TUMBY BAY - There have been suggestions that Papua New Guinea’s police minister Bryan Kramer is thinking about seeking advice and assistance from the Australian Federal Police to bring the Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary up to scratch so that it can effectively tackle a worsening law and order problem.
This has been tried before and the results were less than heartening, the reason for the failure having much to do with the inability of the Australian Federal Police to bridge the cultural gap between itself and RPNGC.
Most people in the know were not surprised. Bringing personnel from a largely peaceful urban working environment into the sort of conditions that prevail in PNG was a big ask at the best of times.
Added to that was the perception that the use of the AFP represented a neo-colonial approach. This didn’t go down well with the RPNGC itself or the general public.
But there is another option if the minister still thinks outside help is required.
There are two countries in the world that have consistently appeared at the top of the list of places with the lowest crime rates globally. They are Iceland and New Zealand.
Iceland is perhaps too remote and too different from PNG to be considered a role model, but New Zealand is just across the ditch.
The New Zealand Police (in Māori, Ngā Pirihimana o Aotearoa) is a national police force responsible for enforcing criminal law, enhancing public safety, maintaining order and keeping the peace. It is reported to have a minimal level of institutional corruption.
New Zealand also consistently outperforms Australia in its knowledge and understanding and empathy with the Pacific region.
Unlike Australia, it is small enough not to entertain any grand delusions about its place in the world.
There are two key reasons why the crime rate in New Zealand is low. The first is that New Zealand is a relatively affluent society. When people are well off and comfortable they tend not to engage in crime.
The highest crime rates in New Zealand occur in the poorest areas, such as the outer suburbs of larger cities like Auckland. When people are poor, crime tends to increase. This fact might be of interest to the government of PNG.
The second reason is that the police force in New Zealand is community orientated. They take an active role in the welfare of the communities in which they operate.
This approach creates a level of trust. If people trust their police they tend to cooperate with them and help them. When that happens crime rates decline.
The RPNGC currently has a very bad relationship with the public. Among other things it is known to have a reputation for violence and corruption.
If the law and order problems in PNG are to be solved, it is crucial that this relationship be improved. There needs to be a cultural change in the RPNGC so the public comes to trust it.
For this to happen it need to become involved in the communities in which it serves. Police officers need to become leaders in promoting public wellbeing.
To take a heavy handed approach to law and order problems in Papua New Guinea by increasing the numbers of police on the beat is going to be expensive.
To change the culture of the police and involve them community projects will be much more cost effective.
If this is accepted as a legitimate and more effective approach maybe the minister needs to be talking to New Zealand and not Australia.