Having DPS officers at the airport rattles some Customs agents

Police presence is part of territory-wide shakedown in war against drugs
fili@samoanews.com

Concerns allegedly voiced by Customs officers over the presence of DPS police officers inside the arrival area at Pago Pago International Airport prompted questions from Sen. Magalei Logovi’i to Deputy Police Commissioner of police operations, Falanaipupu Ta’ase Sagapolutele.

Magalei raised the issue towards the end of last Thursday’s Senate Transportation Committee hearing on an Administration bill seeking to amend provisions of local law regarding vehicle registration fees, by adding $12 per ton of weight or fraction thereof, when a car is brought in for registration renewal.

According to the Tualauta senator, there have were complaints from Customs regarding officers with the newly created police task force unit being present and allegedly being involved at the airport with Customs’ work, specifically checking passengers’ bags at the arrival area.

Falanaipupu explained that the 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.

He added that the police officers are assigned to the task force, which includes other ASG entities such as DPS, Treasury Department’s Customs Division, and the local Department of Homeland Security.

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.

For two weeks now, Samoa News has received several inquiries from the public, people who have observed the presence of DPS officers around the arrival area of the airport, during Hawaiian Airlines flights. At least two of the inquiries reported that they had noticed police providing escort to the local contractor, which transports the mail to and from the airport for the Post Office in Fagatogo.

In an Aug. 11th executive order, Police Commissioner, Le’i Sonny Thompson, established the Vice and Narcotics Unit — Tactical Response Team, staffed by eight sworn police officers, who are to engage in Vice & Narcotics operations throughout the territory.

The Unit will also serve as the front-line element to the Governor’s Task Force For Domestic Security (which includes DPS, and Customs) and the governor’s newly created American Samoa Drug Commission.

Le’i told Samoa News two weeks ago that the Unit will be at the airport every day, as well as the main dock and on the road. (See Samoa News Aug. 16th edition for details)

AIRPORT SCANNER

Also during Thursday’s committee hearing, Sen. Fai’ivae Iuli Godinet voiced the concerns and complaints from arriving Hawaiian Air passengers, about the long wait at the Customs area, as passengers are being required to first go through a Customs’ x-ray scanner at the airport to check their bags, followed by another manual inspection by Customs agents.

Fai’ivae estimates that the wait time is 90 minutes at the arrival area for passengers just to go through two Customs checks, compared to the quick process by the US Customs at the Honolulu airport, where passenger bags are checked randomly.

The issue comes a day after Senate President Gaoteote Tofau Palaie called on the Senate committee with jurisdiction over the airport to look into complaints about the long wait time at the airport.

At the inter island dock, several local residents as well as passengers arriving from Samoa on the MV Lady Naomi have voiced their complaints to Samoa News about the same thing — two Customs inspections back-to-back.

Customs and DPS K-9 units are clearly present every time the passenger ferry arrives from Samoa.

A traditional leader told Samoa News early last week that while he fully supports the government’s quest to stop illegal drugs in the territory, two separate inspections by Customs is causing a long wait for arriving passengers.

The presence of the K-9s as well as police officers at the inter island dock is unnerving for many people.

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