Policing in Samoa today. Part 1.
Over a year ago, Suitupe Misa was arrested from the market in Fugalei by armed police officers with the Commissioner of Police leading the arrest. An Ombudsman report released as a result of an investigation into these actions by the police revealed that the police had arrested the wrong person and that the police had not done any investigation leading up to the arrest nor had any evidence on hand to support their arrest of Suitupe without a warrant.
The report also revealed that in actioning the arrest, police had pointed guns around in the market during the day while it was at its busiest.
A year later since that arrest, three to four police vehicles full of police officers attended the office of the National Prosecution Office and arrested the Director of that office for a traffic matter.
It was the same division within the police, the division that looks after the armoury of the Police. Then more recently a senior lawyer was arrested from the courthouse for allegedly uttering insulting words. The word alleged to have been used by that lawyer was “b****”. So the police used their power to publically arrest a senior lawyer for saying the word “b****”.
Taxi drivers are also arrested and imprisoned by police for simply parking in a non-parking zone for taxis. Drivers are arrested for minor traffic offences such as running a red light. A member of parliament was charged for negligent driving causing injury and then withdrawn by prosecution the very next minute.
The police have two choices in starting a criminal matter against a person. They can either choose to use their powers of arrest and arrest the person or they can choose to file charges and summon the person.
The purpose of arresting someone, one would think, should be to ensure the person is brought before the Court and does not run away, to prevent a breach of peace, to prevent any more offending by that person, or for the safety of the community.
Arresting a person deprives that person of his or her right to liberty before that person is proven guilty, particularly so in less serious charges or complaints.
So when the police arrest someone, they are actually imprisoning that person before that person is proven guilty or before the Court sets out the punishment for that person if the person is proven guilty.
And there are many criminal matters, especially traffic matters that do not often end with the person imprisoned if proven guilty as shown in the past history of the courts in setting out sentences for these people.
So unnecessary arrests and over the top actions of arrest would damage the reputation of the police and cause ill feeling among the community against the police and damage the cooperative relationship between the public and the Police that are here to safeguard their welfare.
Take for example the arrest of Suitupe. The arrest was instituted by police without a warrant, without police investigation and no evidence. The result is the arrest of the wrong person.
But by that time, Suitupe’s liberty had already been taken away from him by the police, through his handcuffing and detention at the police station. The end result is a million dollar lawsuit against the police for false imprisonment.
This is policing today that the country has to get used to because despite the public condemnation by the Ombudsman of the police in this approach, and just the common sense of these unnecessary and disproportionate approach, the police are not getting the message but continuing to exercise their powers of arrest without checking whether it really is necessary in the circumstances.
A Government that continues to do nothing about this will continue to have people consider lawsuits against the Government as the community grows tired of this way of policing and witness the deterioration in trust and the relationship between the Police and the community.