Since it was launched in 2017, the Lae police toll free operations centre has been manned 24 hours a day. Each phone call is logged, with the details kept at hand as police units are deployed to trouble spots.
The man behind the innovative approach to policing in Lae City is Metropolitan commander, Chief Superintendent, Anthony Wagambie.
The toll free number is part of a broader system that includes sector patrols.
In 2017, Wagambie, introduced sector patrol units. With it , police efficiency improved drastically. While the strategy is common in other countries, its application is not widely used in Papua New Guinea. With units confined to neighborhood boundaries, response time is shorter and suspects are quickly tracked and arrested.
The path to a system that worked was difficult.
Prior to setting the sector patrol system, a series of police operations were conducted when Wagambie took command. Public criticism rose when several criminals wanted for previous offences were shot and killed during shootouts with police.
In retaliation to the ongoing operations, two police stations were burned and police officers and informants threatened with violence.
After the operations ended, the public noticed a dip in the number of serious crimes like armed robbery and vehicle thefts associated with it.
A firm believer in forging partnerships, Wagambie began looking for ways to further reduce Lae’s high crime rate.
While the traditional ‘hardline approach’ to policing was something he had done for many years prior, he believed stakeholders with, resources at their disposal, had a lot to offer.
Working with members of the Lae Chamber of Commerce, a Whatsapp group was started within which information was shared for the benefit of all members of the group. The group included security executives, company heads, the media and police commanders including Wagambie himself.
In 2017, the sector patrol system was introduced to complement the toll free line.
It is a simple system that gave the public direct access to the police via, free phone calls and sms. A Whatsapp account was also created using the number, allowing the public to send in pictures and videos of incidents as well as images and locations of suspects.
Wagambie, then sought assistance from Digicel and the media to support the police strategy. Digicel conducted sms blasts to all Lae City phone numbers to promote the toll free number free of charge.
The media’s support was sought in independently highlighting the successes of police operations and to report on negative incidences involving police.
Managing the image of the constabulary in Lae also became one of the tasks of the Metropolitan Commander. Using Whatsapp, Wagambie releases regular text updates as well as images and videos to the media.
He improved the lines of communication between the media allowing for real time updates and responses at anytime of the day.
On another front, the metropolitan command set up a Facebook page further allowing the public to speak directly to their police force. The Facebook page also exposed the constabulary to public criticism. But on various occasions, Wagambie, reiterated that public scrutiny was crucial if the RPNGC was to identify and fix its weaknesses.
That was not all.
In July 2017, at the start of the elections, Lae Police hosted the first police sponsored concert featuring Sepik Music legend, Willie Sebas with security provided by a host of sector patrol units.
Unfamiliar with an alcohol free, police supported concert, it took some time for the audience to feel comfortable enough to dance in the presence of police. By the end of the concert, they were well into it.
Yesterday (12/03/18), Wagambie took several senior officers to Lae’s Bumbu settlement where a public forum was organized with community members. It gave an opportunity to men and women to vent their frustrations and for police officers to also seek the public’s views on various issues.
The result was a fiery, and in some instances, hilarious discussion, in which ended with both sides gaining a better appreciation of each other.
So in Lae City, serious crimes are down. In February, there were no armed robberies. In March, police foiled a robbery attempt. Due to the reduction in crime, police resources are now being directed to road safety which has become a huge concern for people in Lae.