Public Safety still pushing for cops to carry guns
Deputy Police Commissioner Leseiau Laumoli says they are currently in the process of trying to legally give local law enforcement officers the ability to be armed.
Leseiau was responding to Samoa News inquiries which were sparked by questions from local ASCC students wanting to know whether or not there was a law already in place, prohibiting local cops from carrying guns.
“Yes, there is a law that says we can’t arm cops,” Leseiau said.
When asked about his stance on the issue, Leseiau said that he and other DPS officials support the arming of cops “for the safety of the officers, as well as the protection of the general public.”
He added, “The world we live in is changing — moving forward — and therefore, we need to allow our cops to be armed because they put their lives at risk everyday on the job.” Not only that, “the people of the territory also need protection.”
Leseiau said they don’t intend on just handing out firearms to all police officers but instead, they anticipate that only the SWAT team will be armed.
The issue with arming cops first came to light during the confirmation hearing for DPS Commissioner William Haleck where he told lawmakers that he believed "it is time" to allow cops to carry firearms, adding that times have changed and things are just not the same.
At the time, Haleck told lawmakers that he spoke to an assistant attorney general who showed him a portion of the law pertaining to arming cops which states that the Police Commissioner has the authority to arm the local police force, but approval must be granted by the Governor.
The issue with arming cops has been highly debated, with some lawmakers — even members of the public — expressing concern about the potential dangers such a thing would pose.
Title 46, Chapter 2 Section 46.0203 of local law states that
(a) A law enforcement officer to whom a firearm has been issued in accordance with the provisions of 46.4233 is required to have the firearm so issued in his possession while on duty.
(b) For the purposes of this act “law enforcement officer” means a member of the police force of the Territory.
(c) The Commissioner of Public Safety shall establish a training and certification program for the use of arms and other police weapons by the Territory’s law enforcement officers before issuance of these arms and weapons to the law enforcement officers. The Commissioner must submit in writing his training and certification program to the Governor for approval.
"This is not an easy subject," Haleck told lawmakers during his confirmation hearing. "Cops should be careful as this is a dangerous thing and training is definitely necessary."
He said he hopes he can succeed in getting the cops armed during his tenure as Commissioner, even if it means starting off with just a small detail.
Haleck referred to the shooting death of Lt. Lusila Brown, who was gunned down in broad daylight outside the temporary courthouse in Fagatogo. He said if the gunman had been given time to reload his weapon, more police officers would have been injured or killed that day. “In a case such as that one, if a cop was to shoot the gunman, it would be justified,” he explained, adding that cops couldn't do anything that day except fear for their lives.
The police commissioner said when he left the local police force in 1971, cops were armed. However, he doesn't know what happened to change that. He said there was talk that an accidental shooting involving a cop occurred but added that such an incident could have been resolved through an internal investigation, not necessarily requiring a ban on guns for cops.
Fagatogo lawmaker Maugaoali’i Leapai Anoa’i suggested an extensive study be conducted on the issue, as the decision might create more problems than solutions.
The same sentiment was echoed by Rep. Taotasi Archie Soliai, who said he is not opposed to the decision to allow cops to carry firearms but he is "extremely concerned" as he believes all cops need not only physical training but also psychiatric evaluations before they are allowed to carry guns.
He urged Haleck to explore "all alternatives" when discussing the matter with the Attorney General's Office.
Haleck told House members this isn’t something that will be quick, but his goal is to get the cops armed as soon as possible. He said it will involve a lot of training and there are many issues involved.
"You all are concerned about people's lives and in turn, I am concerned for the safety of the police officers," Haleck told the faipule. "This is not easy but it's not hard either, if everyone agrees. But I think it should be done."