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Majority of senators advise DPS Commissioner: Do not rush into arming the police

A majority of the senators yesterday urged the Department of Public Safety Commissioner William Bill Haleck not to rush into arming the police officers, rather they advised him to take it slow as there are a lot of factors that need to addressed.


A hearing was held yesterday before the Senate Public Safety Committee chaired by Faletagoa’i Iati Tuiolemotu, a former Police Lieutenant, on the hot issue of arming police officers. Attending the hearing were the Commissioner along with Deputy Commissioner Leiseu Laumoli, Deputy Attorney General Mitzie Jessop, Assistant to Governor’s Legal Counsel Edwin Kamaauoha, Police Commander Tauese Va’a Sunia and Detective Bonnie Lemisio.


Haleck told the Senators to rest assured that there will be extensive training, including psychological assessment, officer interviews, less lethal training, pepper spray training, wooden police baton training, and taser training. He further stated there are 20 guns they have in storage, where five will be assigned to each station, the Central Station, Leone Substation, Tafuna Substation and East Substation. (Samoa News will report on guns confiscated by police or customs, and criminal cases where guns were used in the last 30 years, in later editions.)




Senator Galea’i Tu’ufuli noted that the question was posed: Should the police officers be armed? He said there’s no problem with the training of police officers prior to being armed — when the time is right. The senator said there was a time when police officers were armed in the past, and it was only for the sergeants. who were watch commanders, and that was the person who made the cal l— as to whether or not police should be armed — in response to a disturbance call.


Galea’i pointed out the arming of police officers is not a priority at this time as there are police officers who need to be trained in writing police reports, and they should be learning the law.


“I believe the police officers should firstly be learning the law, and as a priority, teach the police officers the law and report writing,” he said in Samoan.


Senator Tuiasina Esera said there should be insurance liability by the government now that police officers are going to be armed, in case an incident occurs. The Senator was amazed as to the amount of guns confiscated by the police, guns which came through the port and the guns confiscated by the police during their raids and cases where weapons were used.


Tualauta Senator Magalei Logovi’i asked that if the police officers are armed, how many people will die on the daily basis? He pointed out he read an article in the paper in the US where an elderly man was gunned down when he was reaching for his case.


“Imagine if this case occurred here. What would be the reaction of the children of this man? They will want revenge, so not one person dies — there will be many more.”


Magalei said the police are opening a can of worms in this case and advised them not to rush into things.


The Tualauta Senator echoed what Galea’i pointed out earlier — that police officers should, firstly know how to do their job. Magalei said he was pulled over and when he asked the officer to tell him where the law he was citing when issuing the citation, the officer did not know which law. According to Magalei, the citation was later thrown out by the judge because the officer had used the wrong statute when issuing the ticket. 


Manu’a Senator Nuanuaolefeagaiga Saoluaga Nua did not agree with arming of the police officers, at all — saying that American Samoa is the most peaceful place in the world. He then asked the witnesses as to how the guns entered the territory, following a presentation by Police Commander Tauese, indicating in his report that numerous guns entered the territory through the port and airport. “Who’s not doing their job?” asked Nua.


Deputy Attorney General Mitzie Jessop stated that is an important issue — and that Customs is under Treasury, and they are the guardians of the borders. She said that they (police and Customs) do cross training together. She said police and Customs also have dogs who sniff for weapons and guns.


Nua further asked the Commissioner why Manu’a is not mentioned and if Manu’a will be included. The Commissioner pointed out that Manu’a is included, however at this time Tutuila Island is his first priority as there’s hardly anything happening in Manu’a.  


Senator Laolagi Savali Vaeao, pointed out that with the presentation and with the many guns confiscated, “Have there been any severe incidences that have occurred?”


He also asked, “What if the police officer shoots someone wrongfully, is the government liable?”


Laolagi stated, “There have been no vicious incidents occurring. However, if incidents are occurring constantly — then maybe the police officers should be armed.”


Senator Soliai Tuipine Fuimaono pointed out this is the first time that DPS has a Commissioner who is a taule’alea (a man with no matai title). He then went on to say that the DPS should firstly train their police officers to approach the public with respect — because some of the police officers have no manners (lemafaufau) and have no knowledge as to how to speak with respect when approaching the public.


He also pointed out that DPS should be working with the vIllage councils, the mayor and the village police when incidents occur within the villages. Another issue Soliai noted is that whenever there is a bestowal ceremony or a funeral for a paramount chief it’s then and there the public will bring forth their guns of all sorts.


He urged the Commissioner not to rush into arming of police officers. “I tell you that once the police officers are armed, the public will also be armed, the public will carry weapons in their cars — and the police should first, collect the weapons within homes, then arm the police officers.”


Only two of the senators in yesterday’s hearing were supportive of the move to arm police officers — Senator Alo Fa’auuga and Senator Gaea Perefoti.


Gaea noted during the hearing that the first man who was hung back in the day for shooting someone was from his village of Vaitogi, and with the recent incident where a police officer was shot, the shooter was also from Vaitogi, which is why he supports the move by police officers to be armed.