Internal police statistics show that 63 per cent of those incidents did not result in any arrests. However, the police say their presence at “contentious scenes” is often all that is required to appease arguments between people who are unable to “settle their own problems”.
“Keeping the peace is…a major part of police duty and an essential role in the general welfare of individuals and the safety of the community,” a policc service media release said.
However, the other 37 per cent of incidents attended last month did involve an offence of some nature. That means 92 incidents last month did require police intervention. These ranged from petty crime such as burglaries through to alleged manslaughter. Theft was the number one reported offence last month, followed closely by motor vehicle incidents.
“The police service has evolved further with the changing nature of criminal activity, the trends of emerging issues, and the impacts and influences of certain factors upon family life and values,” the release said.
The Cook Islands Police Service employs a total of 109 staff. The government’s budget appropriations for the 2017-2018 period puts personnel costs for the police at a total of $3.1 million, meaning the average salary of an employee is $28,440.
Comparing the 2016-2017 budget allocations to the estimated allocations for 2020-2021, the maritime police, who are tasked with the duty of monitoring the whole of the Cook Islands exclusive economic zone (EEZ), are set to have their budget slashed by a whopping $118,384. Their estimated allocation for 2020-2021 totals $674,080.
“The make-up of society and the progressive development over the past 20 years, since the aftermath of the economic reforms of the mid-1990s, has brought a transformation in the way the police ‘do business’,” the release said.
Goal 16 of the Cook Islands National Sustainable Development Plan (NSDP) is to “promote a peaceful and just society for all and practice good governance to promote transparency and accountability”.
There are a number of indicators in which the police have a vital role to play towards achieving the greater goal, including the reduction of domestic violence incidents and also motor vehicle incidents.
The Cook Islands Party (CIP) says the biggest challenges now are engaging in more prevention work and “to work in partnership with the community and private sector and those who are keen to reduce crime and keep our islands safe.
In their pre-election answer to a question from CINews about policing, the CIP said they would embark on “a platform of right-sizing and upskilling exercises to uniformly improve police remuneration alongside security and law enforcement outputs.
“Police pay will be addressed and it is very important to recognise the sterling work our current force assumes.”
In June last year, the government allocated an extra $600,000 a year for three years towards the “strengthening” of the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) and Infrastructure Cook Islands (ICI). The funding was promised after a capacity assessment of the MoJ and ICI was undertaken to analyse problems that have hindered the ministries’ performance over the last few years.
However, the CIP saw no need to strengthen the police department, cutting their net operating appropriation by just over $41,000 last year. Last year’s budget estimated an allocation of $4,076,913 for the Ministry of Police for 2020-2021, an increase of only $1138 compared to their 2016-2017 budget allocations.
A little over three percent of the government’s allocations were committed to policing last year, including an operating expenditure of $400,000 for the Pa Enua during 2017-2018.
In the run-up to the election last Thursday, the Demo Party said they were committed to addressing the underlying causes of crime, such as poverty in all forms, inequality and educational limitations to name a few, while ensuring that offenders are dealt with fairly.
“We will revise laws on penalties for all crimes, particularly those applying to domestic violence, and all forms of abuse, youth crime, burglary.”
“We will ensure our police are properly resourced and in particular that their pay and working conditions encourage young Cook Islanders to choose the police force as a career and allow them to stay in the country and work to maintain a safe society for our people.”
One Cook Islands, meanwhile, said any policy changes or commitments “will be done in consultation with our people and the ministries concerned”.
In the meantime, the police service continues to police 15 islands spread across two million square kilometres of ocean, all on a budget of just over $4 million, 77.5 per cent of which is spent on the salaries of its employees.
A worsening crime rate means the service has the unenviable task of having to ensure the safety of the community, with dwindling resources and an apparent lack of support from the government.
Six officers resigned last year.