Am. Samoa Public Safety Department Makes Case For Arming Police

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Many guns have been confiscated during criminal activities

By Joyetter Feagaimaalii-Luamanu

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (The Samoa News, March 20, 2014) – In their move to arm the police officers, the Department of Public Safety informed Senators in a hearing on Monday that between 2006 and 2012, the police confiscated close to 80 guns as a result of raids and criminal cases.

During the hearing on the hot issue of arming the police officers or first responders in the patrol division, Police Commander Tauese Va’a Sunia in a power point presentation noted that of the 78 guns they have confiscated, there were 63 rifles ranging from 20 gauge to 12 gauge, along with 22-caliber rifles, and five shotguns. They also collected ten handguns, which were 38 Revolvers, 9-millimeters and 357-magnums.

DPS Commissioner Haleck has assured Senators that there would be extensive training prior to arming the officers.

During the presentation, Tauese noted that between 2006 and 2012 there were 20 cases involving unlawful discharge of firearms, wherein eleven rifles, four shotguns and five handguns were confiscated.

He further said that in 86 cases of assault with a deadly weapon, 63 involved rifles, ten involved handguns and five were shotguns. (The other cases involved machetes, etc.)

According to Tauese, there were five cases of assault with prohibited weapons — air guns and BB guns — and 29 cases of Public Peace Disturbance for the use of illegal firearms. There were 36 cases of PPD which involved use of a deadly weapon.

Other seizures and confiscations of illegal firearms were by Customs, who found them during attempts to smuggle them into the Territory, and they were later turned over to the police. According to the presentation, between 2008 and 2012 Customs agents uncovered guns ranging from 12 gauge shotguns, to 22 rifles, an M1 rifle and an AK-47.

Tauese stated the AK-47 is a powerful gun and its appearance in the territory is rare, as it is Russian made.

The Customs agents between 2008 and 2012 also confiscated live ammunition or bullets from containers that came through the port or the airport.

Tauese reminded Senators of the massive increase in the population of Tualauta county in the last 30 years, noting there are just not enough police officers to encounter the public in case of incidents.

The Police Commander further noted firearms registered in the territory between 2002 and 2013 totaled 172, and these weapons included shotguns, rifles and pistols.The Senators also heard firsthand the stories of police officers being shot at and Tauese presented the matter on a case by case basis.

He pointed out that back in 2009, four police officers responded to a call of suspicious minors hanging around the Ford Motor lot, and when police searched the premises the pair were caught hiding under a truck. However, when told to surrender, the young men came out armed, and their weapons were loaded.

"Both minors began pointing the rifles at the officers and began shooting. Unarmed officer Vaina Vaofanua disarmed one of the suspects, while the other minor hid behind a truck and kept on shooting at the officers, who barricaded themselves behind the police van, which was the only form of defense they had.

Tauese also pointed out the famous standoff between the police and a family in Leone back in 1997, when officers were executing an arrest warrant at a residence. The standoff lasted four hours, which called for police to be armed.

He also mentioned the gunning down of Police Lt Liusila Brown in July 2010, saying this is another incident referred to as a reason police officers should be armed.

Commissioner Haleck distributed to the Senators a review of his reasons for "Why territory police officers should be armed?"

The Commissioner wrote that police officers are there to protect the community (including children) and themselves from armed and deadly behavior by those willing to inflict serious boldly injury and death on the innocent. This can happen at any time and will be unexpected.

He pointed to Lt. Brown’s "violent pubic execution… in the presence of several witnesses and other unarmed LE personnel is not an anomaly and this type of incident will reoccur; not ‘if’, but matter of "when".

He noted, because police officers do not have the ability to protect the community or themselves, "no officer will be able to defend anyone if the unexpected occurs by a murderous subject that decides to wreak havoc on innocent victims."

Haleck said, "I, as the assigned leader of the Police Department, cannot ask any unarmed police officer to put themselves in harm’s way when a shooting is in progress without the means to defend themselves. I will not do it. I owe their families that much."

He pointed out that the territory’s leaders are obliged to protect the public by arming their police officers in order to fulfill the motto, to protect and to serve. Without firearms, he said, "our officers are merely serving the community and will not have the ability to protect them."

The Commissioner stated that in all the US territories police officers are armed and protecting their communities. "Currently, American Samoa does not offer this protection to our people. Moreover, he said, the DPS is not recognized as a legitimate Police Department by the federal government "because police officers are not armed".

Haleck said in essence DPS is not a fully fledged police department, and they are considered by other police departments as security guards.

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