American Samoa Police Commissioner Talks Training “Special Unit” Vs. Arming All Police Officers

Police don’t have the necessary equipment to protect themselves when responding to serious and emergency situations, ongoing debate over options

By Fili Sagapolutele

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (The Samoa News, February 12, 2017) – Police Commissioner Le’i Sonny Thompson has suggested training a “special unit” of police officers to respond to serious cases; and cautioned American Samoa when it comes to arming officers in the police force.

Le’i, speaking at his House confirmation hearing last week also revealed that there is no ammunition on hand for the firearms or guns that were donated by the Honolulu Police Department during the tenure of then Police Commissioner William Haleck.

Responding to a question on his view about arming local police officers, Le’i first pointed out that this issue has been in the media several times and it has also been the subject of discussions in the Fono in the past, during Haleck’s tenure as well as former police commissioner Save Liuato Tuitele.

He says the Samoan culture of respect has, years ago, been the way to resolve differences and keep peace in the community but things have changed and incidents have happened in the past involving weapons, and some firearms are prohibited under local law, but are present in the territory.

Le’i didn’t elaborate further on past incidents involving weapons but he said that police don’t have the necessary equipment to protect themselves when responding to serious and emergency situations.

As to arming police officers, he said it’s an issue that American Samoa should be cautious about moving forward and it also should be thoroughly reviewed. Instead, he suggested a special police unit, which would undergo thorough training to be armed, but only be used when serious incidents occur — those that threaten the safety of the public.  

He believes that arming police officers is an issue that will probably go before the Fono for approval; and reiterated that this matter needs thorough assessment.  

Le’i said he doesn’t want to discredit previous police commissioners and the work they did, but he believes American Samoa is currently not prepared to respond to any serious incident and police don’t have the necessary equipment to protect themselves when responding to such incidents.

He was also asked for the whereabouts of the guns donated by the Honolulu Police Department to which he said he has seen them, and they have already been inventoried and locked in a vault. The problem, he said, is there is no ammunition for the weapons.

The police commissioner called on the committee to follow up on the ammunition, with one lawmaker saying that he believes the guns came with ammunition. Le’i said he would look into it.

Arming police officers became a big issue of discussion and debate in the territory following the July 2010 deadly shooting of Police Det.  Lusila Brown in front of the temporary High Court building in Fagatogo; and again when police raided the Le Aute business in Malaeloa in 2015, which was followed several days later with the shooting of the Leone Police Station.

The issue is still being debated, with many in the community, including several lawmakers, remaining opposed to the idea. For those who support the idea, they— both lawmakers and ASG officials — strongly recommend that before arming officers, they should undergo physiological assessment as well as extensive training in the use of weapons.

The Samoa News
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