Lack of accountability persists as a major factor in the Puerto Rico Police Department’s (PRPD) widespread abuse and brutality against its citizens, says a new report by the American Civil Liberties Union.
The report, released Tuesday, outlines many offenses by the PRPD, based on data between 2007-2011, but which also covers incidents that occurred through last month.
Some of the offenses include the police’s failure to crack down on domestic violence and sexual assaults, the use of excessive force against civilians and a lack of adequate procedures to follow and investigate abuse accusations, the report says.
“There’s clearly no will by the police force there to change its ways,” explains Jennifer Turner, ACLU Human Rights researcher and author of the 180-page report. “There’s also no leadership in Puerto Rico that’s interested in effective and real reform. That’s why it’s so necessary for the Justice Department to act.”
The DOJ released its own report last September, detailing the abuses on the island and calling for massive changes in PRPD policies.
There’s clearly no will by the police force there to change its ways.
- Jennifer Turner, ACLU Human Rights researcher
In response, the governor there promised “comprehensive, sustainable reform” after that study was released.
Efforts by Fox News Latino to contact the PRPD for comment were unsuccessful, but the force’s superintendent, Hector Pesquera, said in a radio interview that the report “is not a reflection of reality” and calls it “incorrect and irresponsible.”
He adds “There are cases of police corruption but it is no different than other police forces in the world.”
But the only change that has occurred is a new “use of force” policy, which spells out the actual procedures that police officers need to follow while on duty. A policy of this kind didn’t exist in Puerto Rico until this year.
The PRPD is the second-largest police department in the U.S., second only to New York City. Made up of more than 17,000 officers, it serves approximately 3.7 million residents.
In terms of complaints of abuse, the civil rights group alleges that the department has routinely concealed them and has no sufficient system to train, supervise and discipline its police.
“The situation was far worse than I realized,” explains Turner. “There were undoubtedly numerous cases that we didn’t uncover that were just swept under the rug by the police forces. They systematically cover up abuses when they’ve killed civilians.”
Statistics in the ACLU report show that PRPD officers killed at least 21 civilians in 2010 and 2011. Also, the per capita rate of fatal police shootings in 2010 was almost triple that of New York City the same year, it says.
Excessive force by Puerto Rican cops often happens in poor and black neighborhoods and Dominican communities, according to the report.
It also asserts that women have been frequent victims of law enforcement’s disregard for their safety, with only about one percent of rapes being reported by the force overall. And those incidents are happening in a place where the per capita rate of women murdered by their partners is the highest in the world, the ACLU states.
The study finds that policemen have committed horrible offenses within their own institution as well, only to be kept on staff and further commit more brutal acts.
In one documented instance, the report says, “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.”
The ACLU says that it aims to let the public know that police brutality against Puerto Rican civilians is not limited to a few isolated incidents and wants to give national attention to the situation so that Americans on the mainland will avoid “turning a blind eye to what’s happening.”
“We will push both the superintendent and the governor to institute these reforms,” explains Turner. “And we’re also hoping that the DOJ enters into an enforceable agreement with the police force that will hold them accountable to these reforms.”
David Noto is a freelance writer based in Bogotá, Colombia.