DPS officials field questions — and criticism — during budget hearing
Hiring more police officers, whose salaries should be increased, investigating alleged crimes occurring in the Manu’a island group, and police working with village leaders to address community problems were some of the issues raised by lawmakers during last Friday’s fiscal year 2014 budget hearing for the Department of Public Safety.
According to the budget document, DPS’s FY 2014 totals $11.29 million with $6.22 million in local revenues and $5.06 million funded by grants. In FY 2013, the total budget was $10.29 million with 282 positions. However, FY 2014 positions has increased to 320.
During the budget hearing Sen. Magalei Logovi’i pointed out there is an increase of 38 positions between FY 2013 and 2014, and he wanted an explanation.
Police Commissioner William Haleck said if the FY 2014 is approved, the department will be able to recruit 20 new officers who will enroll in a police academy funded by local revenues in the new fiscal year, while the rest are additional staff for other DPS divisions.
For police officers in Manu’a, the bulk of their salaries are paid by grants, according to the budget document.
Sens. Tuiasina S. Esera and Faletagoai I. Tuiolemotu both urged DPS to look at increasing pay for police officers, whose duties call for them to work 24 hours a day and putting their lives at risk.
Faletagoai said the pay scale is too low and officers should be well compensated.
Tuiasina added the Leone substation is well staffed but there is a lack of DPS vehicles. He said when there is a call to the substation for assistance, officers respond using their own personal vehicles and this is not how things should be done.
Rep. Toeaina Faufano Autele suggested taking at least $100,000 each from the budgets of the Fono and the Office of Samoan Affairs and reallocating the money to hike pay for the officers.
Haleck said there are a lot of things DPS wants to improve but they do what they can with the available finances allocated for the department. He hopes that with a new fiscal year budget, more can be done in FY 2014.
DPS AND MANU’A
Sen. Nua Saoluaga said some of the major problems in the Manu’a island group are home invasions and store break-ins, but there are no positive results — such as suspects being arrested and charged.
Nua said there is no action by police to investigate and charge anyone with these ongoing crimes in the island group and he wanted to know when DPS will do something to help Manu’a residents.
Deputy police commissioner Leseiau Laumoli agreed with the issue raised by the Manu’a senator but pointed out that the problem for DPS is trying to get Travel Authorizations approved for police officers to travel to the island group to conduct investigations.
Laumoli hopes that with the FY 2014 budget, the department can get officers’ TAs approved quickly for travel.
Nua was not satisfied and he insisted that the police are not doing anything to curb crimes like break-ins in Manu’a or provide assistance to the officers based there. He said more needs to be done.
Nua then asked what DPS is doing to train the officers based in Manu’a so those officers can get promoted up the ranks. Haleck replied that DPS has a training program and they plan to bring officers to Tutuila to be trained.
The senator became confrontational with DPS officials when he asked what DPS is doing to ensure that cross-walk markings are clear and street lights are working on Tutuila.
Haleck said cross-walk markings on the highway and signs — such as the speed limit — are the responsibility of the Department of Public Works under the law, and all DPS can do is make recommendations, which has been done.
Nua quickly interjected, “you recommend, recommend and recommend, and nothing has been done.” He said DPS should do the work instead of just making recommendations. He added there are a lot of street lights not working in various villages including Nu’uuli and urged DPS to look into these important issues to prevent something serious from happening on the highway.
(Samoa News should point out that the issue with street lights falls under the jurisdiction of Public Works working together with ASPA.)
Sen. Soliai Tuipine Fuimaono called on DPS to work with traditional leaders and their village councils to assist police in protecting the community. He said there are already village police assigned through the Office of Samoan Affairs, and village leaders, as well as traditional chiefs, can provide great help in keeping peace in the territory.
Soliai asked if DPS has such a program (working with village leaders), to which Laumoli responded they have started one with Reps. Sua Alexander Eli Jennings and Florence Saulo to address concerns, especially in Tafuna.
Laumoli pointed out village chiefs are very helpful to DPS and when assistance is needed the traditional leaders are contacted for support.
Soliai applauded the DPS plan and urged them to implement the program territory-wide, covering large counties, including other villages in the Tualatua and Ituau Districts where there are many foreigners residing. He said Pago Pago is another large village which is faced with problems caused by foreigners.
He then wanted to know if there is still a need to have a chief of police, a post he says was established many years ago because there was no police commissioner, or deputy commissioner.
With a police commissioner and deputy commissioner now part of the DPS structure, Soliai said he does not believe it is necessary to have a chief of police post and asked DPS officials to look into this issue again.
Laumoli responded the chief of police post is in the organizational charter when the new administration came on board, but the issue can be revisited.
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