Many letters have been written condemning the behaviour of senior police officers and painting the present Commissioner as the saviour of the Samoa Police Force.
I write this letter in defence of the Samoa Police Force and in particular senior police officers. Before I get to my defence, let me remind the readers again why this whole saga started. It was due to the actions of armed police in the wrongful arrest of a wrong person at the market and the subsequent scathing report by the Ombudsman. It had little to do with the actions of senior police officers.
The pre-emptive arrest by police of the head of the N.P.O. escalated the matter, it had little to do with any actions of what your readers have labelled ‘corrupt’ senior police officers.
While the prosecution of the Commissioner did not proceed because the prosecutor’s view that a conviction might not be possible due to insufficient evidence, the issue of the American style policing remains. Do members of the public feel any safer now that the police are armed compared to what happened previously? My simple and emphatic answer to that is NO.
Oh how quickly we jump on the bandwagon of criticism and mud-slinging, even to the point of some saying that some officers have obtained jobs in the police because of their family connections. Some of the criticisms are based on hearsay and Chinese whispers.
The Samoa Police Force had worked effectively in solving crimes in Samoa before the present Commissioner was appointed. Samoa has hosted several international conferences, high level government meetings and even a South Pacific game or two without complaints of note about the work of the Samoa Police Force. Overseas people felt safe in Samoa for Samoa is a safe place, thanks largely to the work of the Samoa Police under the leadership of senior police officers. After the tsunami damaged Samoa, some of the first people on the scene of devastation were the police under the leadership of senior police officers. Peaceful election after peaceful election have taken place in Samoa due in part to the presence of the police under the stewardship of senior police officers.
Do these events speak to a corrupt organisation that it now requires two commission of enquiries in the short space of time?
There are corrupt police officers similar to the number of corrupt officers in any other Samoan organisation. What is that saying about the righteous and throwing stones? The previous report by the Ombudsman highlighted areas of corruption in the police force. Is the level of corruption so bad now that we need another inquiry or are we after a particular outcome and the inquiry is a means to justify an end?
Generally speaking though the police have been great in working hand in hand with its stakeholders to identify and solve crimes against civil society and against people. This has been largely due to the work of senior police officers and the rest of the Samoa Police Force. How many times has a village disturbance quelled when the police appear. The presence of police was all that was required to calm things down and make people feel safe. Was there any need for the presence of armed police to provide members of the public with the feeling of safety. My contention is NO.
A number of initiatives by the present commissioner have been good in combatting issues like gun ownership and drug dealing. This is to be applauded. The commissioner might have been in recent high media profile cases of drug arrests but how many other mundane and probably boring police work in which the senior officers are actively involved in but which do not receive media attention. These include suicide prevention and domestic violence (in collaboration with SVG) or the presence in the villages. This work is as important as catching the drug dealers. Many of these senior police officers are women and men of integrity and ethics and probably shy away from the limelight of media coverage. Yet, to be tarnished with the same brush and accused of being corrupt is grossly unfair.
My view of the Commissioner’s position in trying to change the police force is quite simple and is consistent with Organisational Change 101, namely that you have to take the people with you on the road to change. In any organisation from a village church to big ones like the Samoa Police Force, the Commissioner has to sell his vision to the senior police and it is his job to bring these women and men on the change journey.
Sure, there would have been resentment from some senior officers about an ‘outside’ appointment but this should be a motivational factor in getting the Commissioner to work extra hard to convince senior police officers to accept his ideas of change. It is disappointing to see the Commissioner’s comment that it is either his way or the highway for the senior police officers. I would like to see a more inclusive Commissioner rather than an arrogant one who thinks he knows all there is to know about policing.
I understand that in a command structure like the Samoa Police mutual respect is important because in a tight situation it is your fellow police officer who might have to look out for you. This mutual respect, the cornerstone of the fa’asamoa, is what has kept the Samoa Police Force operationally effective before the present Commissioner was appointed.
At the end of the day, the question I need to ask myself is whether I feel safe living in Apia under the leadership of the present crop of senior police officers. The answer to that is YES.
An inquiry is not going to make me feel any safer.
Ma lo’u fa’aaloalo lava.