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Certain cops — and the Commish — are now carrying guns

In this Oct. 10, 2017 file photo Ernie Haleck (middle) - the lead instructor in Firearms and Tactics for the National Tactical Officers Association (NTOA) and DPS in American Samoa - briefing local police officers, on the last day of a 2-week training course that certifies them to carry weapons. [photo: AF]
Rep. Gafatasi says it isn't a joke… locals might think they should carry weapons too

There are a lot of concerns from Fono members — and also complaints from the community — in seeing some police officers, including the Police Commissioner, carrying weapons while performing their duties; but Senator Fa’amausili Mau Jr. supports the move by Le'i to arm police.

“It’s in the law,” Fa’amausili told Samoa News. “The law is clear. The Commissioner of Public Safety shall establish a training and certification program for the use of arms and other weapons by the territory’s law enforcement officers before the issuance of these arms and weapons to law enforcement officers.”

Fa’amausili, a retired police Commander, said that as long as police officers receive good training and they are certified to carry weapons, he has no problem with it. He said many senators have asked him to set a hearing on the issue of arming police officers, because some senators have concerns about the safety of the community and also police officers.

“I told them the Fono has nothing to do with the issue because the law is clear. The Commissioner has a duty under the law to carry out training. The Commissioner should also submit a training and certification program on the use of weapons to the governor to view before implementing it,” Fa’amausili said.

(Samoa News should point out that Le’i has continuously reiterated that the arms training & certification has strictly followed the law.)

The arming of police officers was also one of the topics of discussion in the House last week before the close of the Fono's second regular session.

While some faipule said they are not against the Commissioner’s decision to arm police officers and himself, they believe the issue is something the Fono should consider first, before it is put into action.

“I’m not opposed to the arming of our local police officers, but my only concern is the lack of communication between the Commissioner and Fono leaders. This issue must be discussed by the Fono first before any action is taken,” Rep. Vesi Talalelei Fautanu Jr.  shared.

Rep. Kitara Vaiau said he doesn’t want to see a cop carrying a gun in his village. As a military retiree, Vaiau reflected on the old days when leaders would sit down face to face and discuss ways to get to a solid decision for the safety of the whole village.

Vice Speaker Fetu Fetui Jr. told House members that he was shocked to learn that the Commissioner and other cops are now carrying weapons while performing their duties. The former police officer said the issue concerns him and the Fono needs to carry out research on how to stop this from continuing.

“I strongly believe Fono leaders should be consulted regarding such a drastic move. We shouldn’t take this lightly and we lawmakers should consider how the community will react towards the issue of arming police officers,” Fetui said.

“I understand the Commissioner has the authority under the law to arm police officers, and I also know why our local police department feels that it’s necessary to arm police officers; but there must be some serious issues such as threats to the police force or the community to justify the arming of police officers”, Fetui continued.

Leasina/ Atiulagi faipule, Rep. Gafatasi Afalava said he is very concerned with the Commissioner’s move to arm himself and police officers. He said this is not a joke, and the Commissioner needs to understand that if DPS is willing to carry weapons, the community will think they should too.

Tualauta faipule. Rep. Samuel Ioka Ale Meleisea supports the Commissioner’s recent decision to re-establish the Vice and Narcotics Unit to combat the drug problem in the territory, but says, “While I support the move to protect the safety of our community … seeing police officers walking around with guns does concern me.”

Speaker of the House, Savali Talavou Ale asked the Chairman of the House Public Safety Committee, Rep. Manumaua W. Wilson to schedule a hearing with the Commissioner to discuss some of the concerns raised by faipule.

Some members of the community contacted Samoa News last week to voice how they felt, after seeing the commissioner and certain police officers carrying weapons around the island.

One local resident told Samoa news he was shocked to see the Commissioner with a gun at the Office of the Motor Vehicles (OMV) at Tafuna last week.

“I don’t understand why the Commissioner needs to be armed. If he believes he has the authority to conduct training for police officers in order for them to be trained and certified, then let the police officers carry weapons — not the Commissioner.”

Another local wanted to know how many police officers will be carrying guns, whether the number includes those who have been convicted of crimes before and were sent to prison, but are still serving as cops.

“If the Commissioner says he's following the law, he should stay clear of those police officers who have criminal records, but are still serving as police officers,” said the concerned citizen.

In an interview with Samoa News last week, Le’i said that while he is very confident that the men and women at DPS are ready to be armed, he’s not going to arm all police officers, only those who are certified to use weapons and deadly force.

The Commissioner said the Tactical Support Team, which is part of the Vice & Narcotics Unit, will be armed 24-7, together with his immediate staff, individuals who are commanders, captains lieutenants, sergeants, and others.