How Safe Are We?

July 13, 2017 Isa Baza



DRUG ABUSE IS PLAGUING every corner of Guam’s society. You see it in the headlines, in your neighborhood, and for far too many, with your friends and family. With countless reports of robberies and violent crimes in recent months—is drug abuse to blame?

According to Police Chief J.I. Cruz, drugs are indeed part of the equation. In fact, based on the statistics from the Guam Police Department, drug-related crime takes the top spot.  “Our number-one reported crime on our island is tied to alcohol. There are a lot of alcohol-related incidents on our island, throughout the entire community regardless of whether you’re Chamorro, Filipino—regardless where you’re from,” Cruz said. These include everything from driving under the influence to reports of liquor violations and drunkenness.

As for Category 1 violent crimes, these too are often, though not always, tied to drugs and alcohol. According to GPD data, fiscal year 2017 alone saw 43 rape cases, 16 robberies, 64 aggravated assaults, and 3 homicides. This is a 36% increase in the number of violent crimes from the previous year. A look through the individual cases reveals that drugs have played a role in some of the worst crimes the island faces. “When I talk about the three homicides, unfortunately, the homicides that we’ve had in the last fiscal year all go back to the issue of drunkenness,” Cruz said.

A prominent example is a high-profile murder case that went to trial earlier this year involving two police officers. Former cop Mark Torre Jr. was accused of murdering fellow officer Elbert Piolo while intoxicated after a night out drinking. Torre was ultimately convicted of negligent homicide and aggravated assault as a third-degree felony for the shooting death of Piolo.

“We also have a problem with other drugs, whether it’s crystal methamphetamine, which most of us know as ‘ice,’ or whether it's prescription drugs, that’s another big issue that we’re dealing with,” said Cruz.

Drugs, such as alcohol, crystal methamphetamine, and opiates, have been tied to crimes ranging from game room and supermarket robberies to high-speed chases, assaults, rapes, weapons violations, home invasions, stabbings, murder, and more. A drug bust made in February has been touted by GPD as the island’s largest prescription drug bust to date. This was after a string of robberies at the Tumon Rolex store, Benson Hardware, and Mac Tech Guam. It began when a 28-year-old suspect was caught on camera stealing $30,000 worth of Rolex watches that were later traded in for four grams of the drug ice and prescription pills. The ensuing investigation led detectives to a Dededo home, where more than 6,000 prescription pills, stolen guns, and crystal methamphetamine were discovered. The bust eventually led to several arrests, including those of the suspects, who were later picked up by police for additional theft cases. In April, attorney Curtis Vandeveld also questioned whether one of the arrestees could be tied to an aggravated murder case in Mangilao the following month.

 In an effort to combat the growing drug problem, Governor Eddie Calvo signed an executive order creating the Mandana Drug Task Force in early February. The task force focuses on cracking down on the island’s drug problem, reducing the amount of drugs on the streets, and also working with government agencies to facilitate access to rehabilitation services. With an estimated 39,000 grams of crystal methamphetamine valued at $20 million confiscated in Guam to date, Calvo said the criminal enterprise has to be stopped.

“I’m not a social scientist, but just being six years as a governor—drugs—Chief, you can check the numbers, but I would say 99% of our crime has either been on controlled substances, crystal meth, opiates, other types of drugs, and legal drugs [like] alcohol,” said Calvo at the Micronesia Islands Forum in May.

While a rising number of drug busts has made headlines, so has a spike in robberies, including a number involving victims held at gunpoint. The alarming number of robberies since the beginning of 2017 led GPD to establish the Robbery Suppression Task Force in April. Police spokesperson Captain Kim Santos said the task force has led to the arrest of five individuals linked to robberies at Winner game room, RU game room, and Dairy Mart. Court documents show that several suspects arrested in the string of robberies used the stolen money to buy crystal methamphetamine. Subsequently, the alleged getaway driver in the Dairy Mart robbery, Vincent Cruz, was also arrested in April for attempted murder and home invasion following a shootout with police that led to a hostage situation in Dededo. As of April, Captain Santos said the task force was investigating at least 25 robbery cases.

“I think that if we as a community work together and say, for every dollar that we spend on treatment we can save the government 7 dollars, I think if we embrace that and make it so treatment is priority, I think we would see less and less issues in the newspaper for certain crimes" - Valerie Reyes, Lighthouse Recovery Center Director



But while officials are boosting enforcement efforts, rehabilitation services on Guam remain limited and lacking. Governor Calvo acknowledged that more things need to be done. “We just don’t have right now the necessary resources for drug rehabilitation, so the next steps for us is—and I’ve talked to our fiscal team—we need a massive investment into these types of [rehabilitation] services,” he said.

Without an adequate investment in these services, Calvo recognized the grim reality that addicts will often end up right back into the hands of drugs. “That’s why it’s so important for us now to find the necessary treatments so we can get out of this cycle of recidivism, because some of the most recent criminal activity—these are folks who just came out of prison. Same thing they’re into some sort of drug that they’re on, and they get back into that nasty habit,” he added.

Lighthouse Recovery Center Director Valerie Reyes leads a substance abuse treatment center spearheaded by the Salvation Army. “I think that if we as a community work together and say, for every dollar that we spend on treatment we can save the government 7 dollars, I think if we embrace that and make it so treatment is priority, I think we would see less and less issues in the newspaper for certain crimes,” she said.

LRC is one of only two adult treatment facilities on Guam, and is geared specifically for men with substance abuse issues. The center offers a range of rehabilitation services including a six-month residential program. The structured program includes a personalized treatment plan, 12-step classes, individual counseling, matrix classes that help clients deal with their addiction, as well as job-search assistance and after-care services.

In addition, LRC offers an outpatient service that allows clients to live off-site while also giving them access to the same services. “I think [the program] is very effective. It’s very much up to the individual. Unfortunately, we do lose people; so they’ll do the detox program and then they’ll sign out and sometimes they’ll go back to the thing that they know best,” said Reyes. “It depends on the individual’s willingness to work towards the new lifestyle change.”

In addition to referrals from New Beginnings at the Guam Behavioral Health and Wellness Center, some clients may also need medical clearances from the Guam Memorial Hospital.

Associate Administrator of Medical Services Dr. Vince Duenas said, while GMH can provide these clearances, thanks to its ability to stabilize patients suffering from acute withdrawal symptoms, he is concerned about the lack of a long-term medically assisted withdrawal program on island.

“It’s really a multi-disciplinary approach where you have the physicians, nurses, social services all helping to try to get this individual tapered off,” Duenas said. He’s hopeful the government will invest resources into the creation of the needed outpatient program. Without it, Reyes said LRC uses a social detox program instead.

Guam’s second adult treatment facility is the Oasis Empowerment Center. The non-denominational, faith-based rehabilitation program caters to women, and also offers a six-month residential treatment program that comes with an array of support services. These include everything from 12-step classes to after-care services. Oasis also offers outpatient services for both men and women.

“If you’re looking at success rates, recidivism is super-high in this field. Everybody’s different, every case is different, and we do the best we can to give them the information and skills they need. Then when they leave here it’s up to them to work on those skills,” Reyes said.

She hoped more resources will be put toward treatment, and more people in the community will recognize that it takes a village to help these individuals rebuild their lives. “Clients will make every effort in getting clean, getting their lives back, but if clients can’t find a job and they don’t qualify for temporary assistance, it becomes almost impossible to live,” she said.

With greater community support, rehabilitation services, mentorship opportunities, and employment opportunities, Reyes said many addicts could return to leading productive lives.
“It’s just being afforded that second chance,” she concluded.

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