The level and frequency of crime is an ongoing concern in Guam. In 2020 there were 703 violent crimes reported. Aggravated assault comprised 53.8%, robbery 14.1%, rape 31.2% and murder 1%. That’s an increase from 563 violent crimes reported in 2019.
Aggravated assault comprised 14.9%, robbery 18.2%, rape 10.6% and murder 57.1%. Source: Guam Police Department Uniform Crime Report
By Oyaol Ngirairikl
Addressing crime is essential as Guam look forward to welcoming more tourists and building its economy, according to local government and business leaders.
Gov. Lourdes A. Leon Guerrero says Guam is making strides in economic recovery but she’s also aware of the challenges Guam faces including “making the island safe.”
The governor isn’t the only one focusing on safety or law enforcement.
Catherine S. Castro, president of Guam Chamber of Commerce, says a focus on crime prevention requires government public safety, housing and mental health agencies, mayors, the business community and individuals to find solutions to the issues of homelessness, panhandling, drugs and crime.
“We have to fix crime and the homelessness situation,” she says. “As a community we need to figure out how do we address these issues.”
The island is more than just a tropical destination, which tourists can find in other islands and countries with Pacific coastlines, Castro says. “Guam has made a name for itself for being a friendly and warm destination” that is fun for families and groups of friends traveling during school breaks, she says.
“You can get sun and surf at other locations, so I think that it’s pretty important that we come together … How do we help people so they’re not out on the streets? So they’re not asking for money at the corner of the road? Or so they’re not committing crimes or harming others? And we need to fix this not just for tourists but for us and our families as well,” Castro says.
Newly elected Attorney General Douglas B.K. Moylan says his office must act.
“Regarding tourism and tourists, we cannot afford as a community to allow Guam to be known as the crime capital of the Pacific,” he says. “It’s a part of my job to instill safety into our visitor’s perception of Guam, by working closely with the Governor, Legislature and Courts to bring that goal to a strong reality.”
Moylan say he met with Korean Consul General In Kook Kim and his top management to work on “direct and good communication.”
In addition, the AG wants to work on programs to protect the Korean tourists, who are currently the top tourism market for Guam.
He will meet with consuls from Japan and other countries “to send a strong message that Guam has an AG who hunts down the criminals on this tropical island,” Moylan says.
Castro says the chamber created a committee to work with Guam’s juvenile drug court around 2002. “Our goal was to put them out of the business, essentially.”
She adds it didn’t happen as they had hoped. “The system was overwhelmed,” she says. “The drug issue is scary. Some of the most awful crimes that we never would have thought would happen here have made headlines.”
On Jan. 30, Moylan, Guam Police Department Chief Stephen Ignacio and other law enforcement officials testified on Bill 10-37, a bill that aims to address fentanyl overdose – which can occur with even the smallest amount of the drug. Ignacio said he had confirmed with others public safety agencies that the drug has snaked its way into Guam. Ignacio said Customs and Quarantine Agency, as well as federal agencies, there have been at least two seizures of fentanyl that had been intercepted and seized. According to the CDC, even in small doses, fentanyl can be deadly. Over 150 people die every day from overdoses related to synthetic opioids like fentanyl.
“We have confirmed seizures of fentanyl in the island,” Ignacio says. “It has made its way into Guam … and we have an active investigation into the … fentanyl scene.”
Moylan, reiterated to the magazine that “fighting crime and stopping the dangerous cycle of ‘catch, release and reoffend’ is at the forefront of his work.
He has implemented changes, including quickly filing documents so they can be reviewed by the court and the public. These include the victim’s statement and notification to the victim, criminal background history report and conviction record, and a motion based upon the Guam Police Department report and law “that will allow the judge sufficient information to decide on how the judge will ensure we are protected.”
He says the AG’s office is actively filing motions to revoke pretrial release and “forfeit bail when after the judge issues the release order (so) that if the defendant violates that order, that the criminal defendant is kept in jail until the trial, or the criminal case is otherwise resolved, as well as focusing on additionally charging a defendant with a criminal contempt of court or violation of court order type charge, for example.. “Being tough on crime is translating to actions in the General Crimes Division to ensure our safety, he says”
He’s also building trial teams and staffing them “with our most experienced prosecutors. Moylan says when he took office in January, there were eight prosecutors. That’s now 13 but should be 21. He shifted attorneys from the Civil Division and is also recruiting prosecutors.
He adds that the approach to meth cases “is just as tough.”
“As the chief law enforcement Officer, my job is to enforce the laws passed by the Legislature, which in the criminal realm is primarily to protect we law abiding citizens,” he says. He has adopted the doctrine “Protect, Punish to Deter,” which includes protecting the public by punishing criminals, as a deterrent for future criminal acts.
“Meth is one of the most highly addictive drugs that transforms an ordinary person into someone not even their families can control or recognize,” he says. “Living with meth is not a one-time remedy, it is a lifelong struggle akin to alcoholism, but so much (tougher) to stay away from.”
For the island’s homeless, his office is working with the governor’s office and Child Protective Services, as well as the Guam Behavioral Health and Wellness Center. He says the issue “ranges from mental illness to immigrants not having resources, to our own population not having housing, to squatters being on private and public lands.”
The AG’s office is planning to remove homeless camps like the highly visible one opposite the Micronesia Mall in Dededo and looking at solutions for those residents. “Children cannot be homeless with their parents, and parents have a duty to ensure their children do not suffer from the abuse that occurs by living with homeless parents,” he says.
Meetings include those with Guam Police Chief Stephen Ignacio and the Guam Customs and Quarantine Agency to help get more drug detection canines.
His team also is working on initiatives ranging from stopping pan handling at intersections, to effective teams to detect, fight and prosecute both the meth distributors and meth addicts. He will reach out to mayors to discuss problem areas in their villages.
The AG also has met with Department of Corrections Director Robert Camacho, and Major Antone F. Aguon, chief of the administrative services division; to understand how drugs make their way in and with Therese Arriola, director of the Guam Behavioral Health and Wellness Center.
“DOC requires a strong prosecution of those caught to pay a high price and be a deterrent to others trying to get drugs into that secure penal facility,” he says.
“We are working at expanding the ability of inmates and detainees to receive meth treatment under the over-filled RSAT drug treatment program + to create another drug treatment program for the detainees, who are ineligible for RSAT.”
Meetings are scheduled to convene the Opioid Panel Feb. 15, to start appropriating monies to fight meth detection and meth addicts, as well as afford them help in DOC.
On a bright note, the addition of a DNA Forensic Lab should significantly increase the ability of local law enforcement to analyze crime scene evidence on-island. The facility will also support the Guam Community College associates of science in criminal justice programs.
Funding for the design of the GCC DNA Forensic Lab was from a U.S. Department of Interior grant of $365,653. Construction was funded by a $5 million loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture that also funded the renovation of Building 100, now part of Building E.