The Central Islands Police Commander of the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force, David Soaki, spoke recently about the value of training police members in public order management and I agree with him.
When policing public order, the police are asked to consider and protect the democratic and human rights of people to assemble in public and to express their political opinions.
This fact is an important one and should never be lost sight of by the police
In some jurisdictions, such as it is in the Solomon islands today it is the special role of dedicated anti-riot squads, but whether or not it is performed by specialists or generalist officers, public order feels like a different type of policing.
The obvious reason for this is that most policing is a more or less solitary activity, in which officers encounter members of the public as individuals, whereas public order policing involves the deployment of officers in squad formations who deal with people in large gatherings.
Public order policing, on the contrary, is often conducted in the full glare of media publicity. Scenes of angry confrontations, baton-wielding police, tear gas, ‘messy’ arrests, and bloodied combatants litter media reports and television screens, as was witnessed in Honiara in November 2021
It was claimed, in newspaper reports sighted after the rioting, that arson and extensive property looting, and at least two fatalities, had allegedly occurred because the public order policing officers had failed to understand the nature of the public gathering and vocal discontent from the onset of the large gathering of citizens and allegedly used tactics, which involved the firing of tear gas which angered the protestors, although initially noisy but peaceful.
If there had been prior intelligence, which allegedly there was, as to the reason for the protestors to gather in large numbers, then the situation which occurred – and which shocked the world – might have been avoided and those police personnel deployed as public order officers might have used better tactics, such as negotiation in the first instance rather than inciting the situation with discharging tear gas.