|WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Puerto Rico Police Department is plagued by a culture of unrestrained abuse and brutality as well as a failure to crack down on sexual assault, domestic violence, and murders of women by their partners, a report released today by the American Civil Liberties Union reveals.
The report, “Island of Impunity: Puerto Rico’s Outlaw Police Force,” identifies numerous deficiencies that are responsible for the crisis at the PRPD, which is the second-largest police department in the U.S., with more than 17,000 officers. They include a lack of procedures to monitor and investigate abuse complaints – which are routinely covered up by the department – and inadequate systems to train, supervise and discipline officers.
“This is a place where American citizens and immigrants are enduring terrible abuse at the hands of their own police force, and the local and federal governments are letting it happen,” said Anthony D. Romero, ACLU executive director. “The Puerto Rican government has promised reform for years, but people are still suffering under a police department that is out of control. The U.S. Justice Department needs to take concrete action immediately to end the PRPD’s unconstitutional practices.”
The ACLU documented extensive violations of Puerto Ricans’ constitutional and human rights by the PRPD, including:
- Use of excessive and lethal force against civilians, especially in poor and Black neighborhoods and Dominican communities, often resulting in serious injury and death.
- Violent suppression of peaceful protestors using batons, rubber bullets, and a toxic form of tear gas that was phased out by mainland U.S. police departments in the 1960’s.
- Failure to protect victims of domestic violence and to investigate reported crimes of domestic violence, rape, and other gender-based crimes.
The 180-page report comes nine months after the release of a scathing U.S. Justice Department report on the PRPD, which found myriad constitutional violations, including widespread use of excessive force. The Justice Department investigation focused on incidents from 2004 to 2008, and also found that police suppressed protestors’ rights in 2009 and 2010. The ACLU report documents additional areas of police misconduct and focuses on incidents from 2007 to as recently as last month.
“Governor Fortuño proposed reforms after the Justice Department report came out nine months ago, but they are superficial at best, and regardless almost none have been put into place,” said William Ramirez, executive director of the ACLU of Puerto Rico. “We still lack a system that holds police officers accountable for their actions, and people are dying because of it.”
The ACLU report is based on more than 75 interviews in Puerto Rico with government officials and victims of police brutality or their attorneys or surviving relatives. It also includes detailed analysis of police procedures, and uncovered shocking statistics including:
In 2010 and 2011, PRPD officers killed at least 21 civilians. The per capita rate of fatal police shootings in 2010 was almost triple that of New York City the same year.
Only about one percent of rapes are properly reported by the PRPD. In most U.S. jurisdictions the number of reported rapes is four times the number of homicides – in 2010, the PRPD reported 1,000 homicides, but only 39 rapes.
Puerto Rico’s per capita rate of women murdered by their partners is the highest in the world. In 2011, the number of women killed by their partners in Puerto Rico was six times higher than Los Angeles, which has about the same population of 3.7 million.
Between 2005 and 2010, more than 1,700 PRPD officers were arrested for criminal activity including assault, domestic violence, drug trafficking and murder – amounting to 10 percent of the force. At least 84 still-active PRPD officers have been arrested two or more times for domestic violence.
“The PRPD has demonstrated it is both unwilling and unable to police itself, and the political leadership in Puerto Rico has failed to step into the breach,” the report says.
The problems continue, the study finds, because the PRPD’s disciplinary, investigatory and reporting systems prevent accountability. In one case, an officer who had been arrested eight times and held the local police chief hostage at gunpoint was reinstated, after which he fatally shot an unarmed teenager. In another, an officer who was labeled a “ticking time bomb” by a police psychologist later shot and killed an unarmed man; at the time of the shooting the officer was the subject of seven disciplinary complaints dating back as far as nine years.
The report offers numerous detailed recommendations, including:
- The Justice Department should enter into a court-enforceable and court-monitored agreement with the PRPD.
- The PRPD should develop and implement policies on the use of force, improved training, the investigation of civilian complaints of police abuse, and the discipline of officers.
- Puerto Rico’s legislature should create an independent and effective oversight body to monitor the PRPD.
“These abuses do not represent isolated incidents or aberrant behavior by a few rogue officers,” said the report’s author, Jennifer Turner of the ACLU’s Human Rights Program. “The police brutality we documented is systemic, island-wide and ongoing. The PRPD is steeped in a culture of unrestrained abuse and near-total impunity.”
For a copy of the report go here.