Morovis Puerto Rico, a town where two thirds of patrol officers called in sick

Thousands of Puerto Rican police officers have not been reporting to work, the Associated Press is reporting. Officers have been calling in sick in part to leverage their claim for unpaid overtime accumulated due to their efforts post-Hurricane Maria.

This development is in the wake of concerns over public safety in Puerto Rico, a country still struggling to restore power nationwide after being devastated by the category 4 hurricane in September.

Puerto Rico has seen daily absences of 550 officers on average, this from a force of 13,000 one of the largest in U.S jurisdiction. However, post Maria, absences have averaged at 2,700 officers daily.

Prompted by the recent trend, chief of police ,Michelle Hernandez, has called for the use of the U.S National Guard to fill the temporary vacancies.

“We have had an inordinate amount of absences that we haven’t seen in years prior,” she said in a statement to the associated press. Hernandez also indicated that while the trend this year has been a drop in major crime she fears a possible reversal. However, the administration of Governor Ricardo Rosello on Wednesday, rejected Hernandez’ recommendation.

Puerto Rico has been experiencing an 11 year recession in addition to the estimated 95 billion in damage done to the country from the record storm. Police officers have already been paid almost 15 million dollars according to the government with more on the way. That not withstanding, police chief Hernandez estimated that officers are still owed 35 million in unpaid overtime. This sum was earned from working 12-15 hour days 7 days a week during September and October claims lobbying groups. While the officers are not allowed to unionize, the point has been made on their behalf that they too have lost their homes, face their own problems along with those caused by the storm and still have to keep working.

“I don’t want to wait until this gets out of control,” Axel Roque a Puerto Rican senator, stated on Wednesday. “Citizens are paying taxes and expect that the government fulfil its obligations to guarantee their security,”

In one mountain town of 30,000 people, Morovis,  13 of the town’s 21 patrol officers called in sick according to Sergeant Felix Rosario. He stated that cases are pilling up as a result, and that they are facing limitations as thefts, in particular that of generators, are on the rise.