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Guns for cops: Only in 'an emergency' says Galeai

Sen. Galeai M. Tu’ufuli, a former police commissioner, says he has no problem with arming police officers, as long as the governor declares such a move an “emergency” situation and that only senior officers are trained and allowed to carry weapons in the course of their duties.


The Department of Public Safety has received  a shipment of 24 Glock-17 handguns and Police Commissioner William E. Haleck plans to begin training in mid-2014 for certain officers to be armed. The selected officers for training will undergo psychological evaluations (See Samoa News story on Nov. 26 for more details).


Being a former police commissioner, Galeai was asked by Samoa News for his reaction to the move by Haleck and Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga who has received and is currently reviewing approval policies and procedures regulating the arming of police officers.


Galeai told Samoa News that arming police officers is “nothing new” and it occurred when he was police commissioner during former Gov. A.P. Lutali's first term in 1985. At that time, and in accordance with the law, the sitting governor “declares an emergency situation exists to arm officers,” he said.


Samoa News should point out that the last time an emergency declaration was issued for officers to carry weapons was in March 2003 during the Tauese Administration when then Lt. Gov. Togiola Tulafono, who was acting governor at the time, declared it necessary for detectives and senior officers of the Criminal Investigation Division to carry weapons in the investigation of the disappearance of Wyatt Bowles Jr.


Togiola told reporters in front of the EOB that the move to arm officers followed information received by the government that some people — where police were trying to execute search warrants — are “carrying very serious and heavy weapons” and police needed to protect themselves.


In a phone interview over the weekend, Galeai said that he and Lutali agreed at the time to arm senior police officers. “I was given the authority to arm my officers after Gov. Lutali issued the official emergency declaration,” he recalled.


“The only officers who were allowed to be armed while on duty were senior officers, such as captains, lieutenants, and investigators with the Criminal Investigative Division as well as undercover police officers,” said Galeai, adding that those officers had more than 10 years of experience in the police force.


If Haleck plans to arm officers, Galeai recommends the police commissioner first obtain approval from the governor, or the governor issue an emergency declaration for such a need, and that only senior officers with 15 or more years of police work are selected to carry firearms.


“Detectives and investigators with CID must be among those allowed to carry weapons due to the nature of their work,” he said.


Galeai said he agrees with rigorous training for selected officers to carry weapons, but quickly added that patrol officers — even if they go through such training — should not be allowed to carry weapons.


“I have some serious reservations when it comes to young new officers on the force carrying weapons,” said Galeai, adding that he is concerned with new officers ending up misusing the authority given to them to carry weapons.


There had been mixed reactions from lawmakers this year about arming police officers when the issue was first raised by Haleck in the Fono. During budget hearings in September, Sen. Mauga T. Asuega called on DPS not to rush into arming officers but thoroughly review its merits and needs.


Some lawmakers reached by phone since last Friday for comments, told Samoa News that they will wait until the Fono returns in January for the 3rd Regular Session before making any public comments on the matter, which deserves committee hearings to get more information - such as the need for it and details of training - from Haleck and the Lolo Administration.


The move to arm officers was sparked following a deadly incident in July 2010 when Police Det. Lusila Brown was gunned down in broad daylight in front of the temporary High Court building in Fagatogo.