Police owed more than respect

Police forces have been called the thin blue line that separates society from lawlessness and disorder. 

Recent reports have made it clear Samoa’s is under ever-increasing pressure.

A copy of the Ministry’s 2018-19 annual report obtained by the Samoa Observer last week made it clear that Police’s mission to keep the peace was being frustrated (“Police struggle with high staff turnover”).

That should come as no surprise. 

Even before the recent economic downturn hit, becoming a policeman in Samoa is something one would only ever undertake as an avocation, not a profession.

With starting salaries for new Police recruits well below other options that is more than plain.

These officers are working in highly dangerous environments that can often expose them to situations that leave a mark on their psyche for life.

And in Samoa, increasingly we are seeing that they are doing so. 

We have seen a huge surge in domestic violence cases in Samoa this year. We reported in Tuesday’s edition that cases of incest had doubled.

And crime generally has soared since the declaration of a state of emergency.

Police willingly make themselves eyewitnesses to the worst consequences of humanity's behaviour for what amounts to, when first starting out, an hourly rate that is hardly more than minimum wage, especially when balanced against potential on-job trauma. 

It can be no surprise that staff turnover is a problem. Only the most committed individuals would sign up for such duties and such danger and we salute them for doing so.

The recommendation from the Ministry was accompanied by a request from Cabinet not just for better pay but procurement of operational safety equipment for all frontline Policemen and women.

How this request was met no details were given.

But we can surmise from a later interview with the Police Commissioner, Fuiavailili Egon Keil, published in the Samoa Observer later that year that his request for more financial resources for salary went begging.

When he was profiled by this newspaper almost exactly one year ago as one of last year’s “people of the year” Fuiavailili had his eyes wide open to the fact that he would have to look to means other than financial to motivate his officers.

“You give them credit for doing just that; waking up in the morning to come to work,” he said when asked how he planned to motivate a workforce that was grossly underpaid. 

“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 rains or shines, they will be there.

“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.”

The Commissioner essentially is depending on building a sense of pride in a Police Officer’s work as a means of maintaining their commitment to the job. 

With the assistance of the Australian Government the Police Ministry delivered officers a concrete representation of that philosophy when high-ranking officers were presented with badges in August. 

The Minister of Prisons and Correctional Services, Tialavea Tionisio Hunt, told the badge recipients they were a symbolic representation of authority and a public display of a Police Officer’s status. 

"When a Police officer is given a badge, they have been certified to know the law and enforce the law equally, regardless of race, religion, and gender," he said. 

"It also means that the person behind the badge is honest, faithful, and truthful in their Police duties as well as in their private life."

(When lower-ranked officers who are responsible for most of the turnover problems the Ministry is facing are to be given theirs has not been announced). 

We applaud the Commissioner for his positive attitude and attempting to do all that he can so long as the Government’s financial cupboard is more or less entirely bare.

There is very little he can do with the constraints upon his resources to encourage officers other than to try create an esprit de corps or a sense of devotion to the honour of the cause they are undertaking.

But you cash badges into a bank and cash them in.

Our Police force is not only grossly underpaid but being sent out into the field with a shortage of necessary equipment such as handcuffs.

A sense of culture that respects the nobility of the profession of Policemen and women is already all that stands between them from encountering serious problems on the frontline due to a lack of staff and resources.

And that is not of the Commissioner’s creation, laudable though his initiative is.

Samoan culture comes with a deep respect for the authority of Police and the work that they do. Samoans refer to Police on duty deferentially.

But as pressure on our thin blue line builds the Government is going to need to turn to its treasury and issue pay rises to keep the streets safe.

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