American Samoa Commissioner: Police Are 'Unsung Heroes' Of Community

Le‘i: Force is 'seriously undermanned and underpaid'

By Fili Sagapolutele

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (The Samoa News, May 17, 2017) – With the police force facing a shortage of officers, Police Commissioner Le’i Sonny Thompson is out on the road and in the community helping cops, who are described by Le’i as the “unsung heroes” working long hours to protect the people of American Samoa.

And don’t be surprised if the next time a police officer stops you on the road for possible traffic violation and you see Le’i working along side of a police officer or personally inquiring as to why are you speeding.

At least two motorists confirmed to Samoa News since early this week that Le’i was with a police officer, during traffic stops. “That was a surprise to see the Police Commissioner, right there after our family car was stopped by a police vehicle,” said one of the motorists who was stopped on Monday and declined to say if Le’i issued a traffic citation.

Samoa News have received several public inquiries about Le’i seen on the road, and some wondering as to why he is out there instead of maintaining his role as “Police Commissioner, overseeing the Department of Public Safety from the main office in Fagatogo.”

Le’i said the police force is “very seriously... undermanned and underpaid” and officers work long hours which “take a toll on the cops and sometimes people get sick” causing a staff shortage. He also said that in American Samoa, the per capita figure is 525 citizens per one-cop — and that’s a lot of people for one police officer.

He said the police force works around the clock to protect the community and police officers are “unsung heroes”.

While he oversees DPS, “but you will see me out there, every day, even weekends — rain, shine and anytime to help the police officers — the men and women in blue,” Le’i said in a Samoa News interview at his office yesterday morning.

Le’i being out on the road and in the community working along side officers, has come up before and the most recent time was two months ago, when he was seen with police officers on the main road between Futiga and Lepuapua, conducting traffic checks in the area, following public complaints of the road being used as a “speedway” or race track.

And early last month during a court hearing, District Court Judge Fiti Sunia cautioned Le’i’s involvement with police officers out there doing their job.

Several days later, Attorney General Talauega Eleasalo Ale presided over the swearing in of Le’i, who said at the time that although the statute gives him the authority as a commissioner of Public Safety to conduct business just like any other law enforcement officer, the swearing-in was “to make sure that at this point forward all applicable laws and the Constitution of American Samoa as well as those directly affecting the job of a police officer is taken care of.”

A Tafuna woman told Samoa News that she observed Saturday morning in front of the Veterans Memorial Stadium a big black truck with DPS license plate, parked behind a taxi. And there was a police officer in uniform talking to the taxi driver, while Le’i was standing a few feet from the tax and Le’i appeared to be observing what was going on.

“I thought to myself, ‘that's a first, a police commissioner out there with traffic officers’,” said the woman who asked not be identified by name. “If Le’i was observing, that’s fine but if he's actively pulling vehicles over for suspected traffic violation, then I wonder if he's trained to do it.”

During the Samoa News interview, Le’i who is a military retiree, said that “as commissioner and by the position that I hold, can perform duties like any other cop. So the fact that I’m out there til wee hours of the morning, weekends and so on, is to help, protect and to serve the citizens of American Samoa. I cannot with good and clear conscious execute all of the responsibilities that I’ve sworn to uphold by sitting in my office.”

Additionally, “I feel very uncomfortable, sitting in the comfort of my office, and come in and go home every day, knowing fully well that the cops — men and women — who were sworn to uphold the law and to protect the people who are most important to me” are out there working hard without providing the assistance they need.

Protecting the people, the young, the old, elected officials such as the governor, lieutenant governor and Fono leaders as well as other top officials such as the chief justice is “of utmost important,” he said.

Le’i said that he is sure that other police commissioners, such as Galeai Tu’ufuli, Tuaolo M. Fruean, Save Liuato Tuitele and William Haleck — who served before he did, have done their best but times have changed “and we need to move with the time. I would rather be with the cops out there helping to protect the community than sitting in my office,” he emphasized.

He also says that police officers “have been very kind out there. We give warning, but there are those out there, who by just the nature of a human being ignore the law. And the collateral damage to that — is innocent people.”

Rain or shine, “I will stop you on the road, if you do not follow rules of the road” he said, adding that motorist not following rules of the road may end up hurting others. He also said that “there should be no room... for lawlessness on the road and in the community” and police will protect the community from those who threaten the lives of elders, children, young kids, elected officials and other senior officials.

“I’m not on the road because I want to be on the road. It is my job and obligation, being sworn in to uphold the law. I can’t sleep at home, knowing people are hurt, people need help,” he said. “So the right thing to do is to be out there, helping those who need help.”

Some members in the community have questioned as to why the Police Commissioner drives his own DPS vehicle instead of having a driver. “I have respect for this position and the confidence of the public, including the governor, the Fono and the administration that has put me in this post,” he said, adding, “I drive my own car.”

The Samoa News
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