For the past 12 months, the media’s attention has focused on Madang, not as a tourist destination, but as a hotspot for crime.
At Jomba station, where the provincial headquarters is located, Provincial Police Commander, Manuc Rubian, reveals that the crime statistics are worrying. A lot of it stems from widespread alcohol abuse and a general breakdown in law and order.
“In a month, we get between 50 and 60 alcohol related crimes,” he says. “It’s not just the adults who are drinking ‘homebrew.’ It’s kids as well. And when they drink, they don’t stay at home. They go out on the road and start harassing people.”
But it is not just the citizens of Madang who are bearing the brunt of this surge in crime.
Being on the frontline, police officers are also being targeted by criminals and opportunists. Up to 10 policemen in Madang have been attacked in the last 24 months.
Their situation is compounded by a critical housing shortage that remained largely unaddressed for a decade.
“For 10 years, I lived with my in-laws at the Nagada settlement. People broke into my house and later when we tried to address the problem, I was attacked. It was difficult for my family. We had to move around a lot,” says Senior Constable Solomon William, the taskforce commander in Madang.
He was later moved from a settlement where he resided to a condemned house at the Kusbau Police Barracks.
Outside, another taskforce member shows the injuries he got when he was attacked earlier this month. His head is still bandaged and he shows the tear in the uniform where his attackers tried to stab him with a sharp bamboo.
At Nagada settlement, Constable Tika Aso, shows the scars from an attack earlier this year when he was stabbed and slashed by a mob after he and two other officers tried to arrest troublemakers drunk on steam at a school graduation.
“I was lucky that I was wearing a vest and the knife did not go through as far as it could have. I was cut on the hand and the face and I received several stitches. We were outnumbered.”
He and his family face an impending eviction by the Madang Provincial Government.
“I worry about my family. We don’t live in a barracks and sometimes I have to sleep in the office so I can attend the jobs that we do early in the morning. Most times, my wife isn’t happy. I can’t focus,” Constable Aso said.
About two weeks after the attack on Constable John Solala, another constable, Franko Horake, was stabbed the Mildas Market about 100 meters behind the Provincial Police Headquarters and the Madang Governor’s office.
Constable Horake later died in hospital and his death triggered a police raid on the Wagol settlement whose residents were accused of harboring the suspects.
Despite the negatively against Madang police, there is also a lot of sympathy for them. The critical shortage of manpower, resources and accommodation has been burdensome on police work.
“We can’t stop work,” says Senior Constable Solomon William. “We are supposed to work for eight hours a day. But we know, that’s not going to happen. We work up to 16 hours a day. If we don’t do it, who will?
“We have people willing to work. All we need are good vehicles, fuel, a boat, housing and additional manpower.”