Policing Illicit Drugs in the Pacific: The Role of Culture and Community on the Frontline

AuthorJose Sousa-Santos,Loene M. Howes
Published date01 August 2022
Date01 August 2022
Subject MatterArticles
Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice
2022, Vol. 38(3) 364 –379
© The Author(s) 2022
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/10439862221096960
Policing Illicit Drugs in the
Pacific: The Role of Culture
and Community on the
Jose Sousa-Santos1 and Loene M. Howes2
Transnational and organized crime has become more prominent in the Pacific region
in recent years, leading to challenges for law enforcement agencies in the region.
The production and trafficking of illicit drugs are common concerns that illustrate
the nexus between transnational and local crime landscapes. This article discusses
approaches to the policing of such crime used by Pacific law enforcement agencies
and regional partners. Informed by regional agreements, national security strategies
of Pacific Islands governments, and theory about security networks, the article
argues that plural and hybrid policing approaches, more commonly associated with
community policing, may be effective models to combat drug-related crime. These
approaches can involve cultural, social, and hierarchical webs that act as security
nodes or networks on the frontline against illicit activities. Given different strengths
and weaknesses of the various approaches available, an integrated and multifaceted
approach to addressing drug-related crime offers the best chance of success.
illicit drugs, plural policing, hybrid policing, transnational crime, security networks
Transnational crime is borne of multiple overlapping criminal networks and modali-
ties that have benefited from increased globalization and technological connectivity.
Notably, criminal groups engage increasingly in profit-motivated alliances with other
groups, regardless of a shared ethnicity or ideology (Hughes et al., 2018). Moreover,
1Australia Pacific Security College, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, Australia
2University of Tasmania, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia
Corresponding Author:
Jose Sousa-Santos, Australia Pacific Security College, Crawford School of Public Policy, JG Crawford
Building 132A, 1 Lennox Crossing, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory 2601, Australia.
Email: Jose.Sousa-Santos@anu.edu.au
1096960CCJXXX10.1177/10439862221096960Journal of Contemporary Criminal JusticeSousa-Santos and Howes
Sousa-Santos and Howes 365
as organized crime groups diversify their activities, the lines become blurred between
national security and serious and organized crime (Coyne & Bell, 2011). In the Pacific
region, it has been identified that transnational crime includes a range of issues, such
as environmental crimes (especially illegal fishing and resource extraction), sex traf-
ficking (associated with logging and resource extraction industries), and the traffick-
ing of illicit drugs and their precursors (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime
[UNODC], 2016). However, despite its relevance to other parts of the world, scholar-
ship on transnational crime in the Pacific is relatively scarce (Boister, 2005; McCusker,
2006; Schloenhardt, 2007; Watson et al., 2021). In part, the emergent status of such
scholarship can be attributed to “the mobility and elusiveness of offenders and victims,
innovation in modus operandi, and dangerousness of the research subject” (Barbaret,
2014). In addition, with the exception of a cohort of principally Australian and New
Zealand–based scholars, the bridging of criminological theory (predominantly from
the Global North) with criminal developments in the Pacific (the Global South) has
been slow (Forsyth et al., 2020).
In recognition of the changing face of crime and criminality in the Pacific, in 2018
the Pacific Islands Forum, which consists of 18 member nations (Australia, New
Zealand, and 16 Pacific Island countries, with one additional associate member),
adopted the Boe Declaration on Regional Security at the meeting in Boe in Nauru. The
declaration identifies transnational crime as a key regional security challenge in the
Pacific (Pacific Islands Forum, 2018). In fact, a review of existing national security
policies, conducted by the first author, reveals growing concerns about the impact of
transnational crime not only in the region broadly but also by individual countries
within it. For example, Samoa’s inaugural national security policy cited increasing
transnational crime “despite improved awareness, cooperation and operational
responses by law enforcement agencies in the region.” (Ministry of the Prime Minister
and Cabinet, 2018). Vanuatu’s first national security strategy, Secure and Resilient
(Ministry of Internal Affairs, 2019), similarly identified transnational crime as a cur-
rent and emerging threat—and signaled the creation of the Pacific Fusion Centre
(Payne, 2020) as key to boosting Vanuatu’s information and intelligence capacity
(Ministry of Internal Affairs, 2019). Solomon Islands’ foundational National Security
Strategy (Ministry of Police, National Security and Correctional Service, 2020) lists
securing its borders and territory against transnational crime as the second of 12
national security goals.
Drug trafficking has long been a priority of law enforcement in developed coun-
tries, partly because internationally, terrorist groups have been known to finance their
activities with the proceeds from illicit drugs (Ruggiero, 2019) and lucrative markets
for drugs—such as those in Australia and New Zealand—are attractive to these groups
(Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission, 2017). In recent years, drug-related
crime has also attracted increased attention in the Pacific region. For example, the act-
ing Justice Minister, Samiu Vaipulu, told Tonga’s parliament that “‘ice’ is Tonga’s
killing virus, not COVID-19” (“Tonga Pushes Through Tough New Drug Laws”,
2020). In the speech at his farewell parade in Nuku’alofa, the outgoing Tongan Police
Commissioner, Stephen Caldwell, highlighted the challenges posed by the increasing

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