Guam police officers being treated as nonessential, dampening morale and compromising public safety

DIRECTING TRAFFIC: Guam Police Department officers help direct traffic in August at the Seventh-day Adventist Clinic during COVID-19 testing. Close to a dozen police officers have tested positive for COVID-19 and subsequently recovered. Post file photo

In this pandemic, nearly a dozen Guam police officers have been afflicted with COVID-19.

Thankfully, they have all recovered, said Police Chief Stephen Ignacio.

The nature of our police officers' role in keeping the peace and order in our community places them at a very high risk of exposure to COVID-19 and other highly transmittable diseases, in addition to the risk of being physically harmed as they respond to crimes and other potentially volatile situations.

Ironically, the Guam Police Department has been given the short end of the stick again, budget-wise. Many nonessential government of Guam employees stayed home in this pandemic and continued getting their paychecks without having to make financial sacrifices.

Guam police officers continue their peacekeeping and law enforcement roles and now have to deal with the nuances of a department struggling to stretch a shrunken budget so it won't run out of funds before the end of the fiscal year in September.

GPD's budget was cut by about $1.4 million.

With personnel as its biggest expense, anything GPD does to cut costs will eventually impact its people and the quality of service the police officers provide to the community.

Despite GPD's predicament, Chief Ignacio, in a recent interview, carefully avoided calling out elected officials, but at the same time, explained the many ways the department is trying to make do by cutting costs.

“That is nothing new to the Guam Police Department. That measure has been put in place for many years and was implemented again to make sure the department makes it to the end of the fiscal year,” Ignacio said.

Despite the police chief's measured words, anyone can see how the budget cuts must be hurting our men and women in blue, ultimately compromising our community's safety.

While trying not to blame anyone for the budget shortfall, Ignacio acknowledged that GPD was forced to reduce its workforce to one patrol supervisor, one desk watch officer and four beat officers per shift. One beat officer soon will be added, using federal funds, he said in a recent interview with The Guam Daily Post. Four beat officers for a major village such as Dededo will not suffice.

This lean manpower would ultimately lead GPD to have to choose – more and more – which calls to respond to and which ones to place on the back burner.

GPD's budget doesn't have room for overtime. So even when GPD does control the workload its police officers face hour by hour, and day to day, the department is constantly confronted with whether the police work before them at any given moment would be worthwhile, given the lack of overtime to pay police officers. 

Police officers also used to be allowed to bring their government vehicles home so the response time would be quicker in an urgent case. This time, their government vehicles will have to be parked at the precincts and they will need to proceed from home to their precincts to get their official vehicles and then respond to a situation as the need arises.

With a nearly billion-dollar budget to spread around within GovGuam in general, GPD is among the first to face budget cuts, never mind that it is one of the most critical departments in our community especially in this tense time when people are getting lockdown angst.

For all the politicians' talk about making public safety a priority, our men and women in blue once again are getting treated like they're not essential when it comes to budgeting priorities.

The senators, many of whom are seeking reelection, had a major role in deciding what government functions, programs, departments and agencies would get the budget ax.

Even if the executive branch were OK with tightening GPD's budget, to the detriment of public safety, senators eventually had the power to shield GPD from the budget cuts. Decision-makers could have sacrificed other noncritical government entities, employees and functions for the public good.

Whatever happened to election promises to keep public safety a priority?

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