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Cops at airport to help, not interfere — Le’i says, Enough is enough

Police Commissioner Le’i Sonny Thompson's message to those involved in illegal activities: "We will come to you." See story for full details.  [photo: AF]

Police Commissioner Le’i Sonny Thompson says cops are not trying to interfere with the work of Customs officers stationed at the Pago Pago International Airport, and there seems to be some confusion on what’s happening at the airport.

“There is nothing that can stop police officers from being involved in anything in the territory. If we believe there is criminal activity, whether it’s on the road, at the airport, at sea, on the mountains, under the valleys, your backyard or wherever - we will come to protect your family, the community, and also to uphold the law,” Le’i told Samoa News last week.

The Commish was responding to concerns allegedly voiced by community members – including some Customs agents – regarding the presence of DPS police officers inside the arrival area at the airport.

“Custom officers are doing their job,” he said. “Police officers are also doing their job. I’m not going to discuss anymore on this issue because there are ongoing investigations and leads involving drugs entering the territory, through the airport, postal service, and containers. All I can say is that we’re not trying to interfere with Customs’ job,” he continued.

The issue was raised during a Senate Transportation Committee hearing on an Administration bill seeking to amend provision of local law regarding vehicle registration fees.

Senator Magalei Logovi’i said there had been complaints from Customs agents regarding officers with the newly created police task force unit being present and allegedly getting involved with Customs’ work at the airport, specifically checking passenger bags at the arrival area.

Magalei, a former ASG Treasurer, pointed out that the US Federal Aviation Administration has jurisdiction over the airport, and has specific regulations when it comes to persons allowed inside restricted areas of the airport. He said he doesn’t want the airport to be cited for violating FAA regulations.

According to Le’i, police officers are not involved with Customs’ duties and responsibilities; but instead, are stationed nearby to monitor the work being carried out at the airport. He emphasized that Customs still has jurisdiction at the arrival area of the airport - as dictated by local law.

During his confirmation hearing before the Fono earlier this year, Le’i said he was questioned by senators and faipule, whether the police force is ready to respond if there are any serious incidents such as terrorist activities, hostage situations or high risk warrant arrests - and his response was “no, the police are not ready to respond.”

Eight months have passed since he became Police Commissioner and Le’i said many changes have been made within the department, to ensure police officers are ready to fulfill their responsibilities.

As for the arming of police officers, Le’i said Firearms and Tactics instructor, Ernest Haleck is arriving this week from Honolulu to conduct training for our local cops before they are officially armed.

Haleck is the lead instructor in Firearms and Tactics for the National Tactical Officers Association (NTOA) and Department of Public Safety in American Samoa. He holds instructor certifications in Firearms, Less Lethal Munitions, Defensive Tactics, Arrest & Control.

As for the Vice & Narcotics Tactical Unit that was established last month, Le’i said agents from Customs and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) are also part of the team - and they will all train together on how to track down those who are involved in the local drug trade.

“We are not trying to interfere with anyone’s responsibilities,” Le’i reiterated. “No. Customs agents, Immigration officers and also the Quarantine Division are doing their job as dictated by law. They have their own people to do their job, but if something falls through the cracks in our observation, that’s the time when police officers will get involved,” he explained.

“A police officer's job is to uphold the law and protect our people. We are the front line and we will interdict and enforce the law. Whoever is part of any illegal activity on island, we got news for you. We will come to you, and we will cut off your organization and the line of communication or whatever, to make sure our children are safe. We are not going to allow these illegal substances in the classrooms. Enough is enough.”

Samoa News has received several public inquiries about Le’i being seen on the road, with some wondering why he is out there instead of maintaining his role as “Police Commissioner, overseeing police operations from the main office in Fagatogo.”

Le’i, a military retiree, responded, “As Commissioner, the position that I hold, I can perform duties like any other cop. So the fact that I’m out there early in the morning, weekends, and so on, is to help, protect, and to serve the citizens of American Samoa. I cannot with a good and clear conscious execute all of the responsibilities that I’ve sworn to uphold by sitting in my office.”

He said he feels very uncomfortable, sitting in the comfort of his office, coming in and going home every day, knowing that cops - men and women - who have sworn to uphold the law and protect the people who are most important to him, are out there working hard without him providing the assistance they need.

“I’m not on the road because I want to be on the road. It is my job and obligation. I was  sworn in to uphold the law. I can’t sleep at home, knowing people are hurt and need help. So the right thing to do is to be out there, helping,” Le’i concluded.