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Saturday, April 19, 2014

‘No police, customs officers randomly tested for drugs’
CNMI has zero funding for random drug testing

Amid reports and cases of law enforcement officers being involved in illegal drugs, no one in the Department of Public Safety or the Division Customs Services was randomly tested for drug use for at least a year—as required by law—because the CNMI government has not budgeted a penny for such a test. A drug test costs some $30 per person.

DPS is the largest law enforcement agency in the CNMI, with hundreds of police officers under its wing.

DPS Commissioner James Deleon Guerrero and Customs director Joe Mafnas separately told senators yesterday morning about the lack of random drug testing in their respective agencies during at least 2013.

They were responding to questions posed by Sen. Paul Manglona (Ind-Rota) during the Senate session.

But the DPS commissioner and Customs director said the Office of Personnel Management is responsible for deciding who or when government employees will be randomly tested for drugs. The law says this should be in consultation with the appointing authority.

Deleon Guerrero said a mandatory random drug testing among all law enforcement personnel is a must, given the nature of their duties and responsibilities.

“We’ve been particularly hard-hit, us [DPS] and Customs the last five years. Some kind of a law that allows us the capacity to be able to do this [drug testing] more often so we don’t have to wait until a major incident occurs before we react,” he said.

Police officers have figured in drug-related cases the past few years but the government has yet to do any random drug testing among existing DPS personnel.

Meanwhile, Mafnas said he had to let go of two customs employees in 2013 for drug-related issues—one for selling illegal drugs and one for associating with drug users.

“One of them admitted to it when we asked,” Mafnas told Saipan Tribune after testifying before the Senate on a House bill requiring mandatory drug testing for all law enforcement personnel each year.

Mafnas said Customs didn’t ask OPM to require the two to undergo drug tests when he became suspicious of their activities.

Deleon Guerrero has also been advocating “zero tolerance,” wherein anyone at DPS found positive for drug use should be automatically removed from the department.

But he said some lawmakers raised constitutional concerns after a meeting last year to draft legislation for mandatory drug testing among all law enforcement personnel.

“OPM is entrusted with the responsibility of administering random drug testing program across the entire government inclusive of DPS, Customs and other law enforcement agencies. That’s why I’m here to advocate to have us [DPS] run this program so we can effectively run it,” the DPS commissioner said.

When asked whether he can require drug testing for those suspected of using drugs, he said, “There may be latitudes for doing that. But you see, OPM still has to identify the funding.”

Personnel director Isidro Seman was not available for interview yesterday. It was learned, however, that there is no specific funding under OPM’s budget for random drug testing.

Senators, including Sens. Pete Reyes (Ind-Saipan) and Manglona, took turns saying that funding should be secondary to concerns about public safety.

Deleon Guerrero said the Inos administration has been open to providing at least seed money to allow random drug testing for DPS and other law enforcers, once a mandatory drug testing bill is in place.

But at the Senate session yesterday, Reyes, Manglona, Sens. Frank Borja (Ind-Tinian), Victor Hocog, and other senators recommended changes to improve the House bill.

Deleon Guerrero later said he hopes that the suggestions raised at the session would be incorporated by the Senate in the House bill.

House Bill 18-101 or the Law Enforcement Mandatory Drug Testing Act of 2013, co-authored by Reps. Christopher Leon Guerrero (Cov-Saipan), John Paul Sablan (Cov-Saipan) and four others, provides for mandatory drug testing for all law enforcement each year.

Senators said they will review the bill and report it out next session.

Deleon Guerrero said he is “hoping the best possible law will come out of the Legislature.”

“It may not be a law that everybody can be happy with, but it has to be an improvement from what we have now,” he added.

Other senators said they would like to also include in the mandatory drug testing all law enforcement personnel at the Commonwealth Ports Authority and the Division of Fish and Wildlife.

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