioner of Police, authorized the carrying of arms in the past to the personnel responsible for the safety and personal protection of the Governor-General or the Prime Minister, or even during the early period of the ethnic violence when police officers were coming under constant armed attack when responding to serious criminal incidents, I insisted that such arms were kept concealed as far as possible and to guard against the slightest misuse of their arms. I quote from the order I issued at the time.

"It cannot be too strongly impressed upon all police officers how essential it is, not only to guard against the slightest misuse of their arms, but to observe the utmost forbearance that humanity and prudence can dictate, before incurring the moral as well as the legal responsibility of firing upon a person.

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. A police officer 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."

In the recent letter that I wrote to your online publication( on the same subject of re-arming the police), I cautioned about doing so until the members of the Royal Solomon Islands Police can be judged to be fully accountable and effectively managed. I said, also, that some of my officers had either neglectfully or willfully disobeyed my orders in the past. An example was the unauthorized issuing of arms to the police by the then Police Commander of the Central Islands Province which led to the fatal shooting of Ishmael Panda on Bungana Island by a police constable that had earlier been suspended from duty by myself for misconduct. The Police Commander was himself reprimanded following the tragedy and the police constable prosecuted and convicted of manslaughter.

On learning of the incursion of the group of militants on Bungana Island I had immediately instructed the then Assistant Commissioner of the National Reconnaissance and Surveillance Force (NRSF) not to deploy police personnel with arms and to use caution and patience in forcing the militants to surrender. I recall saying that time was on our side.

My personal view remains that the police should not carry arms as a matter of course, but less lethal methods of dealing with violent offenders should be investigated. There are numerous types of non-lethal weapons currently in wide use by overseas police services, some for self-protection and others for crowd and riot control. This position also reinforces my view that there are deeper issues behind some of the urban violence, vandalism and anti-social behaviour that has plaqued Honiara of late. The social conditions need addressing cautiously but positively to alleviate the causes of much criminal behaviour. A heavy handed police reaction could very well provoke an already troublesome trend and community driven policing policies perhaps need reinforcing.

Yours sincerely,
Frank Short
29 December 2008