Puerto Rico officers worked tirelessly during the aftermath of Hurricane Maria but their overtime relief efforts went unpaid and now thousands are calling in sick every day.
According to NBC News, Puerto Rico has one of the largest police departments under U.S. jurisdiction with more than 13,000 officers overall. Recently, more than 2,700 officers on average have been absent daily from the average 550. A significant increase in absences has prompted Puerto Rico Police Chief Michelle Hernandez to recommend that U.S. National Guard soldiers help fill the temporary vacancies. By Saturday about $21.4 million in overtime will be paid but Hernandez estimates an additional $35 million in overtime pay is still owed.
Authorities blame the slow process between Puerto Rico’s government and the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency for reimbursement of overtime police pay.
“Police officers can’t take it anymore,” said Carlos Morales, president of an association that represents more than 8,000 officers. He added “They have their problems. They’ve lost their homes. They’ve lost a lot of things, and on top of it, they have to keep working.”
Tensions are high between police officers and government officials but while the growing number of absences from police officers rise so do security and safety concerns from people in regions who remain without power.
Sgt. Felix Rosario told AP the number of thefts, especially those involving generators, has increased since the category 5 hurricane.