Forensics employees: Public Safety chief ‘has never been here’
By Pedro Correa Henry
Special to The Star
After Forensic Sciences Bureau (FSB) Commissioner María Conte Miller issued a resignation ultimatum through various outlets, saying she “can’t handle” being under the Public Safety Department (DSP by its Spanish initials) any longer because the fusion of the two agencies has led to bureaucracy, shortages of supplies, and backlogs in criminal investigations, employees protested Wednesday in front of the FSB to support their supervisor and demand that the Puerto Rico Senate approve House Bill (HB) 2075, which would make the FSB into an independent government entity.
From maintenance personnel to forensic investigators, FSB workers met at the gates of their workplace in the afternoon to express their agreement with Conte Miller’s concerns and that they feel they are being forgotten by the DSP. Likewise, Local 2099 Puerto Rico United Public Servants President Aixa Estrada Franco said that under the commissioner’s supervision, workers at the FSB have done their best to make it work. However, employees have been aware that because some responsibilities are not in her hands, the bureau’s work has been negatively affected.
Estrada Franco said further that DSP Secretary Pedro Janer has never visited the FSB.
“No, he has never come here, he has never visited the bureau’s premises to acknowledge its necessities or understand how work here is done,” Estrada Franco said while other protesters concurred.
Meanwhile, Estrada Franco, who works as an autopsy facility clerk in the pathology unit, said that Conte Miller has performed well amid the struggles the FSB has with its management and, even with their limited resources, she has taken the time to attend to her employees’ concerns. However, the union leader told the Star that the commissioner can’t make every decision but rather must wait for approval from the DSP.
“Our hands are tied by the DSP,” Estrada Franco said. “We understand that every agency works with particular needs, yet there are certain bureaucratic procedures that can’t wait any longer as there’s equipment that needs maintenance, there’s a lot of work that needs to move forward. We can’t wait for months to get approval for purchases; our communication with Management and Human Resources is very poor.”
“There has not been any advancement with the FSB since it has been under the DSP’s umbrella due to their bureaucracy and protocols,” she added. “They don’t know how this works.”
Enid Feliciano, a forensic investigation who has worked at the FSB since 2004 and serves as spokeswoman for the same union local, told the Star that when Janer made a negative comment about HB 2075, she found it hard to understand since he has never been available for any staff meeting, nor does he seem to listen to Conte Miller’s concerns.
“We had to write three letters to the secretary requesting a meeting [outside the agency] with members of the union and agency employees, and it was not until June that he agreed to come,” Feliciano said. “In that meeting, we gave him an open invitation to the agency so he could look at the facilities, listen to our needs, attend to our issues with [time and attendance system] Kronos, supply purchases [and] staff exodus, as we are specialized professionals not only with college degrees, but we have experience in specific fields. What was his answer? None! Instead, he dares to disparage that bill when he has never reached out to us.”
Lyzette Reyes BerrÍos, a forensic pathologist who has worked for 20 years at the FSB, said the agency must be protected because it holds a culture and history of protecting Puerto Rico. Likewise, she insisted that senators must approve the bill today in order to keep justice alive.
“We are a family here. Here is a culture and a history that has remained alive for years and years, proving with quality, within every legal forum, our value to diminish human pain,” Reyes Berríos said. “We have worked with sensitivity, moderation and commitment to the people of Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico is our boss. If Dr. Conte [Miller] can keep helping us contribute to making FSB work 100 percent with our best resources and on time, it’s a valid call. Senators should keep an eye out to make sure our needs are served on time and to make sure we can perform with the highest quality in this agency.”
Janer replaced current Secretary of State Elmer Román as DPS acting secretary in December 2019, and was officially confirmed for the position in April.