Female officer upholds law, order on Samarai

For Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary Sergeant Jessie Samson, hunting pirates, tracking down drug smugglers and arresting violent partners is all in a day’s work.

For the past 10 years Sergeant Samson has been the lead crime fighter on remote Samarai Island in Milne Bay Province as the officer in charge of an all-male unit comprising two constables and eight reservists who police the several hundred locals living there.

Policing in outer island communities can be tough with limited resources, being a long way from the mainland, surrounded by difficult waters, unpredictable weather patterns and poor communications.  Officers like Sergeant Samson have a lot of responsibility and require a high level of resilience and dedication to ensure safe daily operations.

In addition to these conditions, Sergeant Samson has the added challenge of being a female officer in charge of a team of men.

Such are the demands of the post that had previously required an officer of Inspector rank or above to command.

But Sergeant Samson says the status of the post was downgraded in the late 1990s after a cyclone struck the island.

The daughter of a career police officer, Sergeant Samson talks matter-of-factly about the challenges she faces.

There is no police station and the officers work out of a room in the Local Level Government Administration building.

Because there are no cells, suspects that are arrested need to be transferred by boat to the police headquarters in Alotau. This is pretty straight forward when the weather is good, but if the weather is bad, the hour-long boat ride can be very dangerous.

“I can’t say everything is okay because it depends on the weather, we travel by sea a lot and weather plays a big role,” Sergeant Samson adds.

The maritime environment means that many crimes in the area are committed at sea, and Sergeant Samson and her colleagues spend much of their time chasing and arresting pirates.

But the officer says they deal with complaints about “practically everything”, from assaults and theft to family violence and rape.

Solving criminal investigations and general policing requires teamwork and Sergeant Samson is very hands on.

She and her fellow officers work closely together in sometimes dangerous situations, and she has had to become adept at convincing male subordinates to follow her commands.

“I do a lot of travelling with the male counterparts. I cannot just sit back and let them go.

“With raids, the conduct of raids, I move with the men, I don’t sit in the office.

“The things that we do are not normally what a female would do, like conducting raids and actually being involved in it.”

Sergeant Samson has learnt to adapt and adjust. The men under her command are also adapting.

“Their contribution of ideas toward work has also helped me gain confidence in what I do,” she says.

Sergeant Samson was thrilled when she received an invitation to attend a leadership workshop for policewomen organised by the RPNGC’s Women’s Advisory Network (WAN).

The workshop, held in Lae and attended by 30 policewomen from across the country, was an invaluable experience for Sergeant Samson. It was an opportunity for her to meet with other policewomen and share experiences as well as to learn about leadership.

“This is my first opportunity to travel out to a policewomen’s workshop since I came (to Samarai Island) in 2009,” she says. “I didn’t know whether to cry or shout (when I was invited). I feel so privileged to be here. I want to be someone strong and firm in what I do. I want to be confident in my decision making.”

In her community, Sergeant Samson has become a role model, particularly for young girls.

“Everyone has that mindset of police being a man, so when I go out to local areas to do awareness and I am in uniform, people are like ‘Wow! That’s a policewoman’.

“It makes them to think along this line, that it’s not only men who can do that kind of job. A woman can too.

“I get invited so many times to schools to do awareness, and when I go teachers ask me to come in uniform. They say, ‘You have to come in uniform so the children will see’,” she says.

While Sergeant Samson has ambitions to become a more effective leader, she has no wish to leave her island home.

“It’s my home, I’m happy to work at my home.”

Sergeant Samson hopes that her efforts are not in vain and that one day her skills and experience are recognised and she can be promoted to the rank of Inspector.

The WAN leadership workshop is supported by the PNG-Australia Partnership.

Press release