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Former NZ Police Officer heads Solomon Islands Police Force
Peter Marshall was officially sworn in as Commissioner of the 1100-strong Royal Solomon Islands Police Force (RSIPF) on 30 March. His challenge is to use the skills developed during 36 years of policing in New Zealand and abroad to guide the force towards its goal of becoming a respected and independent police organisation.
Historically the political situation in Solomon Islands has been somewhat precarious. Considerable ethnic tensions exist between the provinces and the people of Malaita and Guadalcanal have had an uneasy relationship.
Australian High Commissioner Patrick Cole was removed from the country and Royal Solomon Islands Police Commissioner Shane Castles refused re-entry into Solomon Islands after he departed Honiara on annual leave in December 2006.
In December 2007 following a series of ‘motions of no confidence’ Prime Minister Sogavare relinquished his leadership position in favour of Dr Derek Sikua.
Peter worked as Deputy Commissioner in this political maelstrom for 11 months prior to the appointment of Dr Sikua.
Within weeks of the new Government coming into power Moti was deported and in a matter of months Jahir Khan, the former Commissioner of Police appointed by Manasseh Sogavere, left for Suva.
Since taking up his Deputy Commissioner role in early 2007, Peter has been working hard to rebuild public respect and confidence in the RSIPF.
Peter and his staff enjoy an excellent working relationship with the participating police force commander and his executive.
Regional Assistance to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI) – a partnership between the Solomon Islands Government, the people of the Solomon Islands and 15 contributing countries from the Pacific region – was created in 2003 following a lengthy period of internal conflict known as the ‘Tension Period’.
Geographically and demographically, Solomon Islands is difficult to police. The country is made up of over 900 islands stretching across a 1500 km area. The population is predominantly young. By the year 2020 the population of 580,000 is set to double and the average age will be between 12 and 14.
Kwaso, an illegal but readily available and extremely potent homebrew distilled in rural areas and sold in markets disguised as cordial, adds to the issues faced by RSIPF.
There are nine provinces within Solomon Islands and approximately 74 ‘languages’ spoken. The provinces are somewhat parochial and this leads to the commonly referred to ‘wantok’ (one-talk) system of allegiances.
“We need to think strategically about how the RSIPF policing model will look by 2020 and to consider how we can police effectively when substantial technological infrastructure and support provided by RAMSI is gone and the population is twice its current size.”
Peter believes the overall signs are encouraging, with the force growing in confidence and competence.
“It is also possible to identify areas of excellence within the structure, including operational planning, response, forensics and training. We have many excellent officers within the force,” he says.
Improvements in policing are creating pressures elsewhere in the Solomons’ legal system. Higher detection rates are creating pressure on the services of magistrates.
“The success of the police force is a challenge to the Justice Department who must ensure that magistrates are available to attend court sessions,” says Peter.
“Nothing is more demoralising for officers than to have all the hard work involved in detecting crime come to nothing because a magistrate fails to turn up to hear a case in court.”
One of the main issues to be resolved relates to police housing.
“There is a need to get more officers out into the provinces, but this is not possible owing to the absence of housing,” says Peter. “New Zealand Aid has pledged to build 34 police houses this year and this will assist enormously.”
In April 2007 a tsunami killed more than 50 people and in January of this year a further 12 died as a result of massive flooding on Guadalcanal.
“It is a challenge educating locals not to collect this material and deliver it to police stations,” says Peter.
Six weeks ago the remains of a United States Marine, killed in 1943, were located in a hotel excavation site.
When asked to sum up the Solomon Islands, Peter says, “A land of extremes, intrigue, challenges – but it is still paradise!”
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