Kasen no renga - memories of Mosbi
Kevin Murphy, rugby league administrator, dies at 63

On police brutality & police theft in Papua New Guinea

GANJIKI D WAYNE | Supported by the Bea Amaya Writing Fellowship

MULTIPLE REPORTS surface every week of some rogue police activity in our country.

Drivers gets ‘accidentally’ shot in the foot. Arbitrary confiscation (and then consumption) of informal vendors’ property. Theft of wallets and personal property. ‘Fines’ for concocted traffic offences (such as driving too slowly in a car park).

Private armed escort for politicians, foreign businessmen and corrupt bureaucrats. And of course the regular brutal beatings (and sometimes slaying) of innocent citizens and surrendered crime suspects.

It seems endless what abuses our “law-enforcers-slash-disciplined-force” can cook up. More than half of all of the Solicitor General’s defence of claims against the State are police brutality claims.

These are men and women who seem to have lost all moral restraint. There's a vacuum in their mindset and conscience. They lack the ability to put themselves in the shoes of their prey.

They have no concern for their own and their victims’ dignity. Nor for the respectability and the integrity of the office and uniform they occupy. Nor loyalty to their Commissioner (who only last week spoke strongly against such rogue behaviour), the Constabulary, or the Nation.

They have no fear of God. No regard for their code of ethics. How they sleep at night I don’t know. I suspect they drink themselves to sleep; to shut out the voices of conviction that keep ringing in their heads.

They got into the uniform for all the wrong reasons (it’s just bread and butter). These are toddlers in adult bodies.

Worse, the State (we the people) clothed these toddlers with the vicarious authority to pull-up any vehicle or person simply by waving their colours and displaying their arms. And we the people agreed to subject ourselves to their authority. We got more than we bargained for.

Toddlers. Babies. Whose world revolve around "me", they cry for milk you must give. They hunger, you feed. They thirst, you give water. They hurt, you comfort. They freeze, you warm. They soil their diapers, you must clean them up. They cry, you soothe. They take, you give.

That is the nature of infants. Despite adult bodies we lack the emotional intelligence to subject ourselves to codes that should provide restraint. We are a nation of toddlers. And a lot of them wear blue and carry not-toy guns. (A hundred or so sit in parliament accusing each other of wetting their diapers.)

The problem isn’t the training (or lack of) that they get, or a lack of understanding of the law and human rights. That’s a scratch above the surface. The real lack is the loss of moral consciousness.

And so the real challenge is to refill those gaps. The crimes committed are completely identifiable as crimes (theft, assault, unlawful use of firearm, murder), and as blatant evil deeds.

Any sane person should be able to tell that the unlawful use of his authority to steal wallets and personal effects is an immoral deed; an attack on basic human decency; even an undermining of his own human dignity as the perpetrator. But it takes a person of moral strength to resist committing those crimes.

These are men and women who have lost that moral strength. And many involved in talking about social correction wouldn’t want the work that’s needed to restore such a loss. We'd rather not go that deep.

We’d rather a social correction (a fleeting band-aid solution). Or a legal one (guess who will enforce!). Or an academic one (with never-ending papers and opinions). Or a training one (where we try to squeeze a lifetime of lessons into six months!). Or a governmental one (where we assume the Minister can flick his fingers for a solution).

We agree that wrong is wrong. It’s mostly our solutions to those wrongs that take diverging paths.

Maybe they’re frustrated with the meagre pay they get. Perhaps coupled with the pressures of life they’re driven to such measures for survival. It’s understandable. Is it? Lack of training perhaps? Lack of knowledge of human rights?

Ever noticed how our behaviour is little affected by what we know? Ignorance of the law?

Whatever reason we give, we’ll have to settle that ultimately it’s the loss of moral strength in these people’s souls that gives them no pause against such crimes.

And if there is to be any proper solution, it must begin at the core of their moral beliefs. We need to restore that moral strength. Everything else will be band-aid.

I know good cops. But for every good cop I know there’s probably 50 not-so-good cops.

We live in a nation where the sight of an armed policeman or a police land-cruiser with tinted-windows strikes more fear in an ordinary citizen than a lonely drive into a crime-prone suburb.

Recall that crawl up your spine as you approach a tinted cop-car? The source of terror is reversed. No longer is it the local terrorist. It’s the law enforcers who are supposed to catch that terrorist.

Drivers don’t trust police road checks anymore. Victims of crime dismiss the thought of contacting police as they contemplate how vain such an effort would be. Reports to the internal complaints unit might as well be lottery tickets for a zillion kina.

No. A restoration of proper morals is needed. But there are problems with a moral-restoration approach. It’s hard work.

And post-modern philosophy would disagree. Post-modern philosophies that subscribe to an amoral universe would say that we should just fix society and these people will adjust with society. But to fix society you have to fix these people. A catch-22.

We would have to take the discussion all the way back to the nature of morality and who would give such guidance. And there lies our problem.

I could suggest get the Church to counsel these cops. But then the debate will turn to the delusional question of separation of church and State.

And of course people would argue that the Church has obviously failed because these cops probably attend church every week and have gotten nowhere. So let’s leave it at bandaid level.

So you would suggest get the shrinks and mental disorder experts to counsel them. Bring in the social scientists.

Impose the name tags. Name and shame. Step up police discipline. Extend training. Informing human rights. Up their pay. Dock their pay. Demote. Transfer. Recruit smarter people. Remove silly people. Take away the guns. Give them Tramontinas. Take away the vehicles. Give them Landcruisers. Install CCTV everywhere. Bring the Aussies. Bring the Fijians. Send our people to Aussieland. Send them to Fiji. Send them to Iraq. Send them to college. Send them home. Don’t send them at all.


The best solution is usually the hardest.


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Haider Minhas

Thanks for share in depth information on police brutality. Keep sharing!

Ganjiki D Wayne

Trevor, yes. It seems expatriate police strikes more fear in the corrupt...and since the corrupt will make decision for bringing in expats, it seems unlikely to happen.

As for proper check on Bomana candidates, i suspect that's either not happening or happening at the barest minimum. Some of the recruits are ex-crims.

And as for recruiting a better class, im sure the Force can think up ways of attracting higher educated people (above grade 12). they could offer them higher ranks with competitive salaries.

Of course that means money and political will.

Trevor Freestone.

Ganjiki, I am sure your article will cause a huge amount of distress to all Australians.

Now I can understand why the PNG Government refused the assistance of Australia who was prepared to send some federal police officers to work alongside the PNG police in an effort to weed out the rogue police and corrupt beaurocrats. They were afraid that the corrupt PNG's in high places may be exposed.

Bob Carr Australia's foreign minister has failed dismally in his duties as foreign minister to keep well informed of all aspects of life in PNG and by working with the people develop plans which will benefit PNG.

He should be making regular visits but this won't happen while the Safe traveller advise warns The Australian media to stay away. Bob needs his TV camera's to record his visits to far away places.

On a recent visit to PNG I talked to some of the police who were working under deplorable conditions.The police stations were rundown, their houses were delapidated, and the lack of equipment was a major problem.

The village people don't have the knowledge of how to report bad behaviour and even if they did they would be reluctant to do so in case of retaliation.

Your prime minister must take immediate steps to rectify the situation and be prepared to accept outside help if he is unable to make the necessary changes needed on his own.

David Kitchnoge

Agreed Tony Flynn.

Not all candidates who go up to Bomana Police College should pass out as police officers.

The weeding, the separation of sheep from the goats so to speak, should happen here.

Do the graduands of the college pass certain minimum evaluation criteria before they pass out?

If not, why not?

And if they have evaluation criteria, how effective are these criteria in filtering the future police men/women before they graduate into the force?

And how competent and honest are the custodians of those criteria.

Tony Flynn

How attractive is the Police Force to the better class of applicant? What is the salary range compared with a teachers' basic wage?

I am not sure of the length of training compared to, say, primary teachers. Using the salary as a measure - how much should we expect from our police?

The selection criteria should weed out people with the wrong attitudes during the training process.

All inductees should not automatically become graduands, most bad apples should be identified here prior to being unleashed on the innocent public.

David Kitchnoge

Do the police do "in-service courses" similar to what teachers do/used to do?

They need a constant reminder of their roles and responsibility to society. They need to take stalk of what they do, celebrate their achievements, talk about their challenges and areas of improvement.

They could do this during an in-service course which they should have twice a year.

Bob Cleland

This problem is a world-wide problem and has grown, probably, since the beginning of policing services.

I agree, Ganjiki, that band-aids don't work. The best way to heal a wound like this is with a tough bandage and strong medicine applied from the the top.

A solution can't work from the bottom up. It can only work from the top down.

First, identify who or what organisation is at the top.

Michael Dom

Discipline throughout rank and file. That would be an immediate starting point. Shape up or ship out.

That along with improved benefits and better training and support resources will return some pride in the important job that police do; maintaining law and order.

We can't have everything but we can surely improve some things. Policing is a serious issue in PNG, and not just because of their lack of morals.

David Kitchnoge

Policing in PNG in all its aspects is at an all time low.

Ganjiki is right, most people fear the police more than we do criminals. For me personally, my fear arises from not knowing what frame of mind the police would be in at a given time.

They could be thinking help, caution, vengeance, theft, murder, assault or whatever when they stop you on the road.

It is this unpredictability that makes my hair stand when I cross paths with the police.

At least I can predict the criminals’ behaviour with a certain degree of accuracy and take the necessary action I think is required to avoid unwanted situations. But with the police, I’m never sure.

Sometimes I feel like running, other times I feel like stopping when they signal me to, and at other times I feel like turning the next corner before stopping even if I see them waving me down.

Phil Fitzpatrick

The old time police in the days before independence were certainly not angels but they had a deep pride and sense of brotherhood.

If one of their own stepped out of line they were immediately jumped upon by their comrades and brought to heel.

Those old policemen earned the rare honour of putting the word 'royal' in front of their title. It is this title that is now being sullied.

Return the pride in the force and the rest will follow.

But don't ask me how you do that.

Ganjiki D Wayne

I think the blame should rest solely on the policeman who commits such offences. We all choose our actions in the end, and are ultimately personally responsible.

Michael the law, an external restraint, punishes. It cannot prevent effectively as stable moral conscience--which is an internal restraint.

Whether they be "Christians" or atheists, these police officers have lost that moral high ground...actually they've lost all moral ground...

In any case, the law can only punish if the perpetrator is caught...

Michael Dom

Having said that Ganjiki, thank you for your strongly worded article; I feel you. Moral teaching is much needed. But also moral guidance and action.

Guidance being what we say to each other, not just our priests and churches, who have moral challenges of their own, and action being what we show each other, how we treat each other.

The most important moral idea for police to know is that everyone should be treated equally under the law. We have no choice in that matter.

Mrs Barbara Short

I feel the best solution for corrupt police officers is to take them to court, try them, and if found guilty, put them in prison with the criminals that they have previously caught.

For a number of years now I have been involved with the Crossroad Bible Institute who run Bible Studies for prison inmates in Australia, PNG, Solomons, Fiji and Tonga. At the present I am helping a man in Rove CCC Honiara.

But it is more than just Bible Studies. The prisoners, while growing in their understanding of the great lessons of the Bible, can also, later, develop a relationship with their Christian mentors/teachers, who will correspond with them and help them to understand how the Bible lessons apply to their lives.

The lessons are especially designed to get the prisoners to face up to what has happened in their lives that led them to be placed in prison.

It will be a long struggle for any of these previous members of the police force, who end up in prison, to overcome their problems e.g. their loss of moral focus, but it can be done.

They will never be policemen again but hopefully they will be motivated to go out into society and help others to understand the difference between right and wrong.

If they are in prison the punishment is there for correction. If they work at CBI Bible studies they can be helped to regain their moral compass. As Christians, they will have help to fight against the evil forces of this world.

Michael Dom

Morals may be a set of good rules to live by but even if we have them there's no guarantee we'll always adhere to them.

That's why we have laws which state explicitly what's not allowed, what kind of behaviour and actions may lead to chastisement of some form.

Morals don't punish (unless your conscience bugs you), but the law does.

Morals are higher ideals that we choose to live by.

If cops are being crooked then they have broken laws, and regardless of whether you have morals or not when you break laws you get punished.

While it is a worthy ideal that we take measures to instill morals, in our present and future police, there is no guarantee that people will always follow moral teaching. Therefore, the law exists, so we don't have a choice.

Being a moral, law abiding person in that sense is straight forward then; obey the laws, live by them as much as possible. Even an atheist can do that.

Tony Flynn

We have the type of police leaders that our rulers have wished upon us. We have the rulers that we ourselves wished for. Please do not blame the police at the sharp end.

The blame should rest firmly on the people who are paid to be in control. They are unable to control the rogue police who give a bad name to the rest.

Good policemen who would give top quality service are left to stagnate under this bad leadership.

The people are suffering and should look past the face of the problem to the root cause.

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