SAN JUAN – The Puerto Rico Police Department (PRPD) said Friday that hundreds of officers have returned to work as cops abandon a sick-out sparked by delays in receiving overtime payments.
While as many as 4,000 officers – a third of the force – called in sick on Dec. 17, that number was down on Thursday to 189, well within the daily average, the PRPD said in a statement.
“This clearly shows a more normal picture in police operations. The re-integration of the officers who were absent due to illness will enable compliance with the established plans to guarantee security for our communities,” interim chief Henry Escalera said.
Many PRPD officers found themselves working shifts of up to 16 hours in the weeks following Hurricane Maria, which knocked out utilities and left most of Puerto Rico’s roads impassable.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency provided the Puerto Rican administration with $5 million to defray the cost of police overtime.
But the officers’ union said that instead of disbursing the extra pay, the PRPD returned timesheets to officers with the claim that they were not filled-out correctly.
The union placed the blame with PRPD chief Michelle Hernandez de Fraley, who was relieved of duty earlier this week.
Puerto Rico’s public safety secretary, Hector Pesquera, thanked police for returning to duty despite their unhappiness over the pay situation.
“We will address their demands to the degree it is fiscally possible and we will ‘automate’ the processing of overtime to expedite payment,” he said.