New commish says it's time to arm police officers
With the approval yesterday in the House of Representatives, by a vote of 19-1, the full Fono has endorsed William E. Haleck as the new Commissioner of the Department of Public Safety, who believes its time to allow local cops to be armed.
Haleck appeared before the House Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security, chaired by Rep. Su'a Alexander Eli Jennings.
The hour-long hearing circled around praises for Haleck's background in law enforcement and other issues involving overtime pay for cops, community enforcement, the Territorial Correctional Facility, the Fire Bureau, drugs, the Office of Motor Vehicles, etc.
The nominee told lawmakers that he left the territory in the early 1970s but returned after he was chosen to start up the local TSA office at the Tafuna Airport following the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Haleck retired from work at the TSA after seven years and prior to that, retired from service with the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) in 2000.
Rep. Maugaoalii Leapai Tusipa Anoai, who worked under Haleck at TSA, was the first to bring up the notion of arming local police officers.
He told Haleck he applauds the governor for picking the right person for the job, and he wanted to know Haleck's view on allowing local cops to be armed.
Haleck said he believes "it is time" to allow cops to carry firearms. He said times have changed and things are just not the same. According to Haleck, there is too much influence being brought in from off island and cops need to be protected.
He said he spoke to an assistant attorney general who showed him a portion of the law pertaining to arming cops which states that the Police Commissioner has the authority to arm the local police force, but approval must be granted by the governor.
"This is not an easy subject," Haleck said. "Cops should be careful as this is a dangerous thing and training is definitely necessary." He said he hopes that he can succeed in getting the cops armed during his tenure as Commissioner, even if it means starting off with just a small detail.
Haleck referred to the recent case of Lt. Lusila Brown who was fatally gunned down in broad daylight outside of the temporary courthouse in Fagatogo. He said if the gunman had been given time to reload his weapon, more police officers would have been injured or killed that day. "In a case such as that one, if a cop was to shoot the gunman, it would be justified," he explained, adding that the cops couldn't do anything that day, except fear for their lives.
Haleck said when he left the local police force in 1971, the cops were armed. However, he doesn't know what happened to change that. He said there was talk that an accidental shooting involving a cop occurred but added that such an incident could have been resolved through conducting an internal investigation, not necessarily requiring a ban on guns for cops.
The Fagatogo lawmaker suggested that an extensive study be conducted on the issue to arm cops, as the decision might create more problems than solutions.
The same sentiment was echoed by Rep. Taotasi Archie Soliai who said he is not opposed to the decision to allow cops to carry firearms but he is "extremely concerned" as he believes all cops need not only physical training but also psychiatric evaluations before they are allowed to be armed.
He told Haleck to keep the Fono informed about his plans regarding this issue and urged the new Police Commissioner to explore "all alternatives" when discussing the matter with the Attorney General's Office. The Ituau faipule suggested that Haleck consider implementing a program for people to turn in their weapons, adding that he sees a lot of loaded weapons being used during faalavelaves, especially saofa'i's.
House Vice Speaker I'aulualo Talia Faafetai asked Haleck if he was going to "push" the issue of arming the cops to the Governor, to which Haleck said he intends to meet with both Gov. Lolo M. Moliga and Lt. Gov. Lemanu P. Mauga to discuss his views and concerns. He said this is not something that will be quick but his goal is to get the cops armed as soon as possible. He said it will involve a lot of training and there are a lot of issues involved.
"You all are concerned about people's lives and in turn, I am concerned for the safety of the police officers," Haleck said. "This is not easy but it's not hard either, if everyone agrees; but I think it should be done."
I'aulualo said President Obama is at the forefront of the issue involving gun control and asked Haleck about his views on this. Haleck said the President and Vice President's concerns are directed at the public, not law enforcement, as cops are not the ones causing problems but rather, it is individuals who own guns.
"We're fortunate here in American Samoa that people are not allowed to own or possess handguns," Haleck said, adding that there are families who have shotguns. "I agree that there needs to be control, as there is no reason for people to own automatic weapons," Haleck added.
Haleck said he is only a 'guest' at DPS for the next four years and he is not there to stir up anything unnecessarily. He said he has been "surprised", because he was expecting problems, but this was not the case, as he has a great support staff. "They just need direction," he said.
Haleck added "there is one law for everyone" and he does not plan to change things around but instead, do everything by the book. He said he will only implement minor changes where needed and believes that respect is a two-way street. "If my cops don't respect me, how can I direct them?"
He concluded by saying that he wants the local police force to be loyal, to protect one another, love one another, and be able to work together.
Samoa News will report further in upcoming editions on Haleck’s House confirmation hearing, including the issue of overtime pay for officers.