Solomon Islands police say they're ready to take over

A Solomon Islands police officer who was shot twice during the country's crisis says he's confident local police now have the training and respect to take over from foreign security forces.

After 14 years, the international rescue operation, known as RAMSI, has finished - meaning local police are once again taking charge of crime-fighting operations.

Back in 2003, corruption within the Solomon Islands police force was one of the biggest contributors to a complete breakdown of law and order. 

While the local police force is now considered more professional that it once was, they still face big challenges in terms of tackling crime, with soaring rates of domestic violence and youth crime.

Up to 68 percent of women aged between 15 and 49 report routine abuse at the hands of their partners. It's a statistic New Zealand Deputy Prime Minister Paula Bennett says is "horrific", and she says it shows that the Solomon Islands is in need of a culture change. 

Supt Solomon Sisima told Newshub a lot has changed in 14 years, and local police are now more professional than ever.

"We are different, we are more up-front. Community is working closely with us. They are beginning to get trust - continually building trust with us, and we are continuing to build trust with the community."

Supt Sisima clearly remembers the terror from the inter-tribal fighting which began in 1998. He was trying to locate and rescue an Australian citizen during the height of the tensions when he was shot by rebels from the Guadalcanal Liberation Army. 

"I was shot twice on my shoulder here, and my right shoulder is still broken. 

"I was shot in an ambush - my vehicle was torn apart by bullets and I was just lucky that I escaped."

The effects of the conflict are still being felt today, especially among the country's youth. 

During the crisis, schools were shut down depriving thousands of children from getting an education. Even now, many young people are not in school and 60 percent are unemployed. 

"We have a lot of problems with the youth", says Andrew Mua, Honiara City Mayor . "With the unemployment, the rate so high. We have gangs within the cities - they brought in a lot of drugs, stealing."

Improving the plight of children has been a key focus for New Zealand's aid programme. About $100 million has been spent on improving education. 

During her visit, Ms Bennett announced $6 million would be donated to help revamp a multi-purpose sports hall in the capital Honiara. She says it's hoped the new facility will help engage young minds and steer them away from crime.

She also attended a special ceremony at the country's stadium to mark the official end of the RAMSI intervention. Plauqes were presented to pacific leaders, acknowledging their country's participation in the mission. 

Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare thanked the taxpayers of Australia and New Zealand, and also apologised for the billions of dollars spent over 14 years to help restore peace and stability in the country. 

"We thank you from the bottom of our hearts - this is a gesture we will not forget."

Sandra Maezama, who was watching the closing ceremony, said while it was time for the Solomon Islands to take charge of its own future, most felt uneasy about the international intervention coming to an end. 

"We'll feel empty - maybe some of us will feel insecure, but if the local police are doing their job then we are okay."

While the official RAMSI programme is over, eight New Zealand police officers will remain in the country to provide continued guidance to local police.

Insp Paris Razos will lead the new Solomon Islands support programme. He told Newshub the small team will stay in the country for another four years.

"The focus of the new programme will be to support the Royal Solomon Islands police force to embed and to enhance their crime prevention strategy."

Insp Razos says the presence of New Zealand police will ensure the quality and reliability of policing is of a standard the Solomon Islands can be proud of.