IN SPITE OF PUBLIC CONCERNS, COPS WILL BE GIVEN GUNS SAYS DPS COMMISH
“In order for our Police Department to be recognized and be qualified as a fully fledged police department there’s a need for the police officers to be armed — because right now our motto is 'To serve and protect'. We can serve but we cannot protect,” said Commissioner of Public Safety William Bill Haleck.
Last Saturday the Commissioner picked up 24 Glock-17s, which are 9-millimeter handguns which were purchased through the Criminal Justice Planning Agency, with the approval of Governor Lolo Matalasi Moliga for $10,400. Haleck said they went directly to the manufacturer to purchase the guns.
The governor’s Executive Assistant Iulogologo Joseph Pereira confirmed with Samoa News that Governor Lolo did approve the purchase of guns to arm the policemen. “However, the Governor also instructed the Commissioner that before the public safety officers are allowed to carry firearms in public they must undergo and pass rigorous training in the use of firearms as well as undergoing a complete psychological evaluation to ensure that they possess the Emotional Intelligence to carry a gun in public," he said.
"The Commissioner and the Director of Port Administration have submitted for the Governor's review and approval policies and procedures regulating the use of guns,” said Iu. Different situational scenarios are being assessed to determine the best approach, in order to ensure that arming the policemen will not escalate the propensity or the inclination for the public to own guns.
Iu said, while there is obvious public concern over the arming of public safety officers, the Governor's first basic concern is the protection of our public safety officers by ensuring that they have the appropriate deterrent tools to effectively do their job to protect property and the people of American Samoa, along with enforcing all of its laws.
“There is no doubt that all of us desire violent crimes not to reach our shores, unfortunately we are no longer immune from the rising trend of violence in the world compelled by greed manifested by engaging in criminal activities that yield instant vast income while destroying individuals and the social fiber of the country. The cold blooded shooting of the public safety officer in the clear light of day is firmly imprinted in our minds and we certainly don't want the replicate this horror," said Iu.
Haleck said the Police Department is looking at having training begin next year, maybe in the middle of the year and they will start off with the lethal approach. The police officers will be chosen from a pool of officers and will be assessed psychologically. After that, they will be able to undergo the actual firearms training, which they must pass.
Haleck made it clear that arming police officers is not his agenda rather he had met with Police Commanders and Police officers and they all agreed that police officers should be armed.
Samoa News points out that former Commissioner of Public Safety Tuaolo Manaia Fruean in his time supported the move to arm police officers.
Haleck told Samoa News he knows there’s opposition to arming the officers yet it will save the officer's lives. “If this was your son who was responding to a shooting and your sending your son with his bare hands going into the unknown scene, would you send your son in harm’s way like that? I don’t think so. You would send your son as a police officer being equipped and ready to deal with any situation.”
The Commissioner told Samoa News that among the reasons why they are keen on arming the police officers is due to the death shooting of Police Lt Liusila Brown on July 22, 2010 and the attempted murder of another police officer in front of the temporary court house in Fagatogo.
He also pointed out there’s a need for the court marshals to be armed, after all during the death shooting of Brown it was the court marshal who jumped on the shooter preventing him from reloading the gun. He said if the police officers were armed at that time, “this would have been a justifiable shooting. That’s the case where the guy was endangering the public and that is enough for the police officers to react and 'shoot to kill'. Unfortunately, there were no weapons at that time."
“Another reason DPS is not recognized as a legitimate police department is because, in order for us to be a legitimate police department we have to be armed,” said Commissioner Haleck. "There was a case where we had to extradite people from Honolulu. They wouldn't let our officer bring those people back because we’re not armed, he told Samoa News.
The Commissioner gave an example of “what happens if we got a crazy nut that goes to the Fono while in session and starts shooting — how are we going to respond to that?
"If you asked me two years ago, what is the likelihood of someone shooting a police officer outside the court house, I would say… no way, that does not happen in Samoa, but guess what — it did happen.”
The Commissioner said his approach is that “it’s better to be safe than to be sorry and our officers are to be trained to the job, so when they are issued weapons, they are capable of being armed.
He also pointed out that Police Officers are not the only ones that are armed. Haleck said the security guards with the Social Security office and the Airport Security are also armed as part of their mandates. He mentioned that there were incidents with the Airport Security in the past — where one was trying to shoot at a dog, but shot his foot instead. Haleck said this was due to the lack of proper formal training.
“I can assure the public there will be no incidents and if incidents do happen we will deal with them one step at a time.” Haleck said that it’s the patrol officers who will be armed, because they are the first responders who arrive at the scene.
He laid out his plan for the guns with Samoa News, that there will be five guns distributed among the Leone Substation, Tafuna Substation, East Substation and Central Station and with every shift there should be at least one or two officers armed, in case something happens.
Haleck told Samoa News they will also be getting guns from the Honolulu Police Department, which will be donating their used firearms.
SAMOA NEWS POLL
There have been 1263 responses to an unscientific poll that was posted on samoanews.com a month ago asking: Do you agree with Police Commissioner Haleck that the police force should be armed? 43% of respondents agree to some extent that officers should be armed and 57% disagree.
The responses breakdown is as follows:
Yes, we will be safer when the police are armed — 22%
Yes, I believe everyone has the right to be armed — 5%
Yes, as long as the armed officers pass a mental health test — 16%
No, I think we would be less safe if police are armed — 28%
No, I believe in more stringent gun control for all — 10%
No, if you give the police guns, I'm moving — 19%