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New unit at DPS

Seniors police officers parading during Police Week celebration earlier this year at Malaeoletalu in Fagatogo. DPS has a new established unit - the Training Division - which is set up to provide training for local police officers. See story for full details.  [photo: AF]
Other changes include insertion of new ranks

Police Commissioner Le’i Sonny Thompson has established a new unit in the Department of Public Safety. The Training Division is to provide training for local police officers and assist them in their duties.

In an interview with Samoa News earlier this week, Le'i revealed that he has established the new Training Division unit and has assigned one of the senior commanders to serve as the director of research and professional & development training.

Le'i did not reveal the name of the senior commander, although he did elaborate on his role, which is to perform training in various areas including professional development, sexual abuse, and other issues that are ongoing in the community.

The whole purpose behind these trainings, as mentioned by the Commissioner, is to update the police officers on the regulations in the statute, which they are ordered to uphold and enforce.

He said he spoke with his staff about the intended training, and it is something that must be done.

"I think the time of 'I like that person', 'that person is my family', 'that person is this and that' - is over," he said. "It’s time to achieve higher goals and the objective, which is to serve the people of American Samoa.”

Every time Le’i meets with his supervisors, he tells them that as leaders in the workforce, they need to understand every single thing under their watch, so they know how to make better decisions.

“As leaders, they need to know their budget, leave, overtime, and they also need to know about personal relationships, professionalism on the job, and especially be knowledgeable about their job and what they’re doing,” he said, adding that he believes times have changed and people can read everything on mass media, and if he looks at what is happening around the world today, he can say that our local cops need to improve both physically and mentally.

This is why, according to him, he told his supervisors that they need to change the structure of DPS.

“For example - we have 7 commanders. Someone thought that we needed to have 7 commanders. I don’t know why, but I’m not going to change anything about that. One of our commanders has opted to retire this month, and I’m not going to fill that position - because I know that the commanders we have right now are sufficient for this type of operation,” said Le’i.

In order for each of the police officers to develop and be rewarded with a higher grade before they become commander, Le’i said he’s also created new ranks to close the gap between each one.

For example, he has injected the rank of Major between Commander and Captain, and also the Corporal rank between Sergeant and PSO.

Le'i said the new ranks are included in the DPS structure, and the governor is aware, and this is something that will help the cops with their salary.

"I know  it’s about time to make these changes so each police officer will be rewarded according to their service - but they have to earn it,” he said.

According to the Commissioner, almost everyday, DPS receives numerous complaints from members of the community, accusing police officers of being disrespectful in the way they conduct their job, and calling them “kids on the road”.

“It’s a really sad issue if I look at our police force. They are sworn police officers who have the skills to do their job, they are not young kids. Some of these police officers are matai of their families while others have served in the force for a long time but they don’t have rank," said Le'i.  "The intent is to have them earn their ranks in order for them to get a raise in salary.”

As a former Director for the Department of Human Resources (DHR), Le’i said that this is one of the issues he worked on, and that is, trying to find ways to set salaries for  police officers, because they're very low.

“I just came back from the 21st Pacific Meeting for Commissioners and Chiefs, and as far as territories are concerned, we are the lowest in starting salary. CNMI starts at $16,000; Guam I believe is at $22,000; but we are way down at $10,000 and $11,000,” he said.

The issue regarding the salary of police officers is something Le'i and Gov. Lolo M. Moliga have discussed many times in the past and according to the Commissioner, the governor has asked him to find ways to raise the salary setting for the local police force.

“Our budget is not enough, compared to the number of police officers we have," he said. "But we’re still trying to work closely with the Governor’s Office and DHR, to find ways to cure the problem.”

He said they are short of cops, considering the number of officers that serve in other subdivisions such as the Fire Department, Marine Patrol, the Juvenile Detention Center (JDC), and the Tafuna Correctional Facility.

“The new school year has started and we’re going to place some police officers in certain schools to control the problem of drugs, because that’s the agreement we have with the Criminal Justice Planning Agency (CJPA) who provided funding for the last Police Academy, and we have to comply with it.”

The Commissioner believes that every change is made for only one purpose. And that is, to upgrade the service of DPS in the territory.