Should the head of the police department be elected, or continue to serve at the pleasure of the governor?
Kandit has asked the members of the Guam Legislature whether any of them will consider legislation similar to one of their Saipan colleagues that addresses this question. CNMI House Rep. Ed Propst (D-Saipan) over the summer introduced House Legislative Initiative 22-001, which paves the path to making the police commissioner position an elected, rather than appointed one. HLI 22-001 proposes a constitutional amendment that will makes the position of police commissioner – the person who leads the Department of Public Safety – an elected position.
According to the measure, a candidate for commissioner will have to be at least 35 years old and a domiciled resident of the Commonwealth for at least five years immediately preceding the start of his or her term. The candidate must have at least seven years experience in law enforcement, cannot have been convicted of a felony or a crime of moral turpitude, shall be non partisan, and declare no party affiliation.
The current commissioner, Robert Guerrero, is a republican, appointed by his republican friend, Gov. Ralph Torres, and often is pictured with him at political functions.
“As enforcers of law and order, it is critical that DPS be free of political influence and interference,” Mr. Propst’s legislative findings states. “Unfortunately, this just has not been the case, as the present system gives the governor of the Commonwealth the power and authority to choose and appoint the Commissioner for DPS. The DPS Commissioner serves at the will of the governor, serves as a cabinet member of the governor, and essentially follows orders from the governor. Because the DPS Commissioner is a political appointee and serves at the pleasure of the governor, it is common to see the Commissioner attending political party rallies and fundraisers, waving on the sides of the road at political gatherings in support of the governor, and even greeting the governor upon his arrival from off-island trips, and then carrying the governor’s baggage to his vehicle as he deplanes.”
HLI 22-001 makes the case for an elected commissioner, free of party politics, stating the current system prevents the commissioner from operating with political autonomy, and subjects the system to constant corruption.
Mr. Guerrero’s tenure as the police commissioner has been marked by nepotism and cronyism, retaliation against DPS officers and employees who defy the commissioner or speak up on social media against the governor, and the extra-judicial abuse of police resources and authority to intimidate and coerce everyday citizens.
DPS’s recent handling of the investigation into the death of Sophia Demapan also was marked by suspicions of political coverup in the investigation, as family members reported discrepancies.
Mr. Guerrero himself was the subject of sexual assault allegations. Others have reported being abused in the workplace by members of Guerrero’s family. None have ever been prosecuted or so much as fully investigated.
The commissioner’s integrity and ability to do his job have been questioned by the Chinese embassy. In 2020 the Chinese consulate out of Los Angeles wrote to Gov. Ralph Torres about the mounting number of unsolved murders and disappearances of Chinese nationals while Guerrero has been police commissioner.
What of the Guam police chief?
The chief of police of the Guam Police Department faces his own questionable record of conduct, as does his predecessor. Police chief Stephen Ignacio has presided over a GPD marred by officer-involved misconduct and allegations of police corruption. These have included the infamous Red Jeep scandal, a coverup of three GPD employees including an officer following a drunken and rage-fueled high speed chase that ended in an assault, the use of police officers and resources in a private land dispute involving a high ranking officer, officers rampaging through a residence and destroying private property without any consequence, and more.
His predecessor, Joseph I. Cruz, was accused of using police forces to target the enemies of his bosses at the time, former Gov. Eddie Calvo and disgraced former Lt. Gov. Ray Tenorio, who now lives in exile in a town smaller than Piti in North Carolina.
Measure moves forward in the CNMI
“In order for the DPS Commissioner to function without the appearance of political bias, it is necessary to allow the Commissioner’s overall performance to be directly appraised by the citizens of the Commonwealth,” HLI 22-001 states. “The Commissioner must be held accountable by the community that s/he represents—not just the governor.”
Should two-thirds of the members of each of the house of the Commonwealth’s bicameral legislature approve HLI 22-001, it will be presented by the Board of Elections before the voters of the Commonwealth at the next general election, which is scheduled for November 2022.
The measure was co-sponsored by Rep. Tina Sablan (D-Saipan).
Rep. Celina Roberto Babauta, chairwoman of the House Judiciary and Governmental Operations Committee to which the measure was referred, has begun holding public hearings, conducting the first in Precinct 1, Saipan).
“I plan to conduct more public hearings in Saipan, Tinian, and Rota,” Ms. Babauta said.
Babauta is in the midst of leading the most dominant political issue in the Commonwealth – the legislative investigation into allegations of corruption against Guerrero’s boss – Gov. Torres.
Will the Guam Legislature follow suit?
Kandit has emailed the 15 members of the Guam Legislature asking for their thoughts on political interference by governors with their chiefs of police, and whether they will consider legislation similar to Mr. Propst’s.
Unlike their counterparts in the Commonwealth, the Guam Legislature cannot amend Guam’s governing document, the Organic Act, which is a federal law. Senators can, however, create an elected police chief position.