President Surangel Whipps Jr. is seeking to appoint a non-Palauan as Director of the Bureau of Public Safety, a position recently held by Ishmael Aquon, whom he had terminated earlier this month.
During the oversight hearing with the Senate JGA Committee, Vice President and Minister of Justice Uduch Sengebau-Senior revealed that President Whipps is looking for a person with the requisite expertise and no connection to anyone to be the new Director of the Bureau of Public Safety.
“We all have heard what people say is happening at the police station. Your ticket will not reach the Office of the Attorney General if you have a relative or friend there. It’s an open secret. There’s a culture within the police force of protecting each other,” express Minister of Justice Sengebau-Senior. This is why, she said, President Whipps is looking outside of Palau for a new Director of Public Safety.
“We need to change public perception and restore trust and integrity,” said VP Sengebau-Senior of the effort to improve the Bureau of Public Safety.
In the interim, Vice President & Minister of Justice Senior is appointed Acting Director of Public Safety, a position that gives her direct management of the Bureau of Public Safety, which has nearly all the Divisions under it. President Whipps also re-hired former Chief of Criminal Investigation Division Richard Ngiratrang as the new Deputy Director of Public Safety.
In response to the incidents at the Department of Corrections, allegations of juvenile inmate sexual assault by an adult inmate, alleged breaches of conduct by DOC officers, and the stabbing death of an inmate, changes have been implemented in recent months.
One of the changes includes “cross-training” division chiefs by moving them out of their divisions and into other areas to get “cross-trained.”
The sudden placement of chiefs in divisions without good communication, and training plans in place, especially for specialized areas of law enforcement, drew criticisms from the Senators.
At the oversight with Chief Ngiramengior of the Division of Corrections, he said that they received their orders to change divisions a day after the plan was announced. He said that although he wished they had time to discuss the proposal, they (officers) did not make an issue of it and opted to maintain the peace and security of the public.
Vice President and Minister of Justice Sengebau-Senior said that in addition to the shortage of police officers to meet public needs, the limited education of law enforcement officers is also a contributing factor, citing that of the 300-plus police officers, only two have Masters’s degrees. One has a bachelor’s degree, while more have Associate degrees or high school diplomas.
Working with Palau Community College, Vice President Senior said they are working on getting the officers into school. The first such program has eleven (11) officers registered.