Seven new DPS police officers will serve as “community officers” at schools

Commissioner Save: It doesn’t help with the police officer shortage at DPS
fili@samoanews.com

Seven new police officers to be recruited for the Department of Public Safety, and whose salaries are funded by a federal grant, will be serving as community officers at schools, says Criminal Justice Planning Agency (CJPA) director Keith Gebauer during a House Judiciary Committee hearing yesterday.

Gebauer first revealed the grant funding from the US Department of Justice’s Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) before the Fono Joint Budget Committee during the CJPA’s fiscal year 2017 budget hearing two weeks ago. However, he didn’t elaborate at the time on the specific duties of the new police officers for DPS. 

Prior to CJPA’s budget hearing, Police Commissioner Save Liuato Tuitele told the same Fono Joint Budget Committee hearing early this month that he is not getting any funding help from CJPA to hire police officers.

So during the CJPA’s budget hearing, lawmakers questioned Gebauer on whether there is any grant funding to hire police officers for DPS, which is faced with a shortage of police officers and funding. At the time, Gebauer pointed to the $272,500 in federal funds included in the CJPA’s FY 2017 budget to recruit and hire seven new police officers, but didn’t provide additional details.

Because of Gebauer’s reply, that CJPA is funding the hiring of 7 new officers, some lawmakers publicly stated during the hearing that Save was not truthful in his testimony to the Fono.

However, in an interview with Save on Monday, Samoa News pointed to Gebauer’s testimony at the Fono Joint Budget hearing that CJPA has funds to hire 7 new police officers, and Save responded that the 7 officers will work as liaisons for schools and I’ts part of a national program in which police departments work with schools.

He said the only time these seven officers will be useful to DPS is during the summer when school is on break and on weekends.

Save stressed that there is no help from CJPA “to hire new officers to help with [the] police officer shortage” at DPS.

And, yesterday, during a House committee hearing, which focused on a range of issues dealing with CJPA, Gebauer elaborated on the grant being used to pay for the seven officers.

He said his office last year applied under the COPS grant, which was approved to hire up to 7 officers for three years and the funding is for personnel costs only, meaning to pay the officers salaries for three years.

He said DPS, as the law enforcement arm, would hire the officers, going through a police academy. However, “a large portion of their time is [to be] spent amongst the schools. They become community police officers,” Gebauer told lawmakers.

“So while school is in session, that is where they spend a lot of their time. And then doing summer break, they could be part of the regular [police] rotation,” he said. “That is how we’re trying to help support DPS’ efforts to hire new officers to reduce their overtime.”

“But the parameters of the grant are very specific,” he said. For example, the officers “can’t come on board and be sent “to the Territorial Correctional Facility, Gebauer said.

“They have to go and fulfill this role, while school is in session,” he said, and noted that at the national level, there are rising concerns and issues in states when it comes to school grounds. “So how the feds are helping to address it is through funding in this type of grant. “

The director of the local CJPA informed lawmakers that this year, CJPA applied for the same grant to get additional police officers and “we haven’t heard back yet” and “if we are successful and fortunate enough to be awarded, it will be included in our FY 2018 budget for additional new officers.”

He didn’t say as to how many police officers are proposed to be hired, in their new application.

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