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An Introduction to Policing in the South Pacific Region



The author welcomes contributions from readers in the form of questions, comments and constructive criticism. Please direct all such contributions to Tess Newton at newton_t(at)vanuatu.usp.ac.fj


1. Introduction

This paper contains some initial comments and questions arising out of what is intended to be a long-term research project into policing in countries of the South Pacific region. At present, the project is very much at the information gathering stage. This is a task which has proved time consuming and less than straightforward for a number of reasons, some of which are common to all research projects and some of which are possibly unique to the geography, social structures and cultural concerns that prevail in the part of the world with which this project is concerned. The issues that have been researched, debated and theorised in relation to policing in other countries and regions, such as Australia, the United Kingdom, North America and Europe have not yet been considered within the context of the South Pacific region.

This paper is largely descriptive and consists of a collation of material relevant to the organisational structures that underpin the police function in Pacific island countries. It is envisaged that the whole of the project will be focused more particularly on issues relating to the training of police officers within the region reflecting the author’s interest in this topic and the importance attached to training issues by chief police officers1 in the region and aid donors2 involved in providing resources and support to the police forces under consideration.

1.1 Some Background Information

The research is focused on the 12 countries that come under the aegis of the University of the South Pacific: Cook Islands, Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Niue, Samoa3, Solomon Islands, Tokelau, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu. Except for Tokelau, all of these countries are now self-governing.4 However, the influences of colonialism5 can still be detected to a greater or lesser degree throughout the region both in relation to policing and other socio-political structures. The USP region is geographically extensive, including countries from Melanesia, Polynesia and Micronesia. It is extremely culturally diverse, both as a region and within individual countries. For example, in Vanuatu, there are in excess of 100 indigenous languages. There are also three official national languages: English, French and Bislama. Geography and cultural diversity have implications for South Pacific policing, as do other social, economic and organisational factors. Some of the key factors are identified here:

  • The countries of the region can be characterised as having small populations that tend to be spread out over a relatively large geographical area; it is often the case that one country will comprise numerous islands or groups of islands6;
  • In many countries there is a lack of infrastructure and reliable communications. Some remote communities may not have telephones; some islands may only be accessible by boat or canoe; some countries may not have reliable electricity supplies7;
  • Police forces are multi-functional in small countries such as those in the South Pacific region. They are likely to be responsible for ‘civil defence’ including assisting in the provision of fire services, ‘economic’ policing such as the patrolling of Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) and co-ordinating disaster management as well as dealing with ‘normal’ law and order issues. It is worth noting that in Vanuatu, functions such as provision of fire services and civil defence are undertaken by the Vanuatu Mobile Force (VMF) which was established as a separate body but now comes within the policing structure whilst retaining its own areas of responsibility and having the provision of assistance to the police as a secondary role;
  • All of the countries of the region may be classified as developing nations and therefore public sector resources are limited. Throughout the region, there is a great deal of reliance on foreign aid and assistance; in some cases this assistance is provided by defence personnel from donor countries rather than members of ‘civilian’ police forces8;
  • In connection with the previous point, there is a lack of training, experience and expertise in the police forces that operate in the countries of the region.9 Persons occupying senior and other key positions may not necessarily be suitably qualified or have sufficient (or even any) relevant experience. This is more likely to be a factor in countries where public service appointments are made on a political basis or under the ‘wantok’ system.10 In addition, it is not always possible for police forces to provide sufficient or appropriate training to their officers (whether at the generalist or the specialist level) on an ‘in house’ basis. This means that a lot of training is based around either bringing in trainers from overseas or sending officers overseas for training.11
  • In some countries there has been and continues to be a degree of cultural resistance to the concept of policing as it is generally understood in Western terms. Some communities do not recognise the police as having a role to play in dispute resolution or maintaining order within society. Those communities that consider themselves subject only to customary law (as enunciated and enforced by chiefs or village elders) are likely to be resistant to any ‘outside interference’(including policing) by the state. In most cases, this resistance will manifest itself in non-recourse to the police for assistance when crimes occur. However, in some cases such resistance may exhibit itself in more extreme ways. So, for example, Brown (1986) noted that the bush Kwoio of Solomon Islands refused to have their territory policed by anyone other than themselves.

2. Methodology

In the absence of a developed body of literature about policing in the Pacific islands12, a significant task at this stage of the project has been the collection of basic information and resources connected with the organisation of policing within the region. The following methods of data collection and collation have been used to date:

  • Collection of legislation pertaining to policing in each of the identified jurisdictions. In general, there are three pieces of legislation that are of significance for policing in each country: a Penal Code (or equivalent) detailing the substantive criminal law and principles of criminal responsibility; a Criminal Procedure Code (or equivalent) setting out rules of criminal process, including those that pertain to the pre-trial stages and a Police Act (or equivalent) which is concerned with issues of establishment, organisational structures and discipline.13 There are also other forms of guidance such as standing orders, force instructions and Police Commissioner’s Instructions which are not necessarily easily accessible either to police officers or to the researcher.14 Neither is it clear what the legal status of this form of guidance is, at least in the case of Fiji.15 It is significant to note that, for the present, the Judges’ Rules continue to be in force in the countries of the region.
  • A ‘request for information’ letter/questionnaire sent to each of the chief officers of police throughout the region.16 In relation to very small jurisdictions, it is not always easy to envisage how policing is structured or organised without the benefit of some basic information such as that which was requested in this questionnaire. The response to the questionnaire (so far) has been eight replies (from a possible 12); one of which was a refusal to provide the information requested.
  • Follow-up communications with training institutions in Australia17 and New Zealand18 identified as key providers of training to Pacific island police officers. These institutions are ones that receive Pacific island police students instead of or in addition to sending trainers to the countries of the region.
  • Informal discussions with key police personnel in the region, particularly in relation to training issues.

3. Policing Structures in Pacific Island Countries

In this section of the paper, statistical information is presented in relation to the following aspects of police structures within Pacific island countries:

  • Police: population ratios;
  • Numbers of officers working in rural and urban locations;
  • Gender split of Pacific island police officers
  • Entry requirements for Pacific island police officers

In relation to the first category, information is provided for each of the South Pacific countries. In relation to the other categories, this information is available only in relation to those countries whose chief officers completed the questionnaire requesting the material.

3.1. Policing complements relative to size of population

Many of the issues that have been the focus of concern in relation to policing in countries such as Australia and the UK either stem from the size of the police forces in those locations or have been researched, described and analysed in ways that are more relevant to sizeable police forces and complex organisational, management and disciplinary structures than to the types and sizes of police forces that are found in the countries of the USP region.

Here, the size of police force in each of the countries is recorded (Figure 1) and, perhaps more pertinently, the ratio of police to total population. As a point of comparison, the police: population ratio for Australia is 1: 43919 and for New Zealand, it is 1:69220.


Size of population

Size of police force

Police:population ratio

Cook Islands









72, 29825


1: 278

Marshall Islands

49, 96927


1: 490













Solomon Islands

















150, 86443



Figure 1

It can be seen from the data in Figure 1 that it is generally the case that the police:population ratios for Pacific island countries are significantly lower than those for the metropolitan countries noted previously.45 This raises the question of whether these countries are ‘over-policed.' It should be remembered that one of the problems associated with policing a small population is to maintain actual and apparent impartiality. It would not be uncommon to have difficulties in ensuring that investigating officers had no connection (whether family or otherwise) with parties involved in a dispute requiring a police involvement of one sort or another. Therefore, it may be that such difficulties can be somewhat alleviated by having a larger number of police officers per head of population than might exist in other jurisdictions.

However, the existence of a ‘large’ force that is not necessarily kept fully occupied or whose members may become fractious in the event that resources are scarce can lead to problems in terms of discipline and civil order. Such was the case in 1996 in Vanuatu when members of the Vanuatu Mobile Force (now a division of the police force) kidnapped the President of the Republic in protest over non-payment of allowances due to them. In countries where there is a likelihood of a deterioration of law and order, the potential exists for police officers to cease to be part of the solution and instead become part of the problem.

3.2. Urban/Rural locations of police officers

In relation to received responses to the Police Chiefs’ Questionnaire (PCQ), it is possible to identify what proportion of police officers work in urban locations and what proportion is stationed in rural areas (Figure 2).46


% Urban Officers

% Rural Officers

Cook Islands



Marshall Islands















Figure 2

The nature of policing in rural settings differs significantly from the policing that is required in the capital of the country (in most cases, the capital is the main urban area). The nature of the crime problems that require police attention may be different, with the incidence of housebreaking likely to be greater in urban locations than in rural areas and communication problems are likely to be exacerbated in rural and often remote areas.

A particular point to note is that the sort of cultural resistance to policing identified previously is more likely to be an issue in rural areas. The following extract from the minutes of a Vanuatu village court meeting may be instructive:

The chairman asked John Mark Sine if he knew anything about the case and he stated that the police had asked him to take Jenny to Abwantuntora...He also stated that the police had asked him to sign on behalf of the chiefs of Atabulu as no chiefs was (sic) present. He said he did so although the chiefs knew nothing about it and did not give the police authority to handle the case...

Chief Eliath Esho stated that he had asked the police to see the village chief re permission to work in the village but the police had not done anything about it despite being told twice. It was stated that such cases should be referred to the chiefs first and if they couldn’t handle them then they could be passed on to the police. (Emphasis added)50

3.3. Gender split of Pacific police officers

Further to the responses to the PCQ, the gender split of several Pacific police forces can be identified and is presented in Figure 3. Evidently the police forces in these countries are male-dominated. This is likely to have significant implications for ‘gender sensitive’ issues such as dealing with incidences of domestic violence51 or allegations of rape.52


% Male Officers

% Female Officers

Cook Islands



Marshall Islands








6 (n.=1)

Solomon Islands









Figure 3

3.4. Entry requirements for Pacific police forces.

From responses to the PCQ54, the following summaries of entry requirements can be provided. It is not surprising that some degree of proficiency in the English language is required, as it remains the case that English is the predominant language of the superior courts of Pacific island countries. It is perhaps surprising to note that only three of the responses indicate that a criminal record would be a bar to joining the police force of their countries (Marshall Islands, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu.)

3.4.1 Cook Islands


Between 18 and 35.


Minimum of Cook Islands School Certificate (Form V) with an emphasis on English.


Applicants must be fluent in both English and Cook Islands Maori.55

Other requirements:

None specified.

3.4.2 Marshall Islands


Between 21 and 30.


High school graduate/2 years post-secondary education.


Good written and spoken English.

Other requirements:

No convictions for ‘felonies.'56

3.4.3 Nauru


Between 18 and 21.


Applicant must be of school leaving age and have completed at least Year 12.


Applicant must be fluent in both Nauruan and English.

Other requirements:

Applicant must be a Nauruan citizen.

3.4.4 Niue


Between 19 and 40.


High School education.57


Proven oral and written proficiency in Niuean Language and English.’58

Other requirements:

Applicant must be a Niuean national.59

3.4.5 Solomon Islands


Between 18 and 28.


Form 3 with certificates up to tertiary level.


Proficiency in English and Solomon Islands pidgin.

Other requirements:

Minimum height requirements;60 no criminal record; applicant must sit and pass the Police Entrance Examination; applicant must be physically fit and pass a medical examination.

3.4.6 Tonga


Between 17 and 35.


Applicant must obtain a Pass in the Pacific Secondary Senior Certificate.


Proficient in written and spoken Tongan Language and basic English.

Other requirements:

Applicant must be physically fit to carry out policing duties.

3.4.7 Vanuatu


Between 18 and 35


Completion of Year 10



Other requirements:

Physical and mental fitness; no previous criminal convictions.


4. Some Introductory Comments on Police Training in Pacific Island Countries.

The PCQ contains a number of questions relating to training issues and it is this material that forms the basis of the comments in this section of the paper. Although no relevant information was provided in the response of the Tonga police, it was possible to obtain information relating to the training given to police officers in Tonga during the course of an informal meeting with the Commander of the Police Training Centre in Nuku’alofa. The responses to the PCQ indicate a wide variety of approaches to police training in the various countries from whom information has been obtained to date. All of the training programmes contain ‘in house’ elements and aspects provided by some ‘outside’ agency whether on the basis of Pacific island officers being sent to overseas establishments for specialist training courses or by means of officers from metropolitan countries spending time in Pacific island jurisdictions to provide training support.62

In relation to the ‘in house’ element of the training given to police officers, the most common form of training is ‘on the job’ training. In the Marshall Islands, this is the only form of training available to new police recruits whereas in other countries it forms a part of the initial training programme. So, for example, in Solomon Islands, a period of 4 weeks (from an Initial Recruit Training period of 18 weeks) is spent on practical attachments in Central and Naha police stations and Honiara Traffic Division. In Niue, a 12 month period of ‘on the job’ training must be undertaken prior to recruits being considered for Initial Recruit Training provided by the Royal New Zealand Police College (RNZPC) in Wellington.

The following items have been identified as aspects of initial training that are provided on an ‘in-house’ basis: physical training,63 familiarisation visits, riot training, police practical work64,criminal laws and related legislation, fire service training, prison work, police policies, basic legal studies. In addition, some post-recruit training may also be offered on an ‘in-house’ basis. Of particular note are the bi-monthly internal training days provided by the Chief of Police and/or Deputy Chief of Police to officers in Niue. Some of the topics covered in this programme are: crime scene examination/preservation of exhibits; search and rescue (marine and land); interviewing skills -- witnesses and suspects; disaster management.

There are two interesting aspects of the provision of overseas training, whether it takes the form of Pacific island officers travelling overseas or of overseas trainers coming to deliver training in Pacific island jurisdictions. First, is who is providing the training and second, is what is the nature of the training that is being provided. Related issues arise as to the effectiveness or appropriateness of sending officers overseas for training rather than providing training to them in their own jurisdictions.

As has already been indicated, it remains the case that a significant proportion of police training in Pacific island countries has an ‘overseas’ element of one or both of the forms previously identified. Some of the key elements of this type are identified here:

  • Cook Islands: Promotion courses at RNZPC; members of the Maritime Unit sent to Royal Australian Maritime College; specialist courses (e.g. scene of crime officers) conducted locally by instructors from New Zealand police.
  • Marshall Islands: FBI Pacific Islands Training Initiative (hostage negotiations, homicide investigation, sex crimes); Pacific Rim Vehicular Homicide/DUI Seminar program.
  • Nauru: Initial training may include a period spent in Fiji on the Recruit Training Course; senior officers receive specialist training overseas65 (e.g. criminal investigation).
  • Niue: Attendance at courses held at RNZPC (sergeants, senior sergeants, commissioner officers); Drug training and enforcement course conducted by a New Zealand Police Detective Sergeant and a Supervising Customs Officer (held locally during 1997).
  • Tonga: FBI training in drugs trafficking, Interpol and organised crime; 2 senior officers attend a command course in Malaysia every 2 years.
  • Vanuatu: Officers from the Maritime wing are sent to the Royal Australian Maritime College for training; senior officers (predominantly from the VMF) are sent to Fiji; specialist training such as inventory training and computerisation undertaken by officers in USA; instructors received from New Caledonia to undertake security training; other police trainers invited to Vanuatu from overseas on an ad hoc basis. Attendance of officers at the Asia-Pacific Centre for Security Studies.66

5. Future Research in this Area

As indicated in the introduction to this paper, it is intended that the ‘Pacific policing’ project will be a long-term and wide-ranging one. It is hoped that the following areas of interest will be addressed during the course of this project:

  • Police training in the region and how best training might be delivered to meet the needs of police officers and the communities that they serve;
  • The constitutional position of policing in the region and whether ‘western’ systems and notions of policing are relevant or appropriate within the societies of the South Pacific;
  • The relationship between police and communities and, in particular, how the imperatives and ideologies of policing intersect, if at all, with the philosophies of traditional societies.
  • The history of policing in the South Pacific region



Brown, K. (1986) "Criminal Law & Custom in Solomon Islands" in Queensland Institute of Technology Law Journal; Vol.2: pp.133-139 at p. 138.

Buresova, D. (1998) "Police Powers Discussion Paper No.1"; Fiji Law Reform Commission: Suva; Fiji.

Douglas, N. & Douglas, N. (eds.) (1994) Pacific Islands Yearbook (17th ed.); Fiji Times Ltd: Fiji.

Fiji Law Reform Commission (1998) "Police Powers in Fiji: Issues Paper."

Findlay, M. (1996) Criminal Laws of the South Pacific; Institute of Justice and Applied Legal Studies (USP): Suva.

Plange, N.K. (1996) Policing in Fiji: An Overview of Community Attitudes and Perceptions; USP: Fiji.

Sheptycki, J. (1994) "It looks different from the outside" in Policing 10/2: 125-133.



1. Establishment

  • How many police officers are there in your country?
  • How many police officers are recruited (on average) each year?
  • How many of your officers are posted in rural areas and how many are posted in urban areas? (Please indicate specific urban locations as appropriate)
  • How many of your officers are male and how many are female?


2. Entry Requirements

  • What are the minimum and maximum ages for recruitment to the police force in your country?
  • What are the educational requirements for entry into the police force of your country?
  • Are there any linguistic requirements that need to be satisfied by police recruits? If so, what are they?
  • Are there any other requirements for entry into the police force of your country? If so, what are they?


3. Training

  • How long does initial training last for police recruits in your country?
  • What is the content of the initial training period (please provide a copy of the curriculum if possible)?
  • Are there any other periods of training available to police officers? If so, when do these periods occur, how long do they last and what aspects of policing do they cover (please provide copies of course materials if possible)?
  • Who provides the training to the police officers in your country?




1. Training needs of police officers within the region was the main theme of the 27th South Pacific Police Chiefs’ Conference held in Nadi (Fiji) in August of 1998.

2. In particular, AusAID and NZODA.

3..Formerly Western Samoa.

4..Cook Islands and Niue are in free association with New Zealand; The Republic of the Marshall Islands is in free association with the USA.

5..It is noted that the Kingdom of Tonga and Solomon Islands have never been colonies. Tonga was a British Protectorate by election between 1900 and 1970; during this time it was known as the Friendly Islands. British Solomon Islands was a dependency of the United Kingdom as a protectorate between 1893 and 1978.

6..There are some exceptions, such as Nauru and Niue that are single (small) islands.

7..Any or all of these problems are exacerbated by natural disasters such as cyclones which are prevalent in the region.

8..This has implications for the development of policing in these countries and also for research into policing as the question of access is possibly even more complex than is usually the case when researching policing practices (Sheptycki; 1994).

9..This is particularly the case in those countries where senior and key positions have been ‘localised’ following independence.

10..This is a shorthand pidgin term (it translates as ‘one talk’) which refers to an informal system of customary obligations and reciprocations that exists between people from the same family, village or island. It remains highly influential, even in urban areas and among people who adopt an apparently ‘Western’ lifestyle.

11..This is discussed in more detail below.

12..There is some material about police powers in Findlay (1996). See also Plange, N. K. (1996)

13..The Constitution in each country is also of relevance. In addition, in some countries legislation pertaining to evidential matters has been enacted; e.g. Samoa, Tonga, Fiji.

14..Fiji Law Reform Commission (1998) at p.4.

15..See Buresova (1998) at p.5; fn. 19.

16..The questions that were asked in this letter/questionnaire are reproduced in Appendix A.

17..Australian Maritime College.

18..Royal New Zealand Police College.

19..Based on 1996 Australian Bureau of Statistics figures supplied by the Australian Institute of Police Management. The total number of police officers was calculated at 41,710 including 118 officers attached to the National Crime Authority and 2117 officers in the Australian Federal Police.

20..Based on information contained in Douglas, N & Douglas, N. (eds.) (1994).

21..1991 estimate; Douglas & Douglas op. cit. at p.83.

22..Response to PCQ.

23..Buresova op. cit. at p.3.


25..1990 figure; Douglas & Douglas op. cit. at p. 343.

26..Ibid. at p.347.

27..1992 estimate; ibid. at p.379.

28..Response to PCQ.

29..Response to PCQ.


31..1990 figure; Douglas & Douglas op. cit. at p.467.

32..Response to PCQ.

33..1992 estimate; Douglas & Douglas op. cit. at p.731.

34..Ibid. at p.736.

35..1992 figure; ibid. at p.579.

36..Response to PCQ.

37..1991 figure; Douglas & Douglas op. cit. at p.619.

38..Ibid. at p.623.

39..Ibid. at p.631.

40..Response to PCQ.

41..Douglas & Douglas op. cit. at p.673.

42..Ibid. at p.677.

43..1991 estimate; ibid. at p.689.

44..Information provided by Lt. Alick Ishmael; public relations officer for Vanuatu police. During the same conversation, it was established that the envisaged establishment for the Vanuatu police (comprising 3 wings: police; maritime wing and mobile force) under the recent Strategic Review (funded by AusAID) is 680.

45..A notable and (at this stage inexplicable) exception is Samoa.

46..Although a PCQ response was obtained from Solomon Islands, the relevant information was not provided.

47..The balance are stationed on the patrol boat Te Kukupa.

48..The information received in relation to the Marshall Islands pertains to National Police Officers. National Police Officers may be posted to rural areas when required to investigate major crimes to assist a local police force. The number of local police officers varies according to the budget of the local government. Some areas have 3 or 4 officers; others may have more. (Response to PCQ).

49.."Nauru has no defined urban or rural areas. Area wise, our island is only 12 square miles. It has 12 districts out of 9500 population. Normally, Police operates (sic.) in 24 hour shifts, providing mobile patrol around the island, as well as other priority areas." (Response to PCQ).

50..Edmond Tari (unreported), Village Court, Atagurua Nakamal, 24th May, 1989 (L4- 1544). Readers may wish to note that this case related to a complaint of rape.

51..Domestic violence is a very serious problem in Pacific island countries. See "Violence against women is endemic" in Vanuatu Weekly 4/4/98.

52..The offence of rape within South Pacific jurisdictions is framed in gender-specific terms as an offence committed by a male against a female. See, for example, s. 141(1) of the Crimes Act 1969 of Cook Islands: ‘Rape is the act of a male person having sexual intercourse with a woman or girl - (a) without her consent...’’

53..The most senior rank held by a woman officer is that of Senior Sergeant; response to PCQ.

54..With regard to Vanuatu, the responses to the PCQ were ascertained by means of a semi-structured interview with Supt. Alick Ishmael, Public Relations officer for the Vanuatu Police.

55..The same stipulation applies to applicants from overseas; response to PCQ.

56..As per response to PCQ.

57..School Certificate or better is preferred; response to PCQ.

58..Response to PCQ. An exception is made for the Chief of Police, a post that is currently held by an expatriate.

59..An exception is made for the Chief of Police; response to PCQ.

60..5’ 6" for males and 5’ 4" for females; response to PCQ.

61..Considering the vast number of languages that exist within Vanuatu, it is perhaps surprising that there is no requirement that officers should be fluent in one of the official national languages of the country.

62..An exception is Solomon Islands; the response to the PCQ makes no reference to overseas training of either kind identified.

63..This is estimated to take up approximately 80% of the 6 month initial training period conducted at the Police Training School in Tonga.

64..Such as arrival at the scene of a crime, performing an arrest, etc.

65..Location not identified.

66..See Trading Post; 8/8/98.

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