The bloody early years of outside engagement with the Simbu
Memories of Togoba – natural beauty & wise leadership

How the RPNGC's rivalry impinged on astute kiap policing

John Stuntz with Otibanda detachment  1950
Kiap John Stuntz with Otibanda police detachment 1950


EX-KIAP WEBSITE - Some might see it as ironic that the form of award adopted for recognition of kiaps’ Papua New Guinea service should take the form of a Police Service Medal.

In my experience the relationship between the regular RPNGC officialdom and our field staff took the form of a rather wary collaboration at best. In many instances, personal relationships were warm and both organisations benefited.

I also acknowledge that during the late 1970s when tribal fighting became widespread in the Highlands, the cooperative bond between kiaps and police was strong, forged under the stresses of dealing with a major crisis.

And of course, the role that the outstation police contingents played in supporting all field staff was beyond praise. There are more than a few of us who owe their careers and perhaps their lives to the unstinting assistance and support of the outstation constabulary with whom they worked.

However the attitude of those at RPNGC headquarters was often a cause of concern and gave rise to the view that perhaps the police hierarchy were reluctant to accept that kiaps were competent to carry out police duties.

There are a few incidents that I can dredge up from my memory that could give rise to this view.

The decision in the 1960s by the Police Commissioner to ban all police involvement in the supervising of road construction activities. This came as a cruel blow to the energetic road construction program being implemented in the Highlands at this time.

Counter arguments that police involvement in civil projects was a long standing tradition in Papua New Guinea, were dismissed and prosecutions threatened if this edict was ignored.

About the same time when the time came for re-issue of warrant cards, we found that the replacement cards being issued by police headquarters allowed kiaps to exercise police powers only in the rural areas with township areas being excluded.

In this instance I believe it was our director who took this matter up, pointing out in a letter to the commissioner of police that the RPNGC Ordinance allowed no such restriction to be placed on warrant cards. This innovation was subsequently dropped.

This was followed up by an instruction that all indictable offences, including those committed in rural areas, were to be investigated by regular police officers. Kiaps, and the years of expertise they had accumulated in this law enforcement area were to be sidelined. This too was quickly abandoned as the sheer volume of work its implementation would have meant was beyond the regular police resources.

There were also several instances where expatriate police inspectors had taken what we considered to be a vindictive delight in prosecuting patrol officers caught out in relatively minor breaches of the law. That the supreme court generally exonerated patrol officer being so charged was encouraging.

Then in the early 1970’s the police commissioner issued an edict that all handcuffs held on outstations were to be sent immediately to the provincial police headquarters, with no explanation as to why this direction was necessary. Who actually owned these items was a matter of contention and their removal would create difficulties in detaining offenders in remote areas, and bringing them safely to court.

There may be other instances of attempts by the regular constabulary to seemingly set out to erode the status of the kiap’s role in policing, but these spring immediately to mind.

No doubt many field staff will disagree with this evaluation of the situation as I saw it, but I do believe these points deserve to be recorded for the benefit of posterity.

Chips Mackellar
Chips Mackellar

Chips Mackellar adds:

Ray Whitrod was commissioner of the RPNGC and later commissioner of Queensland Police. When he eventually retired he wrote a book, ‘Before I Sleep: Memoirs of a modern police commissioner’ (UQ Press, 2001).

In that book he stated that, in the PNG context, the kiaps were far better police officers than the regulars, simply because they could talk to the public direct and also to their own other ranks. He mentioned that very few of his regular officers could speak Pidgin or Motu and they had to use interpreters to even speak to their own subordinates.

Whitrod said that Canberra made the mistake of superimposing the regular constabulary officers upon a kiap policing system which had begun during the era of Sir William Macgregor and obtained ever since. He said that that two separate officer corps imposed upon a singular other ranks system only caused confusion.

He said that what Canberra should have done was to create two separate police forces, each with its own officer corps and other ranks system, with the kiaps and their police operating outside town boundaries and the regular constabulary and their police operating inside town boundaries.

Whitrod said this dual policing system operated well elsewhere in the world, for example in France with the police and the gendarmerie, in USA with police and sheriffs and so on, each with its own areas of jurisdiction. Pity no one thought of this during our time in PNG.


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