THE CAPITOL – A group of bailiffs attached to the Judicial Branch of Puerto Rico advocated on Thursday for them to be included as high-risk public servants in Law 47-1951 of the Retirement System of Government Employees in a public hearing of the Committee on Public Affairs Labor of the House of Representatives.
The sheriff’s body appeared at the public session to discuss House Bill 504 (PC 504), which seeks to provide that officials can voluntarily take retirement after having reached 55 years of age and 30 years of service.
The legislative piece, filed by the representative Orlando Aponte Rosario, also seeks to extend, by exception, the mandatory retirement age for high-risk public servants to 62 years.
“We are at a great disadvantage. If an incident happens to us, we are not protected by any insurance. There is nothing to shelter us. Only that the family goes to see us at the cemetery if something happens to us, “denounced Amílcar Gerena, an assistant bailiff attached to the Utuado judicial region.
The official, with 15 years of service, said during his turn as a deponent that “what we want is equality of law and justice,” as he assured that the bailiffs are the most unprotected officials of all public order employees.
Currently, approximately 800 bailiffs work in the Judicial Branch system.
“The employees of the Judicial Branch, including the bailiffs, are public employees for some things, and we are not public employees for others,” he said.
“You could ask the question of how many bailiffs have died to be classified as high risk (employees), but I think that should not be the question. The question should be how many bailiffs do we have to wait to be killed in the street before taking action. “
For his part, Assistant Sheriff Celso Fuentes, from the Aibonito region, explained to the chamber commission a variety of dangers that they continually face when carrying out their duties.
Among them, tasks that corresponded to correctional employees, but which were now entrusted to the sheriffs, such as the transportation of state and federal inmates.
Other high-risk jobs include serving court summons, arrest warrants, and protection orders in Law 54 domestic violence cases.
Similarly, the bailiffs are in charge of carrying out wage garnishment orders, evictions and even removal of minors in court, which exposes them to violent reactions on the part of the people against whom the legal action is executed.
“Several events have happened to this server, serving arrest warrants and summons. In one of them, the person we were going to arrest threw himself over a cliff, and when I had him grabbed, I went with him over the cliff, in Cayey, ”said Fuentes, while also saying that other colleagues have suffered serious injuries in means of interventions.
The official explained that the vast majority of arrests are made by the Marshals Office, since they only have the collaboration of the Police Bureau and other agencies when it comes to operations.
Meanwhile, Sheriff Samuel Conde, assigned to the judicial region of Carolina, related an incident in which initially it was a “simple arrest”, but upon arriving at the residence – which was abandoned – it turned out to be the arrest of one of the most wanted fugitives from the Carolina police area.
Long weapons and drugs were also found at the scene.
“This is something that is very delicate. We arrive at a place and we do not know if we are going to reach our homes. All colleagues are risking a lot, “said the employee with a broken voice.
“We risk our lives at all times.”
According to officials, the base salary for sheriff’s positions is $ 1,720. It has been 10 years since these officials have received a salary increase, they indicated to questions from the president of the chamber commission, Domingo Torres García.
They also claimed that they did not benefit from an incentive of $ 2,000 for bailiffs of the Judicial Branch announced by the last government administration as part of the economic aid in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to the group of deponents, the Judicial Branch received the money, but did not fully comply with the distribution guide issued by the Office of Management and Budget (OGP).
Only about 60% of the bailiffs received the incentive, Fuentes said.
However, most only got $ 400 and a “tiny part” got the money in full. “The bailiffs, we were the ones who were facing the courts; receiving the personnel and attending to the personnel, they left us without any penny of the benefits issued ”, he pointed out.
The chamber commission pledged to ask Governor Pedro Pierluisi to include the bailiffs among the beneficiaries of the new round of incentives through the American Rescue Plan (ARPA) law.
The sheriff’s body, on the other hand, suggested amendments to the language of the project and eliminating the provision that establishes that any monetary benefit will be subject to the availability of funds to cover it, since they affirm that it would open the door to never being granted.
“We hope that after finalizing the process of public hearings the project will be welcomed with good eyes, it can go to the Senate and that finally the governor can sign it and do justice to the workers in the area of the Judicial Branch,” said Torres Garcia.