29 Nov 2013

Plans to arm American Samoa police officers move step closer

5:38 pm on 29 November 2013

Plans to arm American Samoa police officers have moved a step closer, with the first shipment of handguns arriving.

The Department of Public Safety has received 24 Glock-17s, which only a select group of officers will have access to after they receive training and psychological testing.

But, as Amelia Langford reports, one critic warns the police will be opening Pandora's Box.

The fatal shooting of a police officer outside the High Court in 2010 is one of the drivers behind the proposal to arm police. The Police Commissioner, William Haleck, says police need to be able to protect themselves.

"WILLIAM HALECK: Our motto is to serve and protect. Right now we can serve but if any incidents should pop up surrounding any kind of weapons how can we effectively respond to someone, with a weapon, with our bare hands?"

William Haleck says he will be taking a slow approach to introducing the weapons. He says officers will have to undergo psychological evaluations and extensive training first.

WILLIAM HALECK: We want to make sure that when we do do this thing that our officers are properly trained - mentally and physically to be able to deal with whatever comes along their way and act prudently with this weapon.

William Haleck says training will take place mid-2014. Our correspondent in American Samoa , Fili Sagapolutele, says there is mixed reaction from locals to the idea.

FILI SAGAPOLUTELE: For the lawmakers - some of them have asked the police commissioner to move slowly on this issue of arming police officers. Others are in agreement with this issue, all from the fact that from that shooting in 2010 of a police officer.

One resident, Dale Long, is strongly against the plan and says he believes the majority of the community would agree with him. Mr Long says arming the police is unnecessary and violence begets violence.

DALE LONG: There is no gun problem here. It's not like Chicago or something where people are running around with machine guns and stuff. There are no guns to speak of here and it's just going to escalate the problem.

He says although officers will undergo training and psychological testing first, it is of little comfort to him.

DALE LONG: They're not infalliable, you know, they are human beings and they get into arguments and stuff like that - who knows what's going to happen. I understand the training is supposed to overcome those concerns but I don't believe it.

Dale Long says he believes the shooting of an officer in 2010 could not have been avoided - even if the police had carried guns. And businessman, Herman Gebauer says he does have reservations abour guns but the police need to defend themselves.

HERMAN GEBAUER: I think it is necessary there are a lot of handguns - a lot of guns- on the island. You know, people with drugs they sometimes carry firearms. I think it's just a natural progression of what we are going through right now.

Herman Gebauer says police definitely need to have sufficient training before they carry guns or innocent people could get hurt.