The epitome of bad bureaucracy
Transition report cites nepotism, cronyism and other anomalies in the CNMI police department under former commissioner
By Bryan Manabat
Saipan— Nepotism, cronyism, public fund abuse, excessive hiring, political cliques and inefficiency. The CNMI Department of Safety under the Torres administration was replete with all the elements of an abhorrent bureaucracy that sabotaged public service, according to a report
It began with the appointment of Robert Guerrero as public safety commissioner despite his lack of law enforcement experience or prior training before taking the helm of the police department, according to the final report submitted on Jan. 3 by the CNMI Transition Committee assigned to the police department.
The report was submitted to CNMI Gov. Arnold Palacios, who promised a massive bureaucratic cleanup under his administration.
Guerrero served as the police commissioner from Jan. 23, 2016 to Dec. 16, 2022. According to the report, he disrupted the department’s command structure by appointing 14 assistant chiefs and placing certain sections of the DPS directly under his control rather than under the director of police.
"Former Commissioner Guerrero turned DPS into a political tool and created a hostile, politically-charged environment that was stressful for many officers," the report stated. "Mr. Guerrero was known to pressure officers to attend political campaign events, and targeted them for retaliation if they were perceived to not be in political alignment with him and the Torres administration."
A review of the department’s performance found payroll and overtime issues as well as misuse and mismanagement of local and federal funds.
Based on the transition team’s interviews with DPS personnel, the department had low morale due to “retaliation, nepotism or cronyism, political discrimination, micromanagement, and training deficiencies.”
Officers who were critical of the commissioner or his “inner circle”-- or lodged complaints-- were often “punished” by being posted to undesirable locations or assignments, if not transferred to another department or agency.
Police officers interviewed by the team alleged that Guerrero favored those “related to him” and those in his “inner circle” with overtime and job promotions notwithstanding their lack of qualifications.
During work hours, police officers claimed they were required under duress to show up at Torres’ political gatherings.
A review of the timesheets and overtime requests showed that the department had been paying out excessive overtime accruals for the same group of favored officers.
In December 2022 alone, the police department requested approval to pay out 11,127.25 hours (about a year and a half’s worth of regular hours worked) of overtime for 174 officers out of 192. About 40 officers accrued an estimated total of 4,000 hours (about five and a half months of regular hours worked) of overtime.
The report suggested that there was evidence of possible fraud/theft of government time in terms of excessive overtime within the same group of officers every pay period.
Overtime per officer would run anywhere from 50 to 145 hours. First responders, who are lower-ranking officers, are allowed only 30 to 40 hours of overtime. One officer clocked in over 200 hours of overtime in one single pay period.
The report also noted the deterioration of federal partnerships, especially with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Homeland Security Investigations.
Officers interviewed said they believed the strained relationships with federal partners began with the FBI’s raid on the governor's office in November 2019, and HSI’s raid on Medpharm in May 2020. The officers said Medpharm was associated with Gov. Torres and his brothers.
"Mr. Guerrero abruptly terminated cooperative agreements with federal agencies, responded late or not at all to communications from federal agents, turned down federal assistance even in crisis situations, made unreasonable demands for the placement of his chosen individual officers in federal-local task forces, and reassigned or transferred DPS officers who had been providing assistance to federal partners,” the report said.
“Mr. Guerrero also barred federal agents from using the DPS shooting range that had been built with federal funds, and further disallowed even DPS officers assigned to federal-local task forces from fulfilling their federal firearms certification requirements on the DPS shooting range," the report stated.
The report also cited misuse and mismanagement of local and federal funds.
Guerrero had signature authority on all purchases for new vehicles, equipment, big-ticket items and service contracts.
"One example was his sole decision to paint newly purchased police vehicles from white to black. Fleets of brand-new vehicles were repainted black, and the vehicles had to be stripped of details and then detailed once again, costing DPS hundreds of thousands of dollars for something deemed unnecessary and a poor choice of color, since black vehicles are harder to see at night than white vehicles," stated the report.
"Mr. Guerrero also purchased vehicles without consideration for gas efficiency or availability of parts for vehicles and made purchases without warranties for police vehicles."
Guerrero did not respond to the Pacific Island Times’s request for comment.
"The next DPS commissioner must ensure more diligent vetting and recruitment of officers; revisit standard operating procedures and policies and ensure continuous training and development of officers; empower officers to do their work free from political coercion and retaliation; and engage more effectively with federal partners,” the committee said.