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New law sets guidelines for arming police officers in Samoa

[SN file photo]

Apia, SAMOA — Samoa’s Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi who is also the Minister of Police has the sole authority whether to arm the police officers or not. This authorization of power was approved when Parliament passed into law the Police Powers Amendment Bill 2017 Tuesday morning (Samoa Time).

Tuilaepa explained to the lawmakers that the Act while short, was fully supported and it’s an important piece of legislation. He said the mindset behind this act is to set guidelines prior to authorizing the arming of police officers in Samoa and that it will target the usage of weapons in a wrongful manner. Tuilaepa who spoke in Samoan stated these guidelines are also to maintain that aspect of safety, and this will disallow the use of the weapons in a wrongful manner.

Tuilaepa said this Act would assist the police when conducting their duties in case they come across a case where the suspect is armed and they have to consider that their life is at stake and also the lives of the public if any event does occur involving firearms. “This guidelines will make it difficult for the police officers to misuse the firearms under their care and also this Act will help prevent any issues pertaining to firearms when it comes to the police officers. Furthermore the Minister should have a full understanding of the law and consult with the Attorney General on the said issue.”

The Prime Minister stated there’s little to no change for the use of weapons, as Samoa leans more into its cultural aspect where there is a consultation between the parties instead of turning to weapons. However that’s changed as there are illegal weapons being smuggled into the country, and that’s why the police officers are conducting raids to collect these weapons. Customs is also looking to bring in equipment to improve their capabilities in stopping the illegal smuggling of guns into Samoa through cargo and containers, said Tuilaepa.

Member of Parliament, Fonotoe Lauofo Pereira supports the amendment, which gives the authority to the Minister of Police, however noted that the Samoan culture is another weapon that needs to be used when the police are carrying out their duties. He said the authority by the Minister of Police to allow or disallow the arming of the police officers should be done after a consultation with the Attorney General. He said that a legal opinion should also be considered. He said that it appears, from the Act that a written notice is required from the Minister prior to authorizing the use of the weapons. However he’s concerned that even in case of an emergency yet the police should receive this written notice before they are authorized to be armed. “I believe that the current Act is fine, however in case of a terrorist attack at the Port of entry and the officers need to be armed, this is urgent, they should be well prepared and that’s why there is a need to reconsider the Act prior to the approval of the legislation.

Papalii Niko Lee Hang, Minister of Works and MP who also supports the Act however said he’s highly concerned that there are numerous permits already issued to members of the public to be armed. “That’s a huge concern for me, the police should consider calling back members of the public who have a valid permit to consult with the police. They get permits issued just like that, yet the police officers who should be armed have to go through a lengthy process.”

Tuilaepa responded to the concerns noting this Act is mainly for the arming of the Police, nothing more.

Sulamanaia Fetaiai Tauiliili Tuivasa, Member of Parliament for Vaimauga East, in the previous years, said there was no need for the police officers to be armed. The police officers back in the days, knew the right words to say in an incident and their counseling and consultation helped with their job.  Sulamanaia pointed out that in the Act it does not have a clause to include the Village Council whereas they should be informed before the police carry out a raid or execute a search warrant on a property. “This is where they will be safe, with the village council of the village to be raided, and that’s why they get injured because they just carry out the raids without informing or consulting with the village council. If they go together with the chiefs, they won't have a problem as the council is well respected in the village. It appears the reason the police officers would be armed is to counter the suspect(s) but that can be avoided if the village council is involved.”

Tuilaepa said his concerns are nothing new as the police officers are consulting with the village councils and the problem is, some of those chiefs are involved. If the police officers inform the village councils prior to any drug raid and by the time they carry it out, they get to the village and the drugs have been removed. So the element of surprise is their best bet. According to Tuilaepa there are villages where the chiefs are the ones planting the drugs, but he did not indicate which drug or what villages he’s referring to.