Am. Samoa Governor Calls On Traditional Leaders’ To Help Reduce Crime

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Two recent police officer shootings lead to community insecurity

By Fili Sagapolutele

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (The Samoa News, Jan. 14, 2015) – Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga used his State of the Territory Address to call on all traditional leaders, including those in the Fono, village councils and the community, to work together with the government to ensure a peaceful American Samoa after two recent shootings, which targeted the Department of Public Safety.

In November, a drive-by-shooting caused damage to the Police Substation in Leone and weeks later on Dec. 28, a police vehicle was shot at in Lepuapua, seriously injuring one police officer who is now in Honolulu for further medical treatment.

Towards the end of his address, which was broadcast Monday night on KVZK-TV, the governor told lawmakers that the crimes in the territory are seriously affecting the community and this includes police officers.

According to Lolo, these crimes, including the shootings targeting DPS, have put the community on edge and people no longer feel safe to freely walk around in their villages, because they are unsure of their community’s safety.

While others may argue to increase the number of police officers, Lolo said that would not deter crime, and he instead called on traditional leaders for their support in working together with police to ensure the safety of their villages and counties.

The governor said that a police force is something new that came to American Samoa in the 1900s when the territory became part of the United States, but Samoans for centuries have always depended on their culture, customs and traditional leaders to protect families and the community.

(Lolo first called on traditional leaders as well as the entire community to work together with police to maintain peace in the territory during a meeting last month with senior DPS officials, the Attorney General’s Office, and other ASG officials).

As part of his response to the governor’s address, Senate President Gaoteote Tofau Palaie pointed out that American Samoa has been affected with crimes such as illegal drugs and police officers have been injured or even killed in the line of duty, while protecting the community.

Gaoteote agreed with the governor that solutions must be identified to protect the community as well as police officers, adding that he doesn’t want to hear any more sad news that a police officer has been killed for doing his job.

He also thanked outgoing Police Commissioner William E. Haleck for his service in the last two years, and said that more still needs to be done to assist the Public Safety Department and the Fono will work with the executive branch to achieve such a goal.

The issue of the shootings which targeted police was raised during yesterday’s Senate session by Sen. Tuiasina Esera, who pointed out that the Western District held a meeting of traditional leaders recently to discuss ways to help police protect the district following the recent shootings.

Further, there is also a serious problem with illegal drugs being sold in the territory and he called for a Senate committee hearing so that the Senate can get more details from DPS on these and other problems.

Sen. Galeai Tu’ufuli agreed with Tuiasina’s concerns and requested that the Senate Public Safety Committee hold a hearing as soon as possible, as early as next week Tuesday. He said it's important that the Senate gets more details on these serious issues and then work with the government to find solutions.

Although no hearing date has been set, the witnesses suggested by senators to be called to testify, are Haleck, acting police commissioner Save Liuato Tuitele, Homeland Security Department director Utuali’i Iuniasolua Savusa and senior DPS officials who handle these cases.

Gaoteote reminded senators that the governor — in his State of the Territory Address — has called for support from traditional leaders, village councils and others because this is not an easy task for the police and requires everyone’s involvement as well as support.

He agreed with holding a hearing.

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