2019 People of the Year: Fuiavailiili Egon Keil
The Police Commissioner, Fuiavailiili Egon Keil, and the 500 men and women of the Samoa Police Service with whom he is responsible for upholding the rule of law, have faced nearly every policing challenge imaginable this year.
In July, the force was responsible for upholding order during the biggest ever Pacific Games in the event's more than five decade history; the event drew nearly 5,000 athletes to Apia, but it proceeded with very little disruption.
Then the Police found themselves in charge of enforcing the state of emergency orders that followed the measles outbreak. Fuiavailiili and the force oversaw a different yet successful approach to law enforcement throughout the epidemic, one that appealed to the public's better nature on regulations such as banning young children from congregating in public or seeking to discourage the mass vaccination campaign. Fuiavailiili's philosophy was that arrests, of which there were few, should be a last resort.
But that did not supplant the steady drumbeat of demand for old fashioned policework, of which there was no shortage. Last month Fuiavailiili led an undercover sting operation in Faleatiu involving some 100 undercover officers netted the biggest drug bust in Samoan history, a haul that included 10,000 marijuana plants and other contraband worth an estimated $15 million.
The Police also charged three men alleged to have been involved in a plot to assassinate the Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Dr. Sa'ilele Malielegaoi, a matter still pending in Court; and high-profile murder cases such as the murder of Sa’u Justina Fa’asamoa and attempted murder of Frysna Rimoni.
The Commissioner also showed a tender side when he spoke to a funeral co-organised by the Police for a six-month-old abandoned baby. "Even the smallest of feet have the power of everlasting footprints, upon this world," he said at the funeral.
Fuiavailiili's second term in office began after his reappointment in 2018. But despite its favourable beginnings the reappointment did not proceed entirely smoothly.
After his prior experience and retiring honourably from the Los Angeles Police Department, Fuiavailiili’s appointment in 2015 was a significant coup for the Government.
He was the first Commissioner to be appointed under the Police Amendment Act from outside the Samoa Police force with experience and qualifications.
Before then, those being chosen to take over the post was selected internally from senior officers that were serving the police force at the time.
The transition for Fuiavailiili to head the Samoa Police in 2015 was a tough one; he soon found himself “tangled up” in the new working environment.
Shortly after his appointment, the Commissioner was facing 200 charges in relation to firearms and one of incite to murder.
The charges were withdrawn by a private prosecutor and Q.C. hired by the then National Prosecution Office to prosecute the matter.
“I was naïve with what was happening here and I knew there was a lot of trouble [within the] Samoa Police and reason why government changed the policy of hiring a Commissioner,” he said in an interview.
“There was a lot of infighting before and I got tangled up in there.”
Following those hurdles, Fuiavailiili started a clean-up in the Ministry of Police: he fired more Police Officers than any other Commissioner.
The Ministry, which had more than four Assistant Commissioners, was restructured and were removed.
Subsequently, the Commissioner appointment the first female Deputy Commissioner in Samoan history, promoting Papali’i Monalisa Keti as his trusted second-in-command.
"[Today] I feel there is a lot more unity in our organisation, there is one system, one direction and one big organisation that is going to drive forward to fulfill the mandates by Government," he said.
He recalled the first day he was introduced to the Police service by a former Assistant Commissioner and the inequality he saw with the treatment of female officers.
“He made some derogative comments to females and it took me back,” he added.
“The females took it on the chin and moved on. Apparently it’s an ongoing behaviour, its domestic violence and battered women syndrome and its not acceptable.”
For those reasons and to shift the organisation away from its old culture, Fuiavailiili made the call to demote some officers; others he had to let go.
“All that kind of stuff is gone and I made sure everyone is treated equally with respect and give them an environment they can grow and flourish,” he said.
“It is not to suppress them but to mold and motivate them to do their best and branding the name of Samoa Police Service to make it one that people can trust, our government can depend on and our international partners can look up to and trust.”
As first responders, Police are expected to be present at any scenario whether it’s a natural disaster, an epidemic, a shootout, burglary or any kind of crime. They are there.
But with an unattractive salary and unfavourable working hours round the clock, being a Police officers is often not the preferred workplace and the force is always recruiting for more.
With this in mind, the Commissioner has an important part to play in motivating officers to stay in the Police force.
One of those ways is giving them a sense of pride and be recognise, and Fuiavailiili is on the move to gift his staff with Police badge: a first of its kind for Samoa.
Very little details on the new approach will be disclosed until it is officially launched in the new year.
The Commissioner was asked how he motivates his staff to put on the Police uniform regardless of their low salary, in response he said: “You give them credit for doing just that; waking up in the morning to come to work”.
“I give them a lot of credit for what they do,” he said.
“During the shutdown there was no public transport, everything was closed and it was a big day for us.
“You ask how do you motivate them when they have families that died from the measles and you are asking them to come and help when their families need help.
“I try to help by giving them better work conditions and to push for that [pay raise] and I am very proud of how they come through and work whether it rain or shine, they will be there…”
There were six babies that died from measles who were children of those from the police force.
In addition the Commissioner said while an increase in the pay for officers will go a long way for their families he reminds them to operate higher than their wages.
He pointed out just because they are paid less it does not mean they are expected to perform any less.
He encouraged the Officers to work hard and perform well above their pay grade to give the Government more reasons to pay them more.
A daily reminder from the Commissioner to his Officers are the three Ds.
"The first D stands for: Do your job the best you can; to know the law and policies and what is expected of you.
"Secondly: Document as much as you can “because after six months something will come up and you will get questioned for it.
"The last D: stands for discipline, following orders and professionalism at all times while on the job."
Some of the achievements by the Police Service this year include its ability to build partnerships with its regional partners and other international bodies.
Many police officers have benefited from participating in overseas trainings and recognition for their work.
Fuiavailiili acknowledged the support of those partners such as the Australian Federal Police which has not only devoted two individuals to work with the Police force but also donated the Nafanua II patrol boat that is worth about $30 million.
The vessel has been a critical assistance, not just for its future capacity to patrol Samoa's maritime borders but during the ongoing measles crisis when it has gone to American Samoa to get supplies of oxygen to help those affected with the measles epidemic.
The Commissioner also thanked other regional Police departments: New Zealand, American Samoa, U.S. Federal agencies, Fiji, Tonga and close connections with Governments and Embassies in the region.
Also as the Chairman of the Pacific Transnational Crime Coordination Centre, Fuiavailiili said it is of great benefit to the people of Samoa and the region to head the Centre, a position that brings crucial insight into crime trends affecting the region.
The Police Academy for Samoa is also hopeful that those who intend to be law enforcement officers across the region will receive their training in an academy due for construction next year.
Asked to nominate another highlight of 2019, the Commissioner nominates the Faleatiu raid where 11 individuals were arrested.
The event, the Commissioner, said the operation's success was a powerful symbol that has built the confidence of officers to undergo operations in the area previously deemed a "no fly zone".
“We can actually go up there and do our job and it gives the government the confidence in us that as law enforcement officers we are able to do that stuff,” he said.
Another responsibility that Police has been given to take on is the registration of vehicles, monitoring parking meters after the tasks were removed from the Land and Transport Authority recently.
Lastly, the measles outbreak has brought about the State of Emergency Orders where law enforcers are at the forefront to ensure members of the public adhere to the orders.
One of the arrests during the state of emergency is anti-vaccine advocate Edwin Tamasese who has been charged for incitement against a Government vaccination order in response to the measles epidemic.
He has since pleaded not guilty to the charge.
In moving forward the Police Commissioner wants to keep the Samoa Police Service growing in all areas; professionally and in handling cases and dealing with members of the public appropriately.
“I want this organisation to be the best there is,” he said.
“I’d like to think that when I leave this organisation I left it in a much better place where I found it.”