26 Oct 2016

Cooks police chief apologises for lack of warning

4:26 pm on 26 October 2016

The Cook Islands Police Commissioner has apologised for poor communication by his staff during the tense standoff with a double murderer last week.

Maara Tetava said he was focused on the task at hand, which was to hunt down escaped prisoner Chris Rimamotu and ensure he did not take any more lives.

Rimamotu killed his former partner Mary Dean and her partner Roger Tauarea last Thursday, after he escaped a prison guard while on community release.

Mr Tetava directed the operation during which Rimamotu shot at the police before taking his own life near Vaimaaga, on Rarotonga, last Thursday.

Cook Islands Police Commissioner Maara Tetava

Cook Islands Police Commissioner Maara Tetava Photo: Cook Islands Police

Local people have complained there were no police warnings or announcements during the event.

"As leader of the police service here, that's my fault that we didn't get to the public as quickly as we could, but my top priority and the priority of my team was to get to this person as quickly as we could," said the commissioner.

"I had two commanders, very senior officers, back at my command centre and they were in charge of that and, as I say, if we didn't get to the public as quickly as we should, my fault, I apologise for that."

Mr Tetava said the country had taken its peace for granted and he would review operations.

He said his police do not have bullet-proof vests, and the force needed to be better prepared.

"We've never had this kind of thing happen before.

"I've been in the police force now for 31 years and this was the first time I've had to take my firearm out for an incident such as this and that shows how we've taken for granted how peaceful our place is "

Inmate work gang numbers cut

The Justice Ministry has reduced the number of inmates allowed out in work gangs following the killings and introduced other restrictions following the killings.

The Justice Secretary Tingika Elikana told the Cook Islands News, high-risk prisoners would no no longer be allowed out of the prison compound.

Inmates with permanent jobs were continuing to go about their work as usual because of extra security provided by their employers.

The ministry was criticised following the escape of Rimamotu, who was on a work detail, despite being regarded as a high-risk prisoner.

Chris Rimamotu.

Chris Rimamotu. Photo: Cook Islands Police Service / Facebook

Rimamotu had been allowed to go into a container where it was believed he had stored the murder weapon.

He had told wardens he was going to get tools.

"It has also been a difficult week for myself and staff at prison services," Mr Elikana told the Cook Islands News.

"People, with the benefit of hindsight can be critical, but wardens are the ones at the rock face.

"I feel sorry for them. It's an unpleasant experience for them as well."

He said the rehabilitation system was based on trust.

"Once we go through assessment of a suitable candidate, irrespective of the crimes they did, we try to rehabilitate and reintegrate them into society proving them with the opportunity to go on a work scheme or work gang.

"And we also try to get people secure jobs from employers willing to engage them.

"Of the prisoners still on work programmes, the majority of them were involved in burglaries or involved in traffic accidents causing injuries."

Mr Elikana said the wardens tried to interact with prisoners because they took rehabilitation seriously.

"It may be naïve, to a degree, but it comes down to trust…and there was no indication he wanted to do what he did."

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