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Samoa: New Approval Guidelines for Arming Police Passed

(Mar. 14, 2017) On March 7, 2017, the Samoan Parliament voted to pass the Police Powers Amendment Bill 2017, which sets out the approval requirements for police officers in the country to be armed when carrying out their duties. (Police Powers Amendment Bill 2017, Parliament of Samoa website; Lagi Keresoma, Samoa Parliament Approves New Police Powers Bill, PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT (Mar. 7, 2017).)

The bill amends section 13 of the Police Powers Act 2007. (Police Powers Act 2007CONSOLIDATED ACTS OF SAMOA 2015, PacLII database.)  Subsection 2 of this provision currently states that the Police Commissioner

shall not permit a police officer to have in his or her possession a firearm, ammunition, explosives or dangerous weapons for use in the exercise of that officer’s duties and shall not authorise a person to have in his or her possession a firearm, ammunition, explosives or dangerous weapons to assist police in the exercise of their duties of a police officer unless:

(a) the Minister [of Police] has approved the arming of the police officer or person;

(b) the police officer or person has satisfactorily carried out appropriate training in the safe use of firearms and dangerous weapons. (Id. s 13(2).) 

The above language is unchanged by the bill, which only replaces subsection 13(3) of the Act. This subsection currently states, “[t]he Minister may only approve a police officer or person to be armed under subsection (2)(a) where the arming is required because of exceptional circumstances and is otherwise in accordance with relevant police internal orders or rules.” (Id.) The new subsection contains a list of matters that the Minister could consider in determining whether there exist “exceptional circumstances,” such as

(i) the nature and seriousness of the offence;

(ii) the behaviour or conduct of the suspect;

(iii) the Minister has reason to believe or has been advised by the Police Commissioner that the suspect may be armed or in possession of arms;

(iv) the Minister has reason to believe that the life of any police officer or person executing the warrant or undertaking the investigation may be threatened with any dangerous weapons, including arms; and

(v) the Minister has reason to believe that the safety of the public is under threat. (Police Powers Amendment Bill 2017, cl 2, inserting new s 13(3)(a).)

The new subsection retains the requirement that the arming of police be otherwise in accordance with relevant police rules, but adds a new requirement for the Minister to consult the Attorney General before making a decision to arm police officers. (Id. cl 2, inserting new s. 13(3)(c).) The approval issued by the Minister must also now have a commencement and expiration date. (Id. cl 2, inserting new s. 13(3A).)

The Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Lupesoliai Sailele Malielegaoi, who is also the current Minister of Police, said that it is “important that security and safety is utmost for the police and anyone, especially if the suspect is believed to be armed and that the new amendment will make it harder for police to use weapons unlawfully.” (Keresoma, supra.) He also said that there is

little to no change for the use of weapons, as Samoa leans more into its cultural aspect where there is a consultation between the parties instead of turning to weapons. However that’s changed as there are illegal weapons being smuggled into the country, and that’s why the police officers are conducting raids to collect these weapons. Customs is also looking to bring in equipment to improve their capabilities in stopping the illegal smuggling of guns into Samoa through cargo and containers … . (Joyetter Feagaimaali’i-Luamanu, New Law Sets Guidelines for Arming Police Officers in Samoa, SAMOA NEWS (Mar. 8, 2017).)

The importation, sale, and licensing of firearms in Samoa are regulated by the Arms Ordinance 1960. (Arms Ordinance 1960, CONSOLIDATED ACTS OF SAMOA 2015, PacLII database.) There have been several reports of authorities discovering smuggled weapons in the last few years. In late 2015, Samoan police, with assistance from the Australian Federal Police, conducted a two-month firearms amnesty “in a bid to tackle the availability of illegal and unlicensed guns on the streets.” (Pai Mulitalo Ale, Smuggled Weapons Seized, SAMOA OBSERVER (Jan. 4, 2016).) More than 300 guns were collected during the amnesty. (Pai Mulitalo Ale, Police Wraps Up Firearm Amnesty, SAMOA OBSERVER (Jan. 7, 2016).)