It may not be legal for the US contractors to be working alongside the PNG police. (Facebook: Laurence Aviation and Security Group)
Police in Papua New Guinea have engaged a private security contractor to give them firearms training, because the Australian Federal Police deployed in PNG will not.
- US private security firm training and working with PNG police
- In 2005 court found it unconstitutional to give police powers to people not part of PNG police force
- Former AFP officer says Australian Government likely refused to provide training due to misuse concerns
The Royal PNG Constabulary (RPNGC) has asked a United States security firm to give officers firearms training ahead of PNG’s hosting of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit next year.
Police Commissioner Gari Baki said five men from the Laurence Aviation and Security Group had been in PNG determining the scope of work for further training.
“What we’re doing is observation, training, training assistance in terms of advice that is provided, particularly to our police officers on the ground,” he said.
The contractors caused alarm after they were photographed carrying high-powered weapons in residential streets, and their presence gave rise to rumours that candidates in PNG’s upcoming elections were hiring foreign mercenaries to intimate opponents.
Commissioner Baki said he had authorised the men to carry the weapons and accompany police.
“They’ve conducted raids, they’ve dealt with drug busting in the city,” he said.
“You don’t know about it, but these are things we are doing behind the scenes.”
But such activities might be illegal.
Australian Federal Police officers were thrown out of PNG in 2005 because the Supreme Court found it was unconstitutional to give police powers to people who were not part of the PNG police force.
The former governor of Morobe Province, lawyer Luther Wenge, lodged that court challenge, and says private security contractors cannot legally take part in police work.
“They cannot act as a policeman or they cannot do the duty of policing in PNG, because the constitution of PNG is very clear that the power of arrest and the power of detention and power of charging rests purely with the Royal Papua New Guinea police force,” he said.
Australia has spent millions of dollars on a second AFP deployment to Papua New Guinea that started in 2008, three years after officers were kicked out.
To avoid legal problems, the 73 officers in the country now are only allowed to be unarmed advisors without powers of arrest.
In January 2017, Justice Minister Michael Keenan announced the deployment would be extended to help prepare and train PNG authorities to host the APEC summit, at a cost of $48 million.
But Mr Baki said he had been forced to use private security for some of that because Australia would not provide training in the use of high-powered weapons.
“I’m very happy and very thankful with the progress of what we’re doing [with Australia],” he said.
“It’s this aspect of it. If the Australians can assist me in the provision of firearms training to the RPNGC, I wouldn’t have gone out [to private contractors].”
PNG police frequently cited for brutality offences
The Australian Federal Police did respond to a question about why it cannot provide firearms training in PNG.
But the former coordinator of strategic intelligence for the AFP, John Coyne, says the Australian Government was probably worried such training could be misused by police officers.
“We would never want to be in the situation where training or equipment that was provided by the Australian Government was to be associated with any form of human rights abuses,” he said.
PNG police are frequently cited for brutality offences, but rarely face disciplinary action or criminal charges.
Dr Coyne, who is now head of border security at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, said the AFP would be trying to help their PNG counterparts without exposing themselves to the risk of being blamed for any misbehaviour.
“It’s a delicate balance providing law enforcement capacity and defence capacity development whilst at the same time trying to ensure — from an ethical and moral perspective — that it’s not going to be used in ways it wasn’t intended,” he said.