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Police force alarmingly understaffed

by Mindy Aguon

Guam - While public safety is often touted as one of the main priorities of the government, in recent months many would question if that's really the case.  The Guam Fire Department has been plagued with a shortage of operable ambulances to respond to emergencies.  It's an alarming situation at the Guam Police Department too, as the force is insufficiently staffed.

Like many island residents, Public Safety Committee chairman Senator Adolpho Palacios (D) was alarmed to hear that there were only three patrol officers on duty to cover the entire northern part of the island today.  Dededo Precinct's manpower level was one supervisor, one officer assigned to desk watch, and only three officers on duty to patrol the most populated village on the island, as well as Yigo and additionally parts of Harmon.  

Palacios says the current manpower levels at GPD are unacceptable, saying, "How can people feel safe with that short of a service out there?"

The situation isn't much better at the Agat Precinct - where only three officers were on duty to patrol the entire south. A fourth officer was called in to augment the shift.  In Agana, the manpower level was 1-1-5 a little better than yesterday's staff of only four patrol officers.  The Tumon-Tamuning Precinct appears to have the most officers at any given time - with one supervisor, one deskwatch and between five and six patrol officers on a shift.  

Apparently accruing overtime has become more of a concern than the safety of officers and the public as these low staffing levels have been a recurring problem.   Senator Frank Blas, Jr., himself a former police officer, maintains there's a simple solution that won't cost the department any more money.  "Make the management decision and move people from your specialized units into the patrol functions so that you can cover this. There's nothing to say that a detective can't continue to do his work while sitting on the side of the road and provide police presence while doing his report what happened to those good 'ole days," he said.

And with residents calling for more officers, what's Police Chief Paul Suba doing about the insufficient staffing?  "Obviously, we've mentioned this budget hearing after budget hearing. But it's not so much talking the numbers, which we all know and agree there should be more officers per population," the chief said.  He added, "There's safety in numbers, and with more officers there's more visibility so people and criminals are aware that they can't do things that they normally would do when they don't see those officers."

But the department will continue to operate with a shortage of staff for the time being, as Suba has only transferred four officers to patrol to help with the shortage beginning on Sunday.

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