Link: Pacific Islands Report
Pacific Islands Development Program, East-West Center

With Support From Center for Pacific Islands Studies, University of Hawai‘i

Guam Police Deficiencies Put Islands Safety At Risk: Report
Lack of money, manpower and vehicles crippling force

By Brett Kelman

HAGTA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, Jan. 21, 2013) – The Guam Police Department is crippled by a lack of money, manpower and patrol vehicles, leaving the island's safety needs unfulfilled and citizens "at risk."

This is according to an evaluation by the U.S. Department of the Interior Office of the Inspector General. The office studied the police department last March and released its evaluation in November.

The evaluation states that, including local and federal funding, the Guam Police Department receives about $29 million per year.

More than 90 percent of that money is spent on salaries, and yet the department still falls far short of the manpower standards set by local law, the evaluation states. The evaluation also states the remaining money isn't enough to cover vehicle or training expenses, which leaves the local police force without the tools it needs to protect the public.

If Guam wants its police to do more, it has to be willing to fund more, the evaluation states.

"It may be necessary for Guam to reexamine the level of service the citizenry of Guam desires. ... (The Guam Police Department) does not have sufficient funding to provide the level of service required by Guam laws or federal standards," the evaluation states.

Although more funding doesn't translate directly into more arrests, it's obvious each division, section or precinct needs manpower to do its job, said police spokesman Officer A.J. Balajadia.

"I think the bottom line is that if the public sees more police officers out there, they are going to feel safer, and it is going to be a deterrent for criminals," Balajadia said. "Would it be beneficial to have more police officers? Absolutely."

Maui Police Department

The shortages of the local police department are at their most obvious when compared to the Maui Police Department, which services a community that is slightly smaller but otherwise similar to Guam.

The Inspector General evaluation compared the police departments in Guam and Maui because their communities share similar population size, "geographic limitations" and tourism-based economy.

Despite these similarities, the Maui police force has a bigger budget, more precincts, more officers, more civilian employees, more patrol cars and a larger patrol force.

Although fewer incidents are reported to the police department in Maui, the department makes more than four times as many arrests as local officers, according to a comparison of police statistics.

The police department plans to hire more officers and buy more patrol vehicles -- but not enough to reach Maui figures -- later this year.

Police Chief Fred Bordallo said the department's local budget can't cover these expenses, so both projects will be funded with federal grant money. The Inspector General evaluation states that the department is too dependent on federal funding.

This year, the police department expects to hire as many as 16 new police officers through two separate grant programs.

"But when those grants run out (in about two years,) then we take up the expense from the General Fund, to pay for salaries and benefits," Bordallo said.

Bordallo said the police force has never recovered from an early retirement program in 2000, which cut about 75 officers and 60 civilian employees from the department's ranks.

A year later, the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 increased military recruitment rates around the country. As a result, many young people who might otherwise have joined the police department decided to enlist in the military instead, Bordallo said.

"A lot of police officers also, that we lost from middle management, looked at those lucrative department of state contracts for Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan," Bordallo said. "We've lost some to that. ... They are doing security missions."

Exacerbating the current shortage of manpower is a year-long Guam National Guard deployment that begins in February that could include up to 25 police officers.

Unbalanced workforce

Another manpower problem stems from the police department's unbalanced workforce, which was caused by spontaneous or haphazard promotions in the past, the police chief said.

The department has too many employees in the position of Police Officer III, and not enough in the lower patrol officer ranks of Police Officer I and II, Bordallo said.

Many of Police Officer III employees have 20 to 30 years experience, but they also make enough money to pay for two lower-ranking officers, Bordallo said.

Had the government enacted an early retirement program, as was proposed by Gov. Eddie Calvo last year, the police department would have urged some its Police Officer III employees to retire, Bordallo said. However, the early retirement proposal was dismantled in the Legislature.

Patrol officers

Guam doesn't just have fewer police officers than Maui -- it also has fewer officers on patrol.

The Guam Police Department employs about 300 police officers, but only about 40 percent -- or about 120 officers -- are assigned to patrol duties. The Maui Police Department has about 340 officers, but about 221 officers -- or about 65 percent -- are on patrol duties, according to an email from the Maui Police Department.

One of the reasons why the local police department is unable to dedicate the same number of officers to patrol is a shortage of civilian employees.

The Maui Police Department employs about 120 civilian employees. The Guam Police Department has about 70, which means uniformed officers end up working in jobs that civilians could handle.

For example, the local police department uses uniformed officers to cover positions in dispatch and the property section, Balajadia said. Uniformed officers even handle the police department's information technology duties, Bordallo said.

In contrast, the Maui department uses civilians for these jobs so more officers can patrol the streets.

"Our communications section is staffed with 34 civilian dispatchers," said Lt. Wayne Ibarra, a spokesman for the Maui Police Department. "Our records section is also staffed by civilian employees to include four positions assigned to handle property and evidence."

Patrol vehicles

Finally, the police department's aging vehicle fleet also limits its ability to patrol the streets of Guam.

The department has about 50 patrol vehicles and about 15 unmarked vehicles. The police maintenance shop in Tamuning struggles to keep the aging vehicles on the road by cannibalizing parts from cars that are beyond repair. Precincts are lucky to have four patrol cars and a few motorcycles at any time, according to Pacific Daily News files.

"These things run 24-7, the patrol cars," Bordallo said.

Later this year, the department expects to receive about $330,000 in compact impact funding for the purchase of new patrol cars. The funding isn't enough to erase the gap in the patrol fleet, but at least it will shrink it, Bordallo said.

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