Dear Editor

While there has been some speculation on a continued Australian Federal Police (AFP) presence remaining in Honiara after the Regional Assistance Mission (RAMSI) leaves in June next year, a ‘speculation’ that has drawn some comment in the local media essentially focusing on the question of sovereignty and the competency and readiness of the members of the Royal Solomon Islands Force to once more assume control of policing, I feel compelled out of a desire to extend thanks to RAMSI for the work done to-date, but also to raise some thoughts about the logistical and operational assets the RSIPF will need post 2017 as well as the leadership demands foreseen.

I have an overview of the infrastructure and accommodation improvements RAMSI has funded and effectively implemented since 2003 and I am particularly pleased that the Naha Police Station is possibly, and at last, being considered for rehabilitation and extension.

I have followed intensely the training programs that have been introduced, both at home and in Australia, to raise the level of competency in general policing, in management skills, prosecutions, public order controls and, in more recent years, community policing.

I do not have the same degree of knowledge about logistical and resource advances and can only hope that the RSIPF will not be left in 2017 with a shortage in these essential areas to ensure operational and functional readiness in mobility, investigations and particularly in forensics.

I know all too well, from my past service in the RSIPF, how a shortage of transport, vehicles, canoes, outboard motors, fuel, communications equipment, office equipment, including computers and even telephones, hampered every-day duties, to say nothing in those days of the very limited Criminal Investigation Department’s operational capacity to properly deal with a scene of crime situation.

In those early days of 1997-99, fingerprinting and dusting were the only tools available to the members of the CID. Blood group testing wasn’t possible, and I rather get the impression it remains the case today without help from the NRH or by sending blood samples to Australia.

With a crime scene, time is of the essence and the police must have the right equipment and skills to quickly process evidence on the spot. Ideally, the RSIPF should be equipped with a mobile forensic laboratory with the latest high tech equipment, including the means of DNA testing if now legally provided for in the Solomon Islands.

In earlier years the RSIPF relied very much on confessions but a confession is insufficient and there have been numerous cases when the courts have thrown out confessions in the Honiara courts.

Physical evidence, aided by forensic technology, generally never lies, and the RSIPF must not be left short by the time RAMSI exits.

In a territory as vast as the Solomon Islands, surrounded by sea and difficult terrain, the police often experience transport breakdowns and equipment failures, including outboard motors for canoes becoming inoperable as a result of constant wear and tear and an inadequate maintenance capability.

Will the RSIPF have all the logistics it needs in 2017 and will there then be improved administrative and stores arrangements to ensure their overall operational effectiveness? Also, will there then be in place a mobile maintenance and technical support unit deployable throughout the country to fully service and repair equipment?

This week, when speaking in Brisbane, the Prime Minister, the Hon Manasseh Sogavare, gave notice to a Solomon Islands Community in the Queensland capital, of what he described as a paradigm shift in education at home in order to encourage more Solomon Islanders to pursue higher degrees and secure employment abroad.

The Prime Minister said the new educational focus was necessary because the country relies on natural resources as the mainstay of its economy but the emphasis needs to shift to human resources.

The Solomon Islands has many talented academics and I support the DCCG’s policy on encouraging bright, qualified Solomon Islanders to find employment abroad and to remit some of their overseas earning back home.

I also believe that it might now be time for the Solomon Islands Government to adopt current trends in the United Kingdom, in particular, to consider direct entry of qualified graduates into the senior ranks of the RSIPF at both Inspector and Superintendent levels, after undergoing professional training at the UK‘s excellent College of Policing, or similar training in Australia or New Zealand.

My views on this approach to direct entry into the senior ranks of the RSIPF are very much my views I held during my time as the Commissioner of Police now 17 years ago, but I now see such a scheme very much more important as direct entry Superintendents and Inspectors will open the local police service to graduates who will bring new perspectives to support the continuous development of policing with the aim of giving leadership, top management skills and be more adapt at leading the RSIPF into a future less dependent on outside policing support at the top management level.

The UK provides a 18 month development program to allow civilian graduates to make the transition from a civilian to a police leader with strategic skills to be undertaken at senior management level.

Apart from having academic ability, the UK program looks for those having exceptional leadership talents that will inspire confidence and bring with them innovative thinking that will help shape the future of policing in a changing world, the Solomon Islands being no exception in the latter regard.

It so happens that my thoughts on a direct entry scheme for the RSIPF coincides with a current leadership program for senior officers from around the Pacific, including from the Solomon Islands, taking place in Auckland.

The two-week course is said to be part of collaboration between the UK College of Policing, the Australian Federal Police (AFP) and the New Zealand Police.

It is understood the police representatives will be exploring effective strategies for leadership within the Pacific.

Obviously, I am not alone in thinking about the future leadership direction of the police services and my suggestion of direct entry at management level in the RSIPF is, I consider, worthy of consideration.

Yours sincerely

Frank Short.