Bill to give ports police law enforcement powers passes Senate

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Blas Jonathan T. Attao

The Senate passed Tuesday a bill that would essentially grant law enforcement authority to the Commonwealth Ports Authority-Ports Police.

At a regular session in the Senate chamber, all eight senators present voted for the passage of House Bill No. 22-20, House Substitute 1 without discussions. The bill now goes to the governor’s desk for action.

Authored by House of Representatives Vice Speaker Blas Jonathan T. Attao (R-Saipan) and co-sponsored by several House members, the bill’s purpose is to amend the Commonwealth Code to clarify the CPA-Ports Police’s authority, power, and recognition as a CNMI law enforcement agency.

Attao stated in the legislation that unlike their fellow Customs officers, the ports police officers do not possess the authority to arrest individuals in the act of committing a crime within port jurisdiction.

He said ports police officers are barred from detaining a perpetrator until the proper authorities are present for proper detainment. He said these situations can prove to be very problematic in the event a Customs officer is unable to be present at such a scene.

Attao said such circumstances need to be rectified by providing the Ports Police officers with the proper law enforcement authority to ensure better protection at all ports within the Commonwealth.

According to a report by the House Judiciary and Governmental Operations Committee chaired by Rep. Celina R. Babauta (D-Saipan), the CPA’s Ports Police section has employed officers, conducted and participated in law enforcement trainings, established appropriate regulations, among others, throughout the years in order to provide a conducive law-abiding atmosphere for all ports within the CNMI borders. Therefore, the JGO Committee recognizes the CPA-Ports Police as a law enforcement agency of the CNMI government. The JGO Committee said the intent of the proposed legislation is to fill an unintentional void that existed because of the passage of the Second Special Act for Firearms Enforcement.

The committee found that the enactment of SAFE 11 repealed a statute, 6CMC Section 2208, in its entirety, making the CPA Ports Police’s law enforcement authority unclear. The committee said the legislation’ intent is to provide clarity about such authority and to ensure what was unintentionally removed by SAFE 11.

The committee recommended amending the proposed legislation to provide greater clarity for the CPA Ports Police’s law enforcement authority than the original legislation and to amend a statute to recognize their vehicles as “law enforcement vehicles” for government purposes.

The full House adopted the committee’s report.

During the public comments portion of the Senate session, Juan Rebuenog, assistant chief of CPA Ports Police, and assistant chief Juan Rebuenog urged senators to pass the bill.

Rebuenog said he has been a CPA Ports Police employee for over 25 years and that he cannot express how grateful the department is that this bill is now before the Senate for action. He noted that as far as he knows this is the first bill in CNMI history to fully and completely specify the scope of duties and authority of the CPA Ports Police Department.

“This bill very clearly empowers our department and increases the capacity to fulfill our mission statement in safeguarding life and property, preserving the peace, preventing and detecting crime, enforcing the law, and protecting the rights of all citizens,” he said.

Rebuenog said this bill would not only strengthen law enforcement in all ports, but also throughout the entire CNMI. He said through this bill, with its information sharing provision and section regarding mutual aid, both CPA and Department of Public Safety, and other law enforcement agency will be able to more efficiently administer their resources.

Ferdie De La Torre | Reporter
Ferdie Ponce de la Torre is a senior reporter of Saipan Tribune. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and has covered all news beats in the CNMI. He is a recipient of the CNMI Supreme Court Justice Award. Contact him at ferdie_delatorre@Saipantribune.com
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