The Immaculate Conception of Mary Mary Cathedral at Mulivai, Apia
By Lagi Keresoma
APIA, SAMOA – 24 MARCH 2020: The Commissioner of Police has again pleaded the churches to obey the State of Emergency orders as police resources have been strained by the unexpected emergency of prisoners breaking out of Tanumalala Prison last night.
All the 700 officers were called back to duty close to midnight last night when 36 prisoners walked out after attacking prison guards and destroying the prison communication system and office equipment.
This morning, the Police Commissioner urged the churches to obey the orders that stops gatherings for church services as protection against the spread of the coronavirus.
“The burden on police now is the lack of resources in dealing with both matters where priority is on finding the escaped prisoners to avoid any difficult situations later,” Commissioner Fuiavailili Egon Keil told the media after an early morning police briefing on the escaped prisoners.
He is aware of several churches conducting services despite a public plea yesterday from the police for a collective team work to make Samoa a safer place.
“Churches should stop congregating publicly because they are not helping the situation, and we have to divide work responding to normal calls and extend our resources,” said Fuiavailili.
Breaching State of Emergency Orders
Last Sunday, police had to step in and stop some of the church services that took place and issued them warnings.
The Police had to hand the Catholic Church 24 warnings, Congregational Christian Church 19, Methodist church 4, Assemblies of God 15 and other churches 7.
“We have to response 3 times to some churches so we created a form for the non-compliance to sign and if they refuse, we put the word refuse on the form,” said Fuiavailili.
He said police did not have to create forms but the idea is trying to stay away from locking people up.
“That will be the last resort if people continues to ignore the orders he said.
The penalty for disobeying the orders is a fine of $10,000 tala or 2 years imprisonment.
“We have met with the National Council of Churches (NCC) and Heads of churches and are aware of our position here to arrest anyone,” said Fuiavailili.
Taking advantage of the Emergency Situation
At yesterday’s press conference, Fuiavailili anticipated that with police focus on the Coronavirus situation, others may take advantage of it and commit an offence.
“I always expected something might happen at prison especially with us focusing on the Coronavirus,” he said.
However, he did not anticipate a mass breakout, but is concerned that escaped prisoners maybe looking for specific targets.
“Give us a little bit of patience, and let us work together to overcome both situations,” he pleaded.