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New dogs destined for disrupting drug crime in the Pacific

11.41am 24 November 2023 | Social Media

Fijian Police and a Fiji Revenue and Customs officer were among the latest graduates of the Pacific Detector Dog Programme honoured at a graduation ceremony in Trentham, Wellington on Thursday (23 November 2023).

Two New Zealand Police constables - one from the North Island and one from the South Island were the other two officers to graduate at the Trentham Dog Training Centre. 

Five of the six graduates, including Senior Customs Officer Roko Volau, were first time detector dog handlers. 

Inspector Todd Southall, National Coordinator: Police Dogs says “The Pacific Detector Dog programme, which is funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, managed by New Zealand Police and supported by New Zealand Customs Service has proven to be very successful. The programme focuses on Transnational Organised Crime and regional security across the Pacific. These new handlers are excited to graduate with high performing dogs and will continue to support and be a part of the programme.” 

“It’s been a demanding few weeks for all the handlers, especially our colleagues from the tropics, who won’t be used to the cold spring weather we’ve been having in New Zealand,” he says. 

Graduating from Fiji Police and based in Suva are Acting Sergeant Niumaia Lawanicina with Detector Dog Frosty; Constable Ilimeleki Leweiloma with Detector Dog Herb and Constable Sailasa Kerekere with Detector Dog Hague. 

Also graduating alongside his Police colleagues is Senior Customs Officer Roko Volau and Detector Dog Ike from Fiji Customs, Suva. 

New Zealand Customs Group Manager Intelligence, Investigations and Enforcement, Terry Brown, congratulated Fijian Senior Customs Officer (SCO) Roko Volau and his fellow graduates. 

“SCO Volau’s graduation, along with his Fijian Police colleagues, and together with the Tongan Police representative assisting the Pacific Detector Dog Programme, continues an important relationship between Pacific border and enforcement agencies and New Zealand Customs. 

“Like New Zealand Police, Customs is proud to be part of the Programme and the valuable work it does supporting enforcement capability in Pacific countries. Detector dog operations and deployment supports wider efforts to combat the growing threat of transnational crime in the Pacific. This programme will support our Pacific partners to disrupt drug smuggling closer to the source, and reduce harm reaching New Zealand,” says Terry Brown. 

The latest Pacific Detector Dog Programme contingent has been assisted by Sergeant Sione Punaivaha from Tonga Police, who has helped train the handlers on this course. Sergeant Punaivaha has been with the Tongan Dog Section since 2014.  

The graduation ceremony was an extra special occasion which, for the first time in the Pacific Detector Dog Programme’s history, incorporated a traditional kava ceremony. 

The programme was established in 2018 following the merging of the Pacific Dog Programme and the Fiji Detector Dog Project. 

Chief Customs Officer, Dave Huff, explains that establishing the joint Police and Customs detector dog units provides added protection both at the border and within communities, and he says the Pacific Detector Dog Programme builds the capacity and capability of detector dog units in Fiji, Tonga, Samoa, and the Cook Islands. 

“As well as offering opportunities for ongoing offshore disruption of criminal activity, the programme also helps build the Pacific intelligence picture through detector dog operations and deployments in key border environments across Pacific Island countries,” CCO Huff says. 

He notes that while the Pacific Detector Dog Programme adds an additional layer of security for the member countries, “insider activity” and drug smuggling by transnational crime syndicates remains prevalent in the Pacific region.  

“Dog teams do an amazing job in helping keep our communities safe.  Their ability to detect scent is approximately 5000 times that of humans.  They are remarkable at what they do in detecting cash firearms and narcotics.  They undertake a range of equally important prevention and community engagement work alongside their everyday role,” Inspector Southall says. 

“These teams provide a critical frontline response for Police and Customs in regard to detection and prevention. We can’t do without them." 

The latest Pacific Detector Dog Programme graduating cohort are: 

Senior Customs Officer Roko Volau and detector dog ‘Ike’ - Fiji Revenue and Customs 

Acting Sergeant Niumaia Lawanicina and ‘Frosty’ – Fiji Police 

Constable Sailasa Kerekere and ‘Hague’ - Fiji Police 

Constable Ilimeleki Leweiloma and ‘Herb’ - Fiji Police 

Senior Constable Zoe Eginton and ‘Villa’ - NZ Police 

Senior Constable Lyal Bayliss and ‘Luther’ – NZ Police