Senators suggest installing fences and hiring security guards for schools

fili@samoanews.com

Some senators have suggested that the Education Department hire security guards to watch over public school facilities at night and over the weekend to prevent break-ins and damages to school property.

The suggestion, along with recommendations to build fences around all public school campuses, was made last Friday during a Senate Public Safety Committee hearing on a Senate bill giving the government authority to charge a person who is present, without prior permission, on private or public school grounds from 10p.m. to 5a.m.

Under the bill, such an offense would be misdemeanor trespassing.

Testifying at the hearing were Attorney General Talauega Eleasalo V. Ale and Education deputy director, Philo Jennings. The Senate committee chairman, Sen. Fa’amausili Mau Mau Jr., said if the bill is enacted into law, it is the police who will enforce it.

Sen. Magalei Logovi’i, one of the three senators who sponsored the bill, explained that the goal of the proposed law is to help the ASDOE address the problem of break-ins and damages to school facilities, resulting in the government forking out money for repairs and replacement.

The Tualauta senator noted that over the years, ASG officials including those from ASDOE have voiced concerns on the issues of break-ins and property damage at the schools. He said this proposed law makes it clear that anyone found on school property without prior permission is considered to be trespassing and will be criminally charged.

The hearing gave senators a chance to share recommendations on ideas for ASDOE to look into, such as building a fence around all school campuses and hiring nighttime security officers to assist with enforcing the bill, if enacted into law.

Sen. Tauaa S. Vaouli noted the importance of ASDOE working with the Office of Samoan Affairs in an effort to make it easy to enforce the proposed law. He suggested that village mayors be involved in the enforcement process, instead of putting the entire burden on police.

Sen. Muagututia M.T. Tauoa suggested that ASDOE hire and assign security guards to each school in the territory, so there is an individual who is on campus every night. He believes police officers wouldn’t be able to visit all the schools in the territory every night.

Regarding the use of village mayors, Muagututia appeared to disagree and claimed that some pulenu’u are not honest in their work; and when the pulenuu witnesses a relative on the school grounds, the village major will not speak up. He believes a security officer is the best solution to enforcing the proposed law.

Other senators supported suggestions of hiring security guards for nighttime patrol for schools as well as ASDOE looking at installing fences around all schools to close off campus grounds.

There are some public schools that already have steel wire fencing.

Regarding the installation of school fences, Jennings acknowledged its importance and explained that ASDOE has looked into this same issue in past years. However for a variety of reasons, he said it hasn’t always been feasible for all school campuses.

He pointed out there are families who live behind school campuses and it's difficult for them to get to the front area unless they go through part of the school campus. So if a fence is built, those families will have no way of getting to an access road, he said.

Additionally, Jennings said many of the school facilities are built on land belonging to and owned by families in the village where the school is located, and building a fence on the property would be difficult.

(Families who own land on which two schools on the western side of Tutuila are built  told Samoa News — when asked for comments over the weekend — that they have been informed in past years about ASG wanting to build a fence but they have objected. “We just don’t want a fence,” said a family member, “because it will block the land belonging to my family.”)

On the issue of employing night security guards, Jennings also noted the importance of the issue in helping to enforce the proposed law, but there is no funding for such a purpose.

Sen. Satele Galu Satele Sr., who supports the idea of hiring security guards for all schools in the territory, strongly recommends that ASDOE include in its fiscal year 2018 budget, funding for this purpose.

Samoa News notes that in the past, ASDOE had worked on installing surveillance cameras at certain schools, especially those that are constantly broken in to. While not all of the schools have surveillance cameras, some do have them, and these have helped police identify suspects in recent cases.

Earlier this year in March, a surveillance camera captured an alleged suspect who broke into an office at Tafuna High School, and video surveillance footage quickly surfaced on social media.

Samoa News later learned that the alleged suspect was a minor. Because cases regarding minors are not open to the public, it's unclear whether any charges were filed.

Following vandalism at Leone High School and Leone Midkiff Elementary School in early March this year, Education director Dr. Ruth Matagi-Tofiga publicly called on the entire community — including village mayors and village aumaga — to assist in protecting public schools in their villages.

To repair and replace property damaged at the two schools, ASDOE said, cost over $10,000.

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