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Living with crime & violence in PNG

The Lae police footbeat unit

| Graun Bilong Mi (My Land)

LAE - Being a law enforcement officer is no easy task. Being a fully-fledged police officer is even tougher.

You can become an enemy of evil while you try to uphold the rule of law and keep society in good order.

For many people justice is seen at the point of the rifle; but for a few the uniform and Queen’s crown symbolise the rule of law.

I want to share with you the challenges faced by one of Lae City's proactive police detachments - The Footbeat Unit.

Based out of Eriku, the unit is headed by former Lae Police Taskforce hardman, David August.

August enjoys his buai and pinpin (smoke), and his favourite whiskey with friends away from work, but he's a tough bloke when it comes to policing.

Since 2016, August has been in charge of enforcing the 19 laws of the Lae urban local level government. From public safety to street vending, littering and loitering, this has been a difficult assignment.

It’s been made worse by the urban drift to Lae's from rural areas within Morobe and neighbouring provinces.

And there's been little or no support from Lae City Council. An office in a 20-foot container at Eriku with no furniture and no office stationery is where the Footbeat unit operates from.

"For the last four years, we've only had a skeleton office with a chair and table," said August.

Despite that, they've been able to maintain police records and a hang on to a small office space at Lae Central police station.

"Enforcing local level government laws is a massive task. We need all the backing and support from authorities so we can enforce the laws."

Street vending is a major problem in Lae. People who have lived on the city fringes have now moved closer to Eriku, Top Town and Main Market.

People with disabilities are often used to sell buai and cigarettes for a small commission.

"There are officers within the local level government who are approving licenses and permits for these people to operate at public areas," August said.

"When we police want to remove them, they show us signed documents.

“How can we enforce the city laws when its very own officers are approving such practices?” 

All communities in Lae have a gazetted market. If you don’t have a gazetted market, then your community could be an illegal settlement.

Every afternoon the Footbeat unit ensures that Eriku and Top Town bus stops are safe for commuters to move home.

They often have problems with side-bus crews and their gangs of loiterers, who can make it difficult for police to identify petty criminals.

"We go tough on them and that's the only way we keep them away from the bus stops and shopfronts," August said.

In a bid to promote a healthy and safer community in partnership, August wants the Lae City Authority to make Eriku a no buai chewing area.

"Attitude is the problem. If we change our attitude to be better people, there won’t be buai spittle and rubbish everywhere."

August wants to allow people to carry buai but not be allowed to chew in the designated area.

If they do, they will be fined or charged. PMV drivers and crew can also be charged if a passenger is caught chewing buai in a PMV.

"The Lae City Authority needs to work closely with us by giving orders to remove illegal markets, street vending and charge and fine those that don’t comply with our city laws," August added.

Sylvester Gawi
Sylvester Gawi

And now the city authority has got a new police vehicle for them and will also be renovating the base at Eriku.

Kudos to a great team of policemen who worked tirelessly to keep our city safe and free from problems. As I always say, "Evil prevails when good men do nothing."

Well done, Lae Footbeat Unit.


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