Police Brutality is a Big Problem in Papua New Guinea

victims of Police Brutality in PNG. Getty Images
By Jack Assa

We do not need to look far to confirm brutal and cruel tactics applied by police personnel in this country. The cruel treatment of the citizens has become normal. Even if reported to higher authorities, there seem to be no follow up investigations and the case seem to vanish after few days.  Excessive use of force by police officers undermines faith in the criminal justice system. Citizens of this country expect those in blue uniform to follow the law as well as enforce it, but these two roles often come into conflict.
As far as the job description of the police personnel are concern, the role of the police is to maintain law and order, protect and safeguard the lives and properties of the citizens, which is the key role of the police force. This definition seem to be from theoretical perspective, in practical, it’s the opposite. Let me share two police brutality that caused wide public outrage.
Few weeks ago, our men in blue uniform brutally beaten and injured seventy young men in Port Moresby. It was alleged that these men were returning from Eight-Mile settlement after retaliating following the death of a relative when they were assaulted by officers in five police vehicles near Erima. Their weapons were concealed as they made their way home when five different police vehicles sped toward them and officers jumped out with guns and threatened to shoot them. “After threatening us at gunpoint they forced us to lie face down and without warning they started beating us with sticks and later hacked at our legs with our own weapons”, recounts by one of the victim. The cruelest thing is the wounded men were then forced to walk from Erima to Gordons police station with blood dripping from their injuries and were all locked up in the police cells without medical attention. Isn’t that cruel treatment? Where is justice? Are they not human being, the one police claim to protect?
Another similar incident occurred within the same week and after the above incident. This incident was clipped by the rogue officers from Gerehu Police Station themselves and later uploaded on social media including facebook and youtube which has attracted negative comments from the people who viewed the clip. In this incident, the rogue officers forced two men to strip naked and carry out indecent acts at the Gerehu Police Station. Viewers could clearly hear the rogue officers coaching the two men on how to do it.
It was indeed disgusting. You can clearly tell the high level of knowledge and experience they had from the way they were directing the two young men to do the act that clearly eroded their dignity as a person. These two and other incidents by the police must be condemned at highest possible terms
Moreover, these are tarnishing the good name of the police force. When will the heads of the police force take serious measures in curbing the acts that directly violates human rights? The constitution of this country provides that “one is innocent until proven guilty” by the court and not police. Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defense. We all know that the Courts of this country alone will decide on what kind of penalty should be applied onto the citizen if found guilty and not the police. The constitutional duties of each institutions must be respected and uphold under all circumstances.  This is a very old legal principle that exists for ages and it is till vibrant today, yet our police personnel may have forgotten this.
With due respect to the handful of civilized officers, majority of the personnel are rogue. The question is why are men and women in blue act the way they do? Is it because of the dropouts being selected to become police? Is it the recruitment or training problem? Do they lack moral ethics? Many of these and other questions can be well answered by the department itself. However, it is highly presumed that it comes back to the level of education one has, recruitment and training of the staff, upbringing of the personnel before joining the force and peer influence within the force. 
According reports presented in a Police meeting this year, eighty-seven officers have been dismissed from Papua New Guinea’s police force between 2010 and 2012 and other seventy three were demoted for similar reasons. However, this has not stopped the rate of police brutality in this country. This year, police violence has taken another level and become a major issue with hardly a weekend passing without one instance of violence perpetrated by officers.
The police hierarchy has taken a tough zero tolerance stance on police brutality but this is not reflected in the performance of the personnel. There is something wrong somewhere, and the hierarchy needs to take drastic actions now or never. Let me propose at least two approaches that can help reduce and eradicate police brutality.

1. Professional Approach

One strategy to reduce police brutality is to emphasize professionalism in the police force. This strategy aims to reduce incidents of police misconduct by ensuring that law enforcement agencies employ only the best-educated, best-trained individuals. Just like other field of study, those who wanted to build a career in police force must apply from grade 12. And only those who have higher grading must be accepted. The department must add some value in it, rather than doing mass recruitment from the streets.


Following this strategy begins at the recruitment and training levels. It includes more rigorous psychological screening before admitting prospective candidates to a police academy, as well as increased training on brutality issues and the appropriate use of force. The recruitment officers must do proper background investigations for the applicants. This is very crucial, if we are to produce quality and good image.  


Moreover, change the image that instructors are portraying to the recruits that they are going into battle and fighting a war, that it will be “us against them”. The techniques being taught are strictly defensive in characteristic and not offensive.


Another step may include longer probationary employment periods for newly sworn police officers. This will help in the weeding of rotten apple from the right ones.


2. Bureaucratic Approach

Critics of the professionalism strategy contend that it ignores elements of organizational culture within a police department that may foster attitudes that tolerate excessive force by officers. Police work, by its nature, is stressful and involves encounters with the worst elements of a city, often leading to police distrust for particular communities or even the public at large. The so-called bureaucratic strategy for reducing police brutality involves continuous training on appropriate physical force, written policies and procedures on appropriate use of force, and even external reviews of police actions. The culture within the department has a direct impact on performance of the officers.


The people cannot continue to accept such ill behavior by the people. Change must take place within the department. It’s about time the government must see it as a problem and act decisively. Remember, we are not just dealing citizens but the dignity of person as a human being. We must handle human beings with care and respect.


In the past, police brutality was considered to be a practice limited to only a few “bad apples” within the agency. However more recent and frequent occurrences seem to suggest that it is the result of norms shared throughout departments and that, unfortunately, it is a consequence of the officer’s role. Police officers are given the unrestricted right to use force in situations where their evaluation of the circumstances demand its use. However, it comes with responsibility.
Let me conclude here by saying that the excessive use of force by police personnel on the citizens are not just disturbing but a huge problem that the government seriously needs to look into it. There is nothing more destructive to a country than its own government employed police force breaking the law.

The writer is undertaking postgraduate studies and living in Indonesia. For comments and feedbacks, he can be contacted on jackassa945@gmail.com (email) / +081273238217 (Mobile Phone).

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