The growing crime rate on Guam makes this year’s election a crucial one
By CJ Urquico
Beyond a reasonable doubt, the crime rate on Guam has gone sky-high and continues to climb as the price of ice plunges like the stock market to new lows. Burglaries and violent crimes are fueled by meth and economic inflation. Before, only the heavily populated northern villages were mentioned in the news. Today every village is plagued, with Tamuning leading in the volume of criminal acts. The community feels like it has PTSD.
In a recent crime flash survey by the Guam Chamber of Commerce, 90 percent of respondents confirmed that they’re concerned about crime and 64 percent said their employees were victims of a crime last year, according to Ernie Galito, business development director at Atkins Kroll Toyota. “The street price for methamphetamine has decreased dramatically over the previous months—indicative of an abundance of supply,” he said.
The public safety situation on Guam makes this year’s nonpartisan race for the attorney general a crucial one. The incumbent attorney general, Leevin Taitano Camacho, is being challenged by Douglas B. Moylan, Guam’s first elected AG who served from 2003 to 2007.
Results of the Aug. 27 primary showed 50.4 percent of the votes going to Camacho and 49 percent to Moylan. On Sept. 9, former prosecutor Peter Santos entered the picture, announcing his run as a write-in candidate. A majority vote is required for election of the attorney general. How the third wheel will affect the race will unfold in the Nov. 8 general elections.
At the Guam Chamber of Commerce’s special membership meeting last month, Camacho and Moylan faced off in a debate that showed a striking contrast in their characters, policies and methods.
“What will your office policies be regarding plea bargaining in drug offense cases?” asked Galito, who moderated the debate.
“Drugs are the biggest problem on the island. I know Mr. Moylan is a big fan of mass incarceration, but we can't just bury our heads in the sand and think you're going to put someone in jail and that's going to magically cure their addiction problem. We've moved on. The courts have adult drug court treatment programs," said Camacho.
“The drugs are coming from Nevada, California, and Mexico. The drug problem is a bigger issue than [simply] we have a lot of drugs on the island. That’s where we need to go. We need to prosecute them; we need to put them in jail for a long time,” added Camacho.
Moylan agreed that rampant drug use is currently one of the key problems on Guam. “The GPD needs to be in the villages like they used to do. The police presence alone is very important for deterring crime and creating the environment of law enforcement. Plea agreements are necessary in the criminal justice system. But he is giving away the farm is how he’s doing his plea agreements. His (Camacho’s) opening statement said it all – ‘for serious crimes, we are going to incarcerate people.’ You incarcerate anyone who commits a crime. You ask the judge to incarcerate them.”
“The recidivism rate of drug addicts is huge. I’m not a therapist nor a social worker; that's not my department,” said Moylan.
He added that the adult drug court programs are failing. “These guys are getting out, hurting people, stealing your money, taking things so they can fund their drug habit. These people are animals in terms of how they think. They don’t think straight anymore. I’m sorry. They’re my neighbors, friends, and family, but we have to stop it.”
Moylan added that the price of drugs has gone down during Camacho’s stint at the OAG.
Moylan opened with incendiary remarks about the crime rate on Guam, “Let’s make no qualms about it. This election is about whether you feel safe. It’s about Guam’s increasing crime problem—crimes threatening you and your employees’ lives and bleeding your profits.
“The AG's most important duty is to protect you, your family, and your business from harm. Businesses in L.A., Chicago and New York City are suffering because of ‘weak on crime’ prosecutors. Law enforcement and profitability go hand in hand. You can expect me to be the toughest AG on crime,” Moylan added.
In his opening remarks, Camacho said, “We’re in a rare circumstance where Attorney Moylan and I can agree on something: Everyone deserves to feel safe at home and in their workplace. And today, people are scared. Keeping our community safe has been and will continue to be my top priority.”
But his office needs support, Camacho said. “In order to address the crime problem on Guam, we need a robust police department, a court system that will support our effort, and we need a Department of Corrections that has beds for the people who are being incarcerated. If you commit a serious crime, you will go to jail, and be held accountable," he said.
Camacho said achieving success in prosecuting criminals requires the cooperation of victims and witnesses. "We can’t have prosecutors who are not willing to explain the decisions that they’ve made in particular cases,” he added.
Camacho said the people’s economic situation is also a factor to consider when dealing with public safety. “How do you prevent crime? You will not steal and rob if you are flourishing as a people, a community. You do not have to worry about putting food on the table, gas in your car and a roof over your head,” he said.
Addressing crime also requires adequate staffing of the OAG. Camacho said his office is actively recruiting at law schools on the mainland. The legislature recently passed a bill providing a 15 percent pay raise to ensure the retention of current prosecutors.
Moylan described Camacho’s solution as “your typical government bureaucrat response. Throw more money at the problem, and you’re supposed to get a better result.”
“We have two prosecutors that left this AG (Camacho) in this room that are willing to tell you how bad it is there. Nine of them left, and some of them are still on island. There are some in the Public Defender's office who might be willing to come back,” Moylan said.
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Camacho rebutted: “We have 15 prosecutors, significantly more than the eight you had in 2005 when you were dismissing cases because you didn’t have attorneys to prosecute cases.”
Camacho’s response elicited a reaction from Peter Santos, who yelled out, "It shows that you don't understand what's going on!"
Santos resigned as a prosecutor in 2019 after filing a grievance against the OAG for what he alleged was an “illegal promotion.”
Santos’ announcement of his intention to join the race as a write-in candidate set off a firestorm of comments on and off social media.
Dr. Ron McNinch, associate professor at the University of Guam, sent a strongly worded letter to the Guam Election Commission questioning the validity of Santos’ running as a write-in candidate.
“If a person is not organized enough to file basic paperwork to run for office, it is highly unlikely they are serious about running for an important office like the attorney general,” McNinch said. “In my last poll, he (Santos) is 0.2 percent. He is a nonissue.”
Santos narrated his history with McNinch, his academic advisor and professor at UOG. “McNinch and I have developed a love-hate relationship where we love to argue and hate each other,” he said.
Santos had been the driving force and primary funder behind the Responsible Guam Political Action Committee. The PAC spent over $23,000 to campaign against Congressman Michael F.Q. San Nicolas, who lost the gubernatorial primary. A Republican Party officer, who asked not to be named, raised a question about the funding source.
There were allegations on social media that Santos is pro-administration. “I have never endorsed any candidate for any office. I have been critical of candidates on issues, particularly Michael San Nicolas. It doesn’t matter what color your banner is, I will be vocal and call you out on it,” Santos said.
“In 2018, Leevin had 24,000 votes, which tells you that there’s a strong rebuke against 11,500 for Doug. Now the results are razor close; it's a rebuke of Leevin,” added Santos.
“As a criminal defense attorney, the prosecution makes my job too easy. They’re dismissing cases at an alarming rate because prosecutors are failing to meet their burden to sustain the charges,” Santos added.
Defending his performance in office, Camacho said, “To be effective as AG, you have to be independent, tough, and a problem-solver. Of the many responsibilities of an AG, (Santos) focuses only on a few lost prosecutors and, yes, we have lost some prosecutors over the last few years, including Mr. Santos, but still have 54 dedicated attorneys including 15 attorneys assisting in prosecution.
Camacho took note of Santos’ indecisive political ride. “Mr. Santos first announced he was interested in running for Congress. Then he formed a political action committee. Then he announced he was interested in running for attorney general,” he said. “Then he agreed to work with Mr. Moylan instead of running as a candidate in the primary election. After being Mr. Moylan’s guest at the first debate, however, Mr. Santos decided he wanted to run for attorney general as a write-in candidate.”
For his part, Moylan said, “Voters want to know what I am going to do for them in the here and now. I believe that I have the most to offer the voters as an AG than any of the candidates. If elected, I will assemble a dedicated and capable team of crime fighters to push back on the violent crimes, including drugs, murders, rapes, child abuse, robberies, and thefts,” said Moylan. (With additional reports from Mar-Vic Cagurangan)