In an ideal world, cops shouldn’t be armed. But we don’t live in an ideal world

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Mata'afa Keni Lesa

And so the issue of whether the Police should use firearms in performing their role to protect the people of this country has surfaced once more.

This time, it reared its head again when the Police Powers Amendment Bill 2017 was discussed and passed by Parliament on Tuesday.

Tabled by the Minister of Police and Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi, the law outlines a new process for officers to bear arms.

That is no Police officer will carry a gun unless they obtain permission from the Minister of Police – who has to first consult the Attorney General. 

The previous law only required the Commissioner of Police to seek the approval of the Minister of Police. Now after some recent high-profile incidents involving the Police, Tuilaepa said it is necessary to change the law to protect both members of the public and police officers.

“This can make sure that police officers don’t use weapons without any valid reason. The idea is to protect anyone that could be harmed by these weapons,” he said.

But the process seemed odd. M.P from Anoama’a West, Lauofo Fonotoe Meredith, for instance raised a valid point.

“We need to review the process, especially in case of emergencies,” he said. 

“It will take a lot of time for police officers to wait for permissions from the Minister who also has to talk to the Attorney General. That’s a lot of work.” 

Fonotoe was supported by Olo Fiti Vaai.

“The thing is, 99 per cent of the work done by police in cases under this bills is considered as emergency cases,” Olo said. “But the process that they (police) should have to follow will take hours. So we really need to look at this very carefully.”

Fonotoe and Olo are correct. We couldn’t agree more.

For Sulumanaia Tauiliili Tuivasa, M.P for Vaimauga East, he suggested that the answer could be in giving the Police the right type of guns.

 “The police should use those types of guns we see on televisions like electrical guns. Because if they use (real) guns, it will just make things worse,” he said. 

Looking back, things have changed in the Police force, he noted.

“Back then, there weren’t any cases such as this, and weapons were hardly used. I believe this was because the big fishes (lauia) were in charge at that time.

“But I think because we now have young people at top positions, I think that’s the reason why we have so many changes.”

Well that’s debatable, isn’t it?

Still we maintain that the difference of opinions over whether the Police should use firearms is a healthy debate. We say this because as much as we’d like to think Samoa does not need this sort of L.A.P.D policing style to borrow a term that’s been used a lot lately, we’ve got to be realistic. 

We live in a country where some people possess some very powerful weapons. It is foolish to expect the Police to approach them bare-chested and with their ie lavalava when they are opening fire towards them. 

Of course there have been the cases where the Police have got it wrong. The recent case at Fugalei where armed officers arrested the wrong person is a classic example. We don’t need to go into details. The story has been well told.

Suffice to say, criticisms of the Police in this country are nothing new. 

But let’s be honest here, the issue in question is not as straight-forward as some people think. It is why caution must be exercised.

We shouldn’t ignore the fact that although in some instances the Police might have gone over the top in terms of firearms, it doesn’t take away the fact they have a critical role to play and at some point, firearms are inevitable. 

They have to protect themselves too at all times. Their lives are just as precious as members of the public.

Now from what we have gathered over the years, the gist of the complaints target the aggressive nature of the raids and the use of firearms. 

As we’ve said before, in an ideal world, we wouldn’t have anything to do with firearms. We’re sure the Police officers wouldn’t have either. We would just continue to use our traditional ways of dialoguing and ava fatafata to deal with law and order situations.

But folks, we don’t live in an ideal world anymore. 

It this country, we have to be realistic.  Many of us are well aware about the danger posed by individuals and groups involved with drugs and other illegal substances. The reality is that where there are drugs, there are bound to be guns.

Besides, history exists to show that even where there are marijuana patches, guns are never far off. You only have to think back a few years ago to Faleatiu to know what we are talking about.

Now why do we say the differences of opinion is healthy? Put it this way, we need to have this debate now because the issue of guns, drugs and lawbreakers in Samoa has become our reality.

At some point, this country will have to make a decision on weather Police should be armed.

When that happens, the decision needs to be an informed one. 

The days of ignorance are over. We are not the Samoa of old. We have evolved and our challenges have taken on new meanings. In keeping law and order, we are dealing with sophisticated criminals who are not only unafraid to break the law, they will not hesitate to kill.

There is a balancing act that needs to be found. The Police need to be able to do their work but at the same time, members of the public need to be reassured that in the case when weapons are necessary, the Police will not abuse them. 

Have a safe Friday Samoa, God bless!

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