I’m Peter Webster, chief executive of Corps Security, and this is where I examine the issues affecting the security industry. My thoughts and opinions are intended to generate debate and whether you agree or disagree with them, you’re welcome to post your comments below.
This blog marks something of a departure from my previous entries, due to the fact that I’ve just spent some time visiting the Corps Security business in Papua New Guinea, where we have been operating since 1996. As I sit on the plane on the long 26 hour journey home, it gives me an opportunity to reflect on what I have seen on my trips to PNG and to consider the differences, and indeed similarities, that exist between the security industry there and that which I am returning to.
Compared to the UK, Papua New Guinea is considerably more violent and criminality more common. Carjacking is an ever-present threat, particularly in the capital, Port Moresby, and the nation’s second city, Lae. Car doors have to be locked with windows up at all times and caution must be taken when travelling after dark. Although there is a very low threat from terrorism, often outbreaks of tribal fighting occur and can escalate quickly.
Corps Security operates mainly in the capital Port Moresby and we recruit all our officers locally. Their training is no less rigorous than it would be in the UK and they undertake a week long skills development programme in order to become approved. A team of 1,100 excellent officers are our colleagues in PNG and they are very proud to work to the same ethos that we do in the UK. Most take on the role because it is seen as a good job with reasonable remuneration, and where education has to be paid for and there is no welfare state, this is vital. We hold a large number of firearms licenses and many of our officers and management carry guns as a daily necessity.
A key service we have to offer is the provision of guard dogs and handlers. We have 65 trained and operational attack dogs that are used in all types of operations and are considered highly valuable members of the team. On the second day of my trip, eight puppies were born as part of our recent breeding programme, taking the total number of dogs that we will train this year to 30. While this was an obvious cause for celebration, on the very same night an incident occurred that brought the type of working environment faced by our Papua New Guinean colleagues into sharp focus.
We are building a new and larger kennels facility not far from our existing kennels. At night during the building phase the site has to have a guarding presence. That night we had on duty one static guard, and one dog, Apollo with his handler. During the night a group of criminals came out of the bush, threatened the two guards with firearms and then shot Apollo dead. For what? Two bags of cement and a wheelbarrow. It’s shocking to think that a dog was killed for such meagre pickings and even more worrying to think that it could well have been one of the officers that took the bullet.
Even in these difficult circumstances the Corps camaraderie and team spirit are still very present. The next night when the officers and a dog were again deployed at the same location, 20 of their colleagues turned out, unpaid, to make sure that the two officers and their canine companion were supported and safe. This was a demonstration of loyalty that I’m glad to say permeates through every aspect of our operation, regardless of location.
In many respects the lives of our officers in Papua New Guinea have many similarities to their counterparts in the UK – long shifts, hard work and a dedication to protecting people and property. However, while many UK officers will complete the vast majority of their shifts without incident, those in Papua New Guinea go out every day in the knowledge that they may have to deal with a violent event of some kind.
The differences, however, go much deeper than those I’ve already described and I’d like to leave you with one final anecdote. On one of my trips to PNG there was a supervisor who was incommunicado on a Sunday, which was a cause for concern. When he came to the office on the Monday it transpired that his mobile phone had run out of charge. When asked to explain himself he stated that the reason that he hadn’t been able to recharge it at the weekend was that in the area where he lives there is no electricity or, for that matter, water. It was a very humbling reminder of just how much we take for granted when doing our jobs in the UK.