ON Dec. 15, 1972, Marianas Variety reported about the start of the political status talks between the representatives of the U.S. president and the NMI leadership at the Mount Carmel School auditorium. These discussions would result in the signing of the Covenant to establish the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands in Political Union with the United States of America on Feb. 15, 1975 at the same venue.

At the time, the NMI was one of the six districts of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands administered by the U.S. (America’s “colonies,” according to its critics, among them the liberty-loving USSR.) The other TT districts were Palau, Ponape (Pohnpei), the Marshalls, Truk (Chuuk) and Yap. Saipan was the capital of the TT government whose administration buildings were located on a hill the TT officials called “Capital Hill.” (Get it?) But people come and go in the NMI, and eventually many folks, including CNMI officials themselves, have assumed that the name of the area is “Capitol Hill” because whoever heard of such a thing as “Capital Hill”? Today, most if not almost all CNMI government officials are unaware that they have misnamed the “capital” of Saipan, but at least they are enforcing the anti-littering law, right?

In any case, MV’s other front-page story on Dec. 15, 1972 was  “Saipan Policemen Complain”:

“Several policemen…have voiced dissatisfaction with what they term ‘incompetent’ supervision and administration within…the Marianas District Department of Public Safety.

“The officers, who requested to have their names withheld due to ‘instant dismissal’ should their identities be known, told Variety…that there is now [a] prevalent and growing discontent among the policemen, and that the higher echelon of the department should carry the bulk of the blame.

“Much of the discontentment the officers noted stems from the obvious poor image of the force and the general public’s mounting lack of respect and confidence in the department.

“One of the officers said…the newly formed Navy Hill surveillance unit ‘is like a slap on the department’s face. It never should have happened.’ The surveillance unit consists of Navy Hill residents and was formed in the wake of soaring unsolved incidents of burglary and burglary attempts. ‘Soon we’ll be asking residents of Chalan Kanoa, Susupe and other [villages] to look after themselves….,’ the officer stated.”

He added that the department had acquired three new patrol vehicles — Nova sedans — but only 10 of the 40 patrolmen were authorized to drive them. “So in a sense we’re right back to the old pick-ups and jeeps,” the officer told Variety. “These antiquated vehicles are no match on the highway against most of the private cars.”

The department, moreover, “is manifestly and lamentably short-handed.” The officer said it “is very difficult to recruit good men mainly because of the poor image of the force and also because of the lousy pay.” The starting salary for new recruits was 89 cents per hour. That’s worth $5.64 today.

“Yes we are short-handed, but still there are eight full time patrolmen assigned to Capital Hill. That’s nearly 10% of the entire police force to cover the area which is well lighted and has its own security guards. Whenever one of the men up there doesn’t show up, they simply pull one patrolman from the rest of Saipan and stick him up there. Now how do you justify that?”

Another officer noted that  a detective who was also performing the tasks of a juvenile officer had been assigned as the chauffeur of the big kahuna himself, the TT high commissioner, a statesider and an appointee of the U.S. president.

The complaining officers said the number of unsolved felony and misdemeanor cases “has become a very poor reflection on them. Out of the 319 felony incidents reported within the last 12 months, 140 were closed or solved; three waived by victims or complainants; 185 remain open or unsolved. [Of] the misdemeanor offenses, 804 incidents were reported; 697 were closed; 346 [were] waived by victims; and 171 remain open.”

The Marianas District DPS was headed by a superintendent who was a statesider. His pay was $17,500 a year (worth about $110,000 today)  “plus 20% post differential.” He had earlier instructed the chief of police to address the following issues:

“The jail was not in order. Prisoner had his personal food in workshop area. One shower leaking causing flood in pantry kitchen…. One of your newest [officers] who should be learning about police work is assigned as an investigator…. A few months ago, [an officer] was allowed to resign because the things he had been doing were a discredit to Public Safety…I found that this man is back at his old job and old rank. This does not help our image in the least….”

Those were also the days when op-ed writers could still use “pen names.” One of them was El Gecko who wrote that he had been studying “the history of the last 300 years, which is modern from a Gecko’s view, for his family has been on earth many millions of years.” El Gecko said based on his studies, “the original inhabitants of the Marianas…were Filipino construction workers building hotels for the expected Spanish tourist business.” In addition, “the Japanese took the islands from the Germans because the Japanese had two gun boats, the Germans had only one.” Also, “the Japanese needed a new market for tape recorders, radios and cameras.” As for the Americans, they “took the islands away from Japan because [they] wanted to give Amelia Earhart a decent burial, and needed…unsinkable aircraft carriers.”

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Zaldy Dandan is the recipient of the Best Editorial Writer Award of the Society of Professional Journalists, and the CNMI Humanities Award for Outstanding Contributions to Journalism. His four books are available on amazon.com

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