DPS moves forward against drugs — at wharf, airport, on the road
In an Executive Order issued and signed by Police Commissioner, Le’i Sonny Thompson, 8 officers are identified as those who will engage in Vice & Narcotics operations on island.
They are: Lt. Tolia Sola'ita (Assistant to the CO), Det. Ioane Paselio, Det. John Seumanutafa, PSO Justin Thomsen, PSO Satia Leulu, PSO Alwin Sorensen, and K-9 handler Tala Mortenson.
According to Le'i, the aforementioned officers are assigned to their new duty station effective August 13, 2017 (this past Sunday), under commanding officer Captain Lima Togia.
The Commish noted that it was on June 2, 2017 that an opportunity was presented to police officers who expressed interest in enrollment in the Vice and Narcotics Unit (Tactical Response Team); and he describes the eight cops as "highly motivated and qualified."
The Unit will report directly to the DPS Commissioner.
In an exclusive interview with Le’i at his office last week, the Commissioner told Samoa News that the main purpose of this special team is to tackle the drug problem in the territory.
“We have a team effective on Monday night this week, led by senior officers and individuals who are very qualified in the area of drugs and so on; and that special unit is dedicated — day and night — to combating the drug problem in our country. I just want to let the community know that we’re very serious and we mean business,” Le’i said.
“Our duty is to make sure the whole community is safe. The police special team will be seen on the road everyday, they will be armed, and they are trained."
Le’i said there is a law on the books that allows police officers to carry guns if necessary.
He added, “The DPS K-9 will assist the special team during all of their tasks and if you drive your car under the influence of alcohol, and you get caught, you will be arrested, and your car will be searched for drugs and other things.”
The Commish said the police special team would be seen at the airport everyday, and also at the main wharf and on the road.
“We have a serious drug problem in American Samoa, and the police special team will assist the Commission that was appointed by the governor this month, to make sure our country, especially our children, are protected from drugs,” Le’i said.
The move to expand and strengthen the Vice & Narcotics Tactical Unit comes at a time when there have been calls from lawmakers and others in the community to stamp out the local drug problem.
Speaking at the cabinet meeting last week, Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga told directors that drugs have affected our children, churches, and even the government. He said that one of the most pressing problems now affecting the territory is drugs, but when they checked, there is no territorial plan to address this problem.
In his memo to establish the American Samoa Drug Control Commission, which is tasked to draw up a plan of action to deal with drugs, Lolo said our families are being ravaged by drug use and abuse, and drugs are especially destroying the future of many of our young people.
Last month, the leader of the local Catholic community, Bishop Peter Brown wrote to Governor Lolo lending the support of the Diocese of Samoa Pago Pago to the governor’s efforts to cure the problem of drugs in the territory. Bishop Brown also called on other churches for their support.
Le’i told Samoa News that drugs are poisoning our way of life and we must act now to root it out.
In his memo, the police commissioner says that prior assignment to the Criminal Investigation Division (CID) of the 8 officers “is nullified by this correspondence.”
He added that as a caveat, Lt. Aiono would serve as the Commanding Officer for the Tafuna Sub-Station due to the reassignment of Capt. L. Togia. "Furthermore, to ensure a smooth transition of personnel and equipment associated with the reassignment, Lt. T. Solaita will coordinate with Capt. J. Cendrowski and Deputy Commissioner Sagapolutele on a full inventory and accountability of program assets in conjunction with coordinators of the Highway Safety Program.”
According to Le’i’s memo, as the need grows and the mission dictates, members of the Vice & Narcotics Tactical Unit will include additional personnel who will be tasked to serve on the Commissioner’s newly established Tactical Response Team; and they will serve as the front-line element to the Governor’s Task Force for Domestic Security and the Drug Control Commission which is composed of Homeland Security, Customs Division of Treasury, Port Administration, and the Attorney General's Office.
The ultimate goal of this outfit, according to Le’i, is to eliminate the plague of drugs and illegal narcotics within our communities, workplaces and schools.
“This is a call of duty to all men and women of the Department of Public Safety to assist and support inter-agency collaboration and intelligence sharing among our Pacific Island Community Law Enforcement Partners,” the memo concluded.