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Departure of Tonga’s police chief bad for domestic violence

Departure of Tonga’s police chief blow to efforts to combat domestic violence

While there were polices in place against domestic violence, ex- Police Commissioner Chris Kelley “lit the fuse” and gave energy to such projects and carried out many far-reaching police reforms.

By Victoria Young
August 13, 2011

Tongan police will go backwards without the leadership of ousted Police Commissioner Chris Kelley, warns the director of the kingdom’s largest women’s crisis centre.

Ofa ki levuka Guttenbeil-Likiliki from the Women and Children’s Crisis Centre says Kelley made domestic violence a priority and was a necessary leader in police efforts to combat domestic violence.

“Having Chris here to guide that priority was important. We needed him to complete that task,” she told Pacific Scoop.

Kelley instilled several policies and procedures over domestic violence since he began work in 2008 on the Tonga Police Development Programme.

The New Zealander left his position as Tongan police commissioner last weekend after Police Minister Dr Viliami Latu refused to renew his contract in April.

Last September, Dr Latu was charged with assaulting his wife and Kelley refused to drop the charge as part of a new domestic violence policy.

While previous policing ministers had been helpful with domestic violence campaigns, Kelley says while he frequently sent the minister reports of his domestic violence projects, Dr Latu did not “engage or give directives with regard to domestic violence”.

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Kelley says while he assumes Dr Latu had discussed the non-renewal of his contract with cabinet or government before he was informed of the decision, he had not seen any confirmation of that.

Domestic Violence
When Kelley first arrived in Tonga, the Pacific Prevention of Domestic Violence Programme (PPDVP), which is run through the New Zealand police, was in its infancy.

Kelley says at that time the Tongan cultural practice of dealing with domestic violence was to sit down and talk about it.

“It was just someone saying they were sorry, whether they meant it or not, and whether or not it had any real effect. The palagi concept of holding people to account prosecution wise was really a bit severe.”

Cameron Ronald, programme manager of the PPDVP, says Kelley made domestic violence one of his top five priorities.

He says while there were polices in place, Kelley “lit the fuse” and gave energy to domestic violence projects.

Under Kelley a National Advisory Committee was formed to report to police and a policy draft on domestic violence was created for the first time.

Guttenbeil-Likiliki says she appreciated an ongoing dialogue between the police and her crisis centre during Kelley’s posting.

‘No drop’ policy

One of the key reforms Kelley instigated was a “no drop” policy for domestic violence charges.

Ronald says if a crime is reported the police will not drop the case and will take that case as far as they possibly can, which is generally through the courts.

It was this policy that Kelley applied when he refused to drop the charge against Dr Latu. However, the case could not proceed after Dr Latu’s wife chose not to give evidence.

Kelley says he had no intention of embarrassing Dr Latu but was following policy.

Under the “no drop” policy, Kelley held monthly meetings with his eight district commanders where reviews were undertaken comparing the amount of domestic violence charges with convictions.

Before last Christmas, he issued a directive stating the way that domestic violence was dealt with would now be a component of police performance assessment.

However, Kelley says the “no drop” policy is yet to be fully implemented across the Tongan police force.

“Continued oversight and supervision is needed. Not everyone buys into it just because you have a policy.”

Ronald says cultural differences meant senior officers were adverse to the policy.

“There is a group of older police members, generally about 45 years old, often a sergeant or senior sergeant who are not into the policy, that are not actually following it themselves. And they are influencing others,” he says.

Too fast?
Tagaloatele Peggy Fairburn-Dunlop, professor of Pacific studies at AUT University, says the changes Kelley tried to bring in were too quick.

“The guys that go in that are trying to change a whole police culture that has been there for years and years. And its firmly entrenched. It might have been a wee bit fast and without the community support that he thought he had,” she says.

“While there is a strong network of police chiefs in the Pacific that he had the support of, he may not have had the support of the people on the ground.”

However, Guttenbeil-Likiliki denied the measures came in too fast because of the seriousness of the problem.

“I don’t think it is too fast for a girl who was raped, who wants an answer in 48 hours. I don’t think it’s too late for a woman who has been smashed up by her husband 40 times over and she’s been to the police 20 times over and no-one responded.

“I think it wasn’t too fast at all. I think it was efficient, it was effective and it was about time that we step up the pace.”

Kelley says: “I do hear this cry about things moving too fast.”

However, he says much like the campaign on breath-testing that changed Tongan attitudes towards drinking, the right measures against abuse means cultures towards violence can change.

Kelley says Tongans do listen, they do change and modify their behaviour based on the law.

“It can be done, I’ve seen it done. I’ve been part of making it happen.”

The next commissioner?
The Tongan Prime Minister, Lord Tu’ivakano, told New Zealand media earlier this week that Chris Kelley had done a marvellous job.

While his government is outside of the selection process, the Prime Minister says Tonga needs the expertise of an officer that was trained in either New Zealand or Australia.

“What my government wants and what I want is for it to be an outsider…we want things to be more transparent.”

Guttenbeil-Likiliki is adamant a police commissioner recruited locally would push domestic violence down the agenda.

She says a local person as police commissioner could not be independent when dealing with domestic violence complaints.

“We live in a small society and community. We grow up, go to church together, all our children go to the same school; we shop at the same markets. It would be next to impossible to have someone completely independent of the process of investigation.”

Kelley agrees the job was easier for him because he wasn’t related to anybody and didn’t grow up in Tonga.

Society hierarchy
“I think a local could do it. There’s is no reason why not except the difficulties associated with their relationship of families and hierarchy of society that exists in Tonga

Kelley says many found the Tongan way was appropriate to deal with these matters.

“The palagi concept of holding people to account prosecution wise was really a bit severe.”

Guttenbeil-Likiliki says her organisation is urging the return of Kelley and says he should not even have to reapply.

Kelley says he is undecided about whether he will reapply for the job but rejects the claim only he could do the job.

“It’s not particular to Chris Kelley. I appreciate that I’m not a one-man band. I’m not an expert. I’m just simply a police officer who tries to do his job.”


Victoria Young is a Postgraduate Diploma in Communication Studies student on the Asia-Pacific Journalism course at AUT University.

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