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New police academy begins — 40 recruits

Some of the 40 recruits of the 25th Police Academy, which started yesterday at the Veterans Memorial Center at Tafuna Industrial Park.  [photo: AF]
Most for DPS, but others for DHS, Customs, or Marine Patrol, including a court marshal

Lt. Gov. Lemanu Palepoi Sialega Mauga has called on recruits of the new police academy not to deviate from the law in carrying out their duty, which is to protect lives of the community, including many foreigners who have made American Samoa their home.

“Don’t do favors,” for anyone, even for family members, Lemanu told the 40 recruits during yesterday morning’s opening of the 25t Academy at Veterans Memorial Center at the Tafuna Industrial Park.

While the majority of the recruits are for the DPS police service, there were also some employees of the local Department of Homeland Security, Customs Office and Public Safety’s Marine Patrol attending the academy, which includes classroom sessions and field work. Also in the group is a court marshal from the Judicial Branch.

Lemanu told the gathering, which included family members of the recruits, that an officer’s work is to protect the lives of the people in the community, no matter if the officer is assigned to other DPS divisions, such as the Traffic division or the Criminal Investigation division.

An officer’s priority is the “lives of our people” and it’s not an easy job, in which “you offer your life to protect the public,” Lemanu told the recruits, adding that if anything happens in the community, it’s “you who save and protect us.”

Whether the person is Samoan, non-Samoan — Korean or Chinese — “your duty is to protect their lives,” he said and noted that an officer’s job is to put his/ her life on the line every day. He called on the recruits to always maintain peace and harmony and have patience.

If a call comes in for police assistance and the officer arrives on the scene to find that it’s the officer’s family being affected, “Where do you stand, who do you support? Are you going to side with your family and against others who caused trouble to your family?” he asked.

The answer is easy because “your job is to follow the law. Your job is that you don’t take sides, even when it comes to your family,” he said and pointed out that if “your family” is involved, “you don’t side with your family, your brother, or your sister. You stand on the side of the law.”

Officers “walk a very fine line in this job,” he told recruits.

According to the acting governor, American Samoa has many ethnic groups — Tongans, Fijians, Koreans — many of them don’t speak Samoan and English, making an officer’s job difficult in communicating with these individuals. However, Lemanu said he is hopeful that police officers will later understand their languages for communication purposes.

He also encouraged recruits to stay healthy and fit, saying that if an inmate or a lawbreaker runs away “we should be able to catch them.” He recommends that officers not only practice healthy living and staying fit as an officer but also in their family surroundings.

Lemanu recalled a saying, “The loneliest job, the loneliest position that you will ever face” and that is true when it comes to an officer’s job because there will be times when “you stand alone... from your peers.”

“You walk a fine line on this job. You deviate from that line, which is the law of the land,” then “you start to veer away from the right thing to do on the job,” he said.

“Don’t accept favors because by doing so, 99.99% of the time you will no longer be able to walk [a straight] line” when it comes to the law,” Lemanu said and pointed out that a law enforcement officer has the authority to see many things that are not accessible to the public.

For example, the officer has the right to open and look into a vehicle as well as open a container to check and inspect. And a businessperson could try to offer $100 or $200 so the container is not checked and inspected and this is the same for a vehicle.

“No matter if you’re poor, no money in your pocket, you have loans and other debts to pay, don’t do it. Don’t accept favors,” he advised the recruits. And this is the same advice from being offered money by friends and family members. “Just that one time you do it, you’ll never return back to walk the line of the law,” he said.

As the police academy gets underway, Lemanu encouraged recruits to work together, help each other gradate, saying that he hopes that all of the recruits will graduate.

Lemanu reminded recruits “don’t think that because you’re a graduate of the academy that you rule the world.” And he encouraged recruits to be respectful to the community and be humble at all times, as the public “depends on you to protect their lives, their homes during times of trouble.”

Classroom sessions for the academy began yesterday at the Veterans Memorial Center, once the opening ceremony was completed.

During his Senate confirmation hearing early this month, Police Commissioner Le’i Sonny Thompson said the police academy was something the governor had pushed in the last four years and was then set up by the previous police commissioner, Save Liuato Tuitele.

Le’i said the academy would provide more officers for the police force, which has 115 officers and if compared to the current estimated population of 60,000 that means one officer per about 500 people.

Asked by senators about funding for the academy, Le’i said Criminal Justice Planning Agency is providing funding via two separate federal grants. Not revealed at the hearing is the total amount of the two grants.