Guam Police Internal Affairs Investigations Fall Short
By Brett Kelman
HAGÅTÑA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, Nov. 15, 2012) – Due to two often-ignored laws and a government board that sat idle for several years, internal investigations of the Guam Police Department (GPD) fall short of the transparency expectations set by local lawmakers.
The police department rarely updates the public about ongoing investigations, which is required by law, and only occasionally releases the results of their investigations, which also is required by law.
Lawmakers also have decided twice to create an independent review commission to ensure accountability in the police department. However, although the commission was first created more than a decade ago, and although it was revived two years ago, it still isn't ready to handle complaints from the public.
In general, there are more than a dozen Internal Affairs investigations launched each year, spanning allegations from less-than-stellar police work to outright criminal activity.
The police department is required by local law to release reports on the findings of completed Internal Affairs investigation. The reports are supposed to be published on the department's website, but this doesn't always happen.
The police department has only released 26 reports since 2007. The reports are no longer than one page each, and although they don't name the officers involved, they explain if the allegations in each case were substantiated or not.
Of the 26 reports that have been released, 21 of those became public under the watch of current police Chief Fred Bordallo. Last October, Bordallo vowed to start releasing more and more reports to comply with the long-ignored law.
The 10 newest reports were released over the summer and police haven't released any new reports since about August.
Local law also requires the police department to include the finding of internal affairs investigations their annual report. Each year, the police department releases a Unified Crime Report, but it doesn't summarize the findings of internal investigations.
Sen. Adolpho Palacios, who chairs the Legislature's public safety committee, said these transparency requirements were created because of concerned citizens that filed complaints with the police department but never got any updates on the cases.
Palacios said the police department had "seriously neglected" to release the findings of internal investigations in recent years, digging a hole that Chief Bordallo is now trying to climb out of.
"But it is a very big hole, and that is coupled to the fact that there is not sufficient funding (to maintain the GPD website,)" Palacios said.
In addition to releasing reports on completed investigations, the police department is also required to update the public about ongoing internal investigations. It rarely does.
According to local law, the police chief is suppose to release a public statement on the "preliminary disposition" of allegations in the case within 30 days of the investigation's start, regardless of whether the case is still open.
On Tuesday, the police department released a "preliminary disposition" statement on the recently re-opened Blue House case at the request of the Pacific Daily News (PDN).
However, PDN files show no record of police releasing a statement like this in any other internal investigation case over at least the last decade. Generally, the police department refuses to discuss any on-going internal investigations.
The whole point of the "preliminary disposition" requirement is to reassure the public that the complaint against police hasn't been ignored, Palacios said. The law doesn't require the police department to release anything sensitive, but even a little bit of information could do a lot to combat the worst fears of the public, he said.
"At least indicate that the witnesses have been interviewed, or for example say that this investigation is about halfway complete," Palacios said. "That is information that tells the people of Guam, and the complaining person, that this is being actively investigation. That is what people want to know ... that it is not a dead issue."
Neither Chief Bordallo nor police spokesman Officer A.J. Balajadia were able to respond to questions about internal affairs transparency yesterday. Balajadia said he would discuss with issue with the police chief today.
Lawmakers created an independent review board that would allow citizens with complaints against police officers another avenue for their allegations.
The Guam Community Police Review Commission has the authority to oversee internal investigations, or to conduct a separate, parallel investigation into an internal police matter. As of today, it hasn't done either.
The review commission was first created in 1999, but the commission dissolved because a year went past without it holding its first meeting.
The commission was revived in 2009 by a bill written by Sen. Palacios, and passed in to law in 2010 despite a veto from former Gov. Felix Camacho. The former governor said the commission was unnecessary and lacked a funding source, but senators voted to override his veto.
The commission didn't hold its first meeting until April of this year. Since then, commission members have met several times to elect officers and establish procedures, but it still isn't taking complaints from the public yet.
Fred Keller, a spokesman for the commission, said yesterday that a commission budget has been submitted to the Legislature and a proposed lease is under review at the Office of the Attorney General.
The budget request totals about $180,000 for office space, two employees, starting equipment like computers and funding for day-to-day operations, Keller said. The lease is for space in the ITC Building, which is also the new home of some police department offices.
"Once we get the budget and leased sorted out we are in business," Keller said.
One of the reasons the commission has taken so long to get off the ground is that the government has been slow to fund it, Palacios said. However, when the commission is finally open -- and has staff to receive complaints -- the senator believes the public will feel more comfortable that police officers can be held accountable.
"I'd like to see that day come as soon as possible," Palacios said.
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