By Troy Torres
This past weekend, Guam and a grateful nation laid to rest the greatest cop I've ever known. Col. Adolf Sgambelluri, or Sgamby as he was affectionally known, was the gold standard for chiefs of police on Guam. In his prime he was the definition of the kind of cop little boys in the 1980s looked up to and aspired to be.
He was robust, plain spoken, tough, and a true vanguard of justice. It was simple for him: there were the good guys and there were the bad guys; and if any cop dared to blur those lines, he'd be in jail almost as fast as Sgamby could whip a sailor with a paragraph of profanity, the proud Marine he was.
I was a third grader, when Sgamby sent two rookie cops - Jesse Aguigui and Rick Santos - to my classroom to talk to us kids about a career as a police officer. In those days female police officers were more rare than an honest politician, but they wanted the girls to know that a career in the Guam Police Department was very much for them as well. My cousin, John Roberto, asked his uncle Jesse if cops made a lot of money. I'll never forget his reply: "You won't be rich, but you can buy a lot of McDonalds."
Today the only way a new GPD police officer will be able to afford even two super sized McDonald's extra value menu meals on his hourly wage of $17 is if he begs, borrows, or steals.
A review of about 40 job position postings by the Department of Administration - everything from custodian to biologist and social worker - shows the second-lowest paid position is police officer trainee. The annual gross salary before taxes for that position is $24,689, or just $11.87 an hour!
That's right. The government of Guam expects entry-level police officers to risk their lives daily, make extraordinary sacrifices, and support themselves on less than a living wage.
The only position paid less than the police trainee on a list of 33 GovGuam positions is camera operator. Whoever fills that position will be paid $23,171 a year. Everyone else makes more money than an entry level policeman. A Buyer I makes $26,520, nearly $2,000 more than police trainee. Even a Bookmobile Driver and cemetery worker make more. To add insult to injury, a Police Records Clerk I - a civilian co-worker at GPD - makes more money than a police trainee.
"This is just such a sad reality," former police officer, combat veteran and Democratic senatorial candidate John Ananich said. "I know police officers don't join the force to get rich, but to pay them so little is ridiculous."
Mr. Ananich agreed that paying police officers more will help to keep them from struggling financially and being tempted to do illegal or unethical things to make more money on the side. Former police officer Sen. Frank Blas, Jr. agreed.
"When I was a trainee, they paid me $3.25 an hour," Mr. Blas said. This has been going on for a while now.
This is perhaps one of the reasons Sgamby was big on compensating law enforcement officers, especially cops, to competitive standards. He knew that better pay lessened the chances for good cops to turn into compromised cops.
But Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero, in her state of the island address Monday night said nothing about the issue of police pay, and the bigger issue of police corruption. It was disappointing, to say the least. Mr. Blas was surprised the governor didn't address the topic at all, considering the issues that recently arose from the possible cover up of criminal activity by a police officer at Jerry's Kitchen, and all the allegations made by Federal Bureau of Investigation agents in federal court of massive police corruption on Guam.
My friend Sgamby hated corruption. At the first of what became weekly lunches at Sejong and other places, he just came straight out and demanded to know whether I would support Ray Tenorio if he ran for governor. "No," I told him back in 2012. "He'd be a terrible governor." His response was priceless:
"You tell that son of a bitch lieutenant governor he's full of shit!"
Sgamby was used to men of integrity holding high office in Guam. His boss when he was police chief was the late Lt. Gov. Frank Blas. Ray Tenorio, he firmly believed, was corrupt. "I remember Ray when he was in the police academy and I always knew there was something off," Sgamby told me. "I kept my eye on that one and I gave that son of a bitch a hard time."
Psychological evaluations and background checks
The Marine colonel firmly believed that police recruits needed to be tested for psychological fitness, their backgrounds also thoroughly investigated. He believed this should be done whenever they were promoted as well. The psyche test would be to weed out the creeps with anti-social personality disorders, who likely would abuse the enormous powers placed in the hands of police officers. The background checks would deter ill-gotten wealth, criminal associations, and special favors for family and friends. Damn the pare-pare system, my old friend thought.
Sgamby proposed these protocols to the Calvo transition team in December 2010, and several times more over the course of the next six years. Then-Lt. Gov. Ray Tenorio ignored him every single time. When I told him about the Mandana program Tenorio and then-police chief JI Cruz wanted to stand up, Sgamby called it. "Shit, that just sounds like a God-damn personal political hit squad if you ask me."
Everything that man said turned out to be true. He knew what he was talking about, and the people in power didn't listen to him. But perhaps they didn't listen to him because they knew he was right. After all, we'd be asking too much to expect our elected officials to be men and women of conscience and conviction, like Sgamby was.
Rest in peace, Sgamby. May Heaven rain down on our police force your protection from harm, and your sharp sense of justice, love of country, and commitment to the constitutional and civil rights of us all. May the bad guys shiver at the sound of your name. And may the good guys make you and that badge proud always.