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Faipule grill DPS on drug cases and new cop cars meant for Manu’a

House Vice Speaker Fetu Fetui Jr.
oey@samoanews.com

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — The Public Safety Committee, chaired by Su’a District #2 faipule Avagafono Tuavao Vaimaga Maiava held a hearing on Tuesday, July 25, 2023 to hear reports from the Department of Public Safety’s plans for drug prevention and issues regarding police vehicles for Manu’a.

A confidential report of drug related cases from last year was passed out to the faipule of the Public Safety committee. Samoa News was not allowed to get a copy of the report, due to its confidential nature.

House Vice Speaker Fetu Fetui Jr. started off the questioning of witnesses Foifua Foifua Jr. and Terry Letuli, Deputy Commissioners of DPS by asking where the Commissioner was, while also conveying his lack of faith in the Commissioner’s ability to do the job.

He also queried if the witnesses were well prepared to answer questions about drug related cases. Deputy Commissioner Letuli assured him that “they are able to answer any and all questions.”

Faipule Sauasetoa Tautoloitua Soliai Ho-Ching began with a query about the drug epidemic, mainly methamphetamine, and assured both Deputy Commissioners that their (faipule) questions are to ensure they can help DPS on their end.

 “How many police officers, or agents, are assigned to the drug enforcement unit?” Sauasetoa asked.

Deputy Commissioner Letuli replied, “There are 10 agents assigned to the drug enforcement unit that includes other officers that are in the canine unit along with 5 canines they are utilizing.” Sauasetoa also asked if “the 10 officers assigned to the drug enforcement unit are sufficient?”

 “The 10 officers we have in the drug enforcement unit is enough for the time being, especially with the amount of limited police officers that we have staffed. If we had the manpower, another 5 officers could be employed to help combat the drug epidemic,” stated DC Letuli.

Sauasetoa then brought up that he noticed a lot of traffic officers, which is great, but thinks that they need to place more focus on the drug problem because he personally thinks that there are not enough officers in the drug enforcement unit, and that DPS should increase and build up the drug enforcement unit so they can combat the drug epidemic.

“Out of the 76 drug-related cases and the 63 prosecuted cases, how many did DPS identify as high value dealers that are supplying drugs into the territory, or were these cases mostly street dealers and users?” the faipule asked.

DC Letuli replied, “As of right now, we have not identified any high value dealers and that all of the 63 prosecuted cases are street dealers and recreational users. We would also have to look at it case by case in order to answer your question.”

Another concern brought up by Sauasetoa is the effectiveness of the canine unit, but what he “noticed was that at the two main ports of entry, the wharf and the airport, the canine unit are not present,” and while he acknowledged that it is Customs’ jurisdiction, he asked the Deputy Commissioners, “What are your plans in working with Customs to help them prevent drugs at the entry point?”

 “As of right now, DPS is not working together with Customs, it’s only until Customs needs our assistance, then we’ll come in and be part of their enforcement, under their jurisdiction. Customs are not utilizing the K-9 unit, but there are times Customs asks for the assistance of the K-9 unit in checking luggage.”

Sauasetoa concluded his questioning by relating his experience of visiting TCF and observing some of the inmates from his village that were “pushers”, and that his concern is “if we don’t get to the people supplying drugs, we’ll never resolve the issue, and all we’re doing is putting a band-aid on it.

“To fix the problem, we have to get to the high value dealers.”

Sauasetoa then assured the Deputy Commissioners that “he is not placing any blame on DPS, but that he wants to see how the Fono can help in actually tackling the root of the problem.”

Faipule Ape Mike Asifoa asked the witnesses about the status of the most recent drug bust cases — like the meth drug bust in Faga’alu and the Post Office.

DC Letuli said, “I currently can’t answer right now until I check the files, reports and the deposition on the status of these cases and where they’re at right now, but we can provide the depositions to the Public Safety committee at a later time.”

The House Vice Speaker raised to points to the witnesses. The first is that  the Fono wants to see which cases are meth related, and which are marijuana related, not only which ones were prosecuted, are pending or are closed, as the current report given to faipule lays out.

He next asked about the status of police vehicles for Ta’u — whether Ta’u DPS was assigned new patrol vehicles or second hand vehicles.

Letuli stated that “they are still working on distributing vehicles” to Manu’a.

However, Fetui pointed out that in the confidential report, it states that the new patrol vehicles meant for Manu’a are now being used here in Tutuila, with Letuli stating that “the secondhand cars have been transported to Manu’a as standby vehicles.”

Fetui’s second question was whether the canines were “effective” and Letuli stated that “they are constantly training and maintaining the canines.” Among other issues Fetui brought up was the negative PR that DPS was receiving, and advised the Deputy Commissioners that the new officers should be educated and trained on how to conduct themselves accordingly as public servants and how to execute a good PR image for DPS.

The Vice-Speaker then brought up the issue of inmate escapes, asking whether the Department of Corrections ever contacted them for assistance in locating escaped inmates.

Letuli explained, “Sometimes TCF does request their assistance, and that most times, DPS officers are the ones locating inmates that are escaping.”

Fetui then advised the Deputy Commissioners that if they have proposals for assisting TCF that they should work in tandem to resolve this recurring issue.

Another issue Fetui brought up was the Tafuna Police Substation (TPS).

He noted it was an “eye-sore” and asked if they have requested some of the COVID grants from the Governor to build a new station.

Letuli did not identify what type of funds they were requesting, but said that “they are still in communication with the Governor’s Office on whether or not they can secure funds to build a new station or make major repairs to the current one, but everything depends on funds from the government to execute any work on the Tafuna station.”

Fetui advised both Deputy Commissioners to make a stronger appeal to the Governor to make TPS a priority and to secure funds in building a new police station.

Faipule Luaitaua Gene Pan asked Commissioner Letuli if the Governor has given an answer on their requests for repairing the TPS, to which Letuli responded that they had been notified by the Governor’s office that “they’re still attempting to secure funds.”

DC Letuli also said that they have submitted reports made by Public Works on the run-down condition of the TPS, and that they are still waiting on the next step, on account of the funds needed to build a new station, along with providing an estimate for the new station, as he is unsure how much it would cost.

Faipule Luaitaua suggested “two stations in Tafuna, since that’s where the population is most concentrated.”

He further asked for a revision of their report with more details such as the monetary street value of these “drug busts.”

The Public Safety Committee hearing concluded with one last question from Fetui, asking if they were in support or opposition of the bill that asks to give Customs and Homeland Security officers ‘arrest powers’, to which both Deputy Commissioners relayed that “they fully oppose the bill.”