The Australia Federal Police (AFP) hosted the Pacific Islands Chiefs of Police Conference last week, reinforcing the need to work closely together to ensure the safety and security of communities across the region.

The 50th annual conference saw 19 Chiefs or their delegates come together to share information, knowledge and form stronger partnerships to further combat transnational crime and other shared security challenges in the Pacific.

The theme of this year’s conference was “Cybercrime – Countering Child Exploitation”, focusing on the challenges and opportunities to strengthen law enforcement responses to the threat of child exploitation across the Pacific.

The 2021-2022 Pacific Transnational Crime Network (PTCN) Transnational Crime Assessment, which provides information on the transnational crime environment across PTCN countries, identified that cybercrime continues to be used to facilitate transnational crime in the Pacific, including financial and child exploitation offences.

The leaders re-committed to ensuring cyber safety was a priority for their policing agencies, by signing the Cyber Safety Pasifika (CSP) Declaration of Partnership during the PICP Conference.

Cyber Safety Pasifika is an AFP-led programme established by the PICP in 2012 and aims to increase cyber safety awareness in Pacific communities and upskilling Pacific police in the conduct of cybercrime investigations.

More than 365 police officers across the Pacific have undertaken a face-to-face CSP programme over the past five years. The programme has helped Pacific police implement cyber legislation, effectively use investigative powers and develop policies to enhance their cyber capabilities.

AFP Commissioner Reece Kershaw said the Declaration of Partnership ensured the programme would continue to be rolled out to Pacific police forces to provide critical training and cyber capability development across the region.

“Enhancing cyber capability in the region is more important now than ever,” Commissioner Kershaw said.

“With the increase of internet connectivity throughout the Pacific, cybercrime has become a greater risk and it is vital that police and the broader community know how to stay safe online.

“The success of the Cyber Safety Pasifika programme is recognised across the region, with a key driver of that success being the ‘by the Pacific, for the Pacific’ approach.”

During the conference, the Chiefs heard from representatives from the FBI, U.S Department of Homeland Security, International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children, Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the United Kingdom National Crime Agency on how their respective agencies are countering child exploitation.

The Chiefs toured the AFP-led Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation (ACCCE) where they saw how the AFP shares and coordinates research, resources, intelligence and information to support Australian law enforcement to remove children from harm and prosecute offenders.

The Chiefs also visited an AFP training facility where they observed a public order management display by members of the Specialist Protection Command.

The AFP works closely with Pacific partners, with more than AFP 100 members based across the region delivering a range of regional and bilateral capability development programs to maintain safety and security.

“Our policing agencies cannot effectively respond to, or overcome the current and future challenges that threaten to arise in the Pacific region alone,” Commissioner Kershaw said.

“Through our unified strength, we can tackle these challenges and work together to ensure the safety and security of our communities across the Pacific.

“The AFP is very proud to be part of the Pacific policing family and it was an honour to bring the leaders together to further strengthen our partnerships.

“I look forward to continuing our collaboration in the future.”

PICP Executive Director Nicholas Brown said the PICP Secretariat were pleased to be hosted by the AFP for this year’s 50th conference.

“The PICP has a long and proud history in the Pacific and are working together to reduce harm in our communities,” Brown said.

“We are proud that 19 of the 22 of our Chiefs or their delegates have been able to attend this year.”

PICP Chair and Tonga Police Commissioner Shane McLennan thanked Commissioner Reece Kershaw and the AFP team for hosting the conference after Guam was no longer able to host due to damage sustained by Super Typhoon Mawar in May.

“The conference theme is particularly relevant to us as the primary law enforcement leaders in the Pacific, given that this crime type is increasing in prevalence and our island nations are not immune,” said Commissioner McLennan.

“This conference has given us the opportunity to see and discuss best practice, and to partner with one another and our external stakeholders and partners, to protect our most vulnerable citizens, our children. It is our responsibility to ensure that our children can grow up feeling safe, and being safe.

“Now, more than ever, in this digital age of advancing technologies, we need to be pulling together to make the best use of our resources and skill-sets, to help one another and grow our collective capability in the cybercrime space.”

The PICP is the Pacific region’s primary organisation that connects the Pacific’s diverse police services at a strategic leadership level.

PICP comprises of Chiefs, Commissioners and Directors from 22 Pacific policing jurisdictions and is a forum that enables them to build Pacific policing leadership and collectively navigate regional policing challenges through knowledge, influence and partnerships.