Among them is Constable Jerome Tarcusy, 28, who wanted to join the Bougainville Police Service (BPS) to help his community, which is still suffering from the after-effects of the armed conflict on the island 20 years ago.
Based at Arawa police station in the Public Safety Unit, Constable Tarcusy believes he is making a difference.
“I am working very hard with my community to try to settle all the law and order issues before the referendum,” he says.
Getting to this point has not been easy. Like many his age, Constable Tarcusy’s prospects in life were clouded by the Bougainville Crisis and its aftermath. The conflict had negative social and economic impacts on the region, limiting opportunities for people to get ahead in life.
“The Bougainville Crisis impacted greatly on many people, particularly young people,” says Kearnneth Nanei, Secretary of Bougainville’s Department of Justice, Corrective Services and Police.
Even armed with a technical qualification as an electrician, Constable Tarcusy was unable to find work. So when he heard about an Australian government-funded program that provided a path to join the police force, he leapt at the chance.
Called the Pre-Recruit Education Program (PREP), it was tailored to meet the educational requirements set by the Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary (RPNGC) for intending police recruits by condensing the equivalent of the Grade 12 curriculum down to 22 weeks.
The 40 young Bougainvilleans selected for training received instruction in reading, writing and arithmetic, as well as basic concepts of law and human rights, communication, conflict resolution and team building skills.
For Constable Tarcusy, the switch in focus from technical skills to academic training was difficult but rewarding.
“The PREP course was challenging,” he says. “I had just finished my electrician training, so my head was full of technical things. So when I went to PREP it was like doing a refresher program in English and grammar and writing reports.”
For fellow PREP graduate and BPS Constable, Michaelyne Toreas, the course was a life-changing opportunity to complete her education and find employment that was not available in her village.
Constable Toreas, a 30-year-old mother-of-two, had worked at Bank South Pacific but resigned when she had her first child and was living in her village in Bougainville’s Buka district, caring for her two-year-old daughter, when she learned about the program.
“I was at the village doing nothing. I was thinking of going back to school,” she recalls. She worked hard on writing her application for PREP and was “very happy” when she was selected.
Constable Toreas was nervous at the start, but embraced the opportunity to learn.
“The PREP course was challenging, and I found it very interesting because I left school in 2009, so going through this course was like a refresher for me,” she says.
All students surveyed at the end of the training thought that it had equipped them with relevant skills and knowledge that would be useful in their future careers.
After completing PREP, Constable Toreas was admitted to the RPNGC’s Police Training College at Bomana.
In mid-2016 she returned to Bougainville as an officer in the BPS, and has been based at the Arawa police station ever since. She has served in multiple roles, including in the Sexual Offences Squad (SOS), where the presentation and communication skills she developed through PREP have proven to be particularly useful.
“PREP was very helpful for me in [terms of] learning how to deal with interviewing suspects and make presentations. That gave me a lot of confidence,” Toreas says.
So far, 32 PREP graduates, including 12 women, have graduated from Bomana and joined the ranks of the BPS. There is currently one cadet in the latter stages of her cadet training and three are waiting to commence.
Among those who progressed through PREP and Bomana to join the BPS is Constable Rebecca Lameko, who was living in a remote village on Bougainville’s west coast when she first heard about the program.
Now an experienced officer working in the Public Safety Unit at Buka Police Station, Constable Lameko says the confidence and skills she developed through PREP and Bomana have helped make her effective in her community policing role.
“The public, especially the men, respond positively toward me because of how I am able to talk with and treat them respectfully,” she says.
The aspect of her work that she finds rewarding is the help she can provide to women and girls.
“As a policewoman, I am drawn to helping women who come in to register their complaints [of violence]. I always try to advocate for women’s rights,” Constable Lameko says.
She hopes that the increasing number of women into the BPS through PREP will encourage other women to take up new challenges, including joining the police.
Police Commissioner Gari Baki says PREP has not only transformed the lives of young Bougainvilleans, but is making an important contribution to the Bougainville community and the RPNGC.
“PREP was designed to increase the number of young Bougainvillean police officers in the ranks, and give careers to the group that was robbed of its education and is often called the ‘lost generation’,” Commissioner Baki said.
“The boost in numbers from PREP has supported the BPS to being on track to achieve [its goals]… and has also increased the number of women [in its ranks], which is important, [because we need] to have a police service that reflects the community it serves.”
As the Bougainville referendum looms closer, the BPS’ strong contingent of PREP graduates are doing their best to ensure that whatever the outcome, communities will remain peaceful and safe.
The PREP program is an initiative of the Government of Papua New Guinea in partnership with the Autonomous Bougainville Government and the Australian government.
(The first deployment of 23 PREP graduates arrive in Buka, Bougainville, after being inducted into the RPNGC on April 2016)