SAN JUAN – More than 2,500 members of the Puerto Rico Police Department (PRPD) called in sick on Monday amid a dispute with management over unpaid overtime racked up in the weeks after Hurricane Maria devastated this US commonwealth in the Caribbean.
The number of officers from Monday’s first shift who took sick leave was 2,615, about 10 times more than on a typical day, the PRPD told EFE.
Some precincts were forced to close on Christmas Eve due to lack of staff, according to media outlets, which said that police were especially scarce at San Juan’s Luis Muñoz Marin International Airport.
The executive director of the police union, Jose Marin, said that 4,000 officers – a third of the force – called in sick on Dec. 17.
While Gov. Ricardo Rossello has asked Public Safety Secretary Hector Pesquera to determine what’s behind the sick-out, media accounts say the issue is overtime pay.
Many PRPD officers found themselves working shifts of up to 16 hours in the weeks following the hurricane, which knocked out utilities and left most of Puerto Rico’s roads impassable.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) provided the Puerto Rican administration with $5 million to defray the cost of police overtime.
But the union says that instead of disbursing the extra pay, the PRPD has returned timesheets to officers with the claim that they were not filled-out correctly.
The blame, according to the union, lies with PRPD chief Michelle Hernandez de Fraley, whose rigidity has made the process much more complicated than it needs to be.