Massachusetts Police Chiefs Question Why Puerto Rican Relief Mission Was Cut Short

A tearful reunion posted on Facebook may have cost seven Massachusetts police officers their deployment to Puerto Rico.

The officers - from Chelsea, Easthampton, Hampden and Holyoke - had been helping with security on the hurricane-ravaged island for less than a week.

They said they asked permission from Puerto Rican police to check in on the family of a Holyoke officer in southern Puerto Rico and help anyone else they found along the way.

They said they rented an SUV and used their own provisions - water, ready-to-eat meals and other supplies.

But when they returned to San Juan for their shift the next day, they said they were told to pack their bags and go home. 

On Friday, Puerto Rican officials had the officers flown from San Juan to Savannah, Georgia at 3 a.m., with no hotel or connecting flight.

The Hampden police chief scrambled a private plane to get them home.

So what happened?

The Massachusetts police chiefs said the officers received approval for their side trip from their on-site Puerto Rican command, but it never made it up the food chain to top brass.

In a memo to other departments the chiefs wrote, “While we wholeheartedly believe that this is an extremely important humanitarian effort... we are incredibly disappointed in how this situation was handled.”

They said the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency tried to intervene before the officers were sent home, but island officials did not return their calls or emails.

“Seven law enforcement officers from Massachusetts, who had previously deployed to Puerto Rico to assist in hurricane recovery operations, have returned to the Commonwealth," MEMA said in a statement. "It is our understanding that there was a miscommunication regarding specific parameters of a humanitarian assignment that the officers were involved with, and as a result, the officers were rotated out of their assignment. MEMA continues to work to support Puerto Rico in their recovery process from the recent devastating hurricanes.”

The Massachusetts chiefs said they will not be sending any more officers to Puerto Rico and wanted other chiefs to know what happened to their officers.

Wednesday, the Department of Public Safety in Puerto Rico issued the following statement in response:

"The DSP decided to dispense the services of 7MA officers after information came forth that was corroborated by the DSP. It is not in the interest of the DSP to dwell on the discussion that may damage the relationship and the assistance offered by the 17 Massachusetts officers at this important moment in Puerto Rico.

"The DSP is extremely grateful to the 17 Massachusetts officers, 54 New York officers, 98 New Jersey officers, 36 NY and NJ Port Authority officers and 279 federal officers."

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