Log Cabin Chronicles

RELUCTANT RAMBO

cops
Jim, Iqbal, Andy

JIM AUSTIN
Putney, Vermont

From 1985 1987 I was an active member of the Royal Papua New Guinea Police Force. It was at a time when law and order was at a low ebb. Criminals owned the night and theft, murder and rape was rampant. Tribal fighting had been a way of life in Papua, New Guinea for the past millennium or so and the advent of civilization, with towns and schools and government, did not take the fighting nature of the people into consideration. The regular police were mostly ineffective.

Myself and ten other expatriate men joined the inaugural reserve police force of fifty or so in Mt. Hagen, the capital city of the Western Highlands Province, known predictably, as the "Wild West." My good friend and golfing buddy Andy McArthur was the catalyst behind all the expats who signed up for reserve police duties.

Andy was a Scotsman. He was known as a fair golfer who liked to gamble, drink, brag, fight, and behave like a boor except when there were ladies present. In other words he was much like the rest of us. During an evening of drinking following a day on the links Andy brought up the idea of joining the Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary. Naturally we all thought this was a grand idea.

We'd whip those rascals into shape. Just what they need, a taste of European justice. We babbled away in a Eurocentric frenzy until it was time to depart the club. The next day Andy was the only one who remembered the conversation. He called each one of us to say that applications were in the mail and he had already received special dispensation for our Sikh buddy Iqbal to wear his turban while on duty. Lucky Iqbal._

After cursing Andy for a week or so some of us filled out the applications and waited for death. Now the slight problem of learning how to be a cop was upon us. All I knew about police was that they cost you a lot of money if you drove too fast and if you argued with them they could shoot you.

We all gathered on a Tuesday evening at the Mt. Hagen High School and prepared for our bi-weekly police class where, at the end of six weeks, we would write an exam and become cops. Two instructors from the Bomana Police College in Port Moresby were present to explain the law, arrest procedures, crime scene preservation, and hand to hand combat. Previous to this I had had one close encounter with the Mt. Hagen police and their procedures.

One Sunday afternoon our neighbor knocked on the door. Her husband was away and a broken window led her to suspect that someone was in her house. This was certainly not an unwarranted suspicion since burglary was second only to armed robbery as the official provincial sport in the Western Highlands. We called the police and waited for their arrival.

About a half hour later two uniformed officers pulled up in a blue Suzuki patrol car. They interviewed our neighbor, examined the broken window from the road and agreed that there could very well be rascals inside (incidentally, the term "rascal" is used to describe any criminal no matter how egregious the crime). To call their procedures non-confrontational was an understatement.

Both cops stood on the road and began hurling gravel on the roof. The roofs were all corrugated iron in our neighborhood so the racket was deafening. The idea was to alert the criminals to the presence of the police and then leave them a convenient escape route. In this case they could run out the back door, scamper over the fence and be gone. It worked.

After ten minutes of rock throwing the police entered the house in a tentative manner and sure enough, no criminals. Now was my chance to join this cadre of crime-fighting professionals.

I can honestly say that I knew less about cop behavior at the end of the course than at the beginning. Our teachers were cops who didn't really understand the rules themselves and had never taught before. The only thing that stuck with me was a lesson on the use of the baton.

Baton is an interesting name for a club used to bash people. "Baton" reminds you of 10 year old girls in parades with sparkly uniforms instead of pulping someone's brain. Anyway, we were instructed in no uncertain terms that the baton was a last resort and was to be applied to the elbows, shoulders, and knees, never the head. The really last resort was to fire your tear gas or mace in the suspect's face. The absolutely positively last resort was to shoot them. Running away was not a resort at all, however it was pretty high on my list.

The written final exam was a piece of cake. All the expats received marks in the high nineties (the test was designed for people without 17 or so years of education as we all had). We were ready for graduation. Unfortunately for me, I became a victim of the crime that was rife in Mt. Hagen on the eve of our graduation ceremonies.

I had broken a basic rule of security and paid a bloody price. I was running late on a Friday evening and arrived home with just enough time to pick up Ruth for our dinner date at the Pioneer Club. Instead of putting the car inside the chain link fence as I had done a thousand times before, I left it outside the gate and ran in to change. It took all of ten minutes before we were walking through the gate ready to roll. Ruth, who was four months pregnant, jumped in the car beside me.

Before I could turn the key the window on my side shattered and the door was jerked open. A bearded man with an axe demanded Ruth's purse. She made to hand it over but the long leather shoulder strap got tangled around her wrist. As I reached to help her I saw two young accomplice's staring in Ruth's window. They looked all of 16 years old and judging by their expressions, terrified.

This was all taking too long for the axe-man. He took a short swing with his weapon within the confined space of the car. It was headed for my face and I instinctively brought my hand up to block the blow. The force of the swing was minimal but the axe was razor-sharp. According to the surgeon's report in Brisbane Australia the following day the blow had:

"...sliced through the extensive digitorum tendons of the index and middle fingers together with the extensor indicis tendon."

The upshot was that my hand closed involuntarily like a frightened clam. The bandit then demanded that we leave the car. No argument from us.

I wasn't too worried about Ruth's exit as the two on her side looked more afraid than she was. I was very concerned with their mentor. I expected that when I stepped out of the car Fagin would elect to take a full swing with his meat-axe. He didn't.

He and his young charges piled into the car while we stood to the side with nowhere to go. My gate keys were on the ignition key-ring and we were more or less waiting for them to leave. I guess guys who axe people for a living are not blessed with great intelligence.

Fagin could figure out how to get the car in reverse but releasing the hand brake was apparently beyond his capability. We could see the car bucking in reverse and then stalling, bucking and stalling. It was then that Ruth surprised me with a bizarre statement:

"Oh Jim," she said, "Those pricks are going to drive away with your new golf clubs."

To Part 2

Jim Austin likes a challenge.


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