The Puerto Rico Police Department “is steeped in a culture of unrestrained abuse and near-total impunity” and promised reforms have yet to materialize, the American Civil Liberties Union says in a report released Tuesday.
The 180-page report, Island of Impunity: Puerto Rico’s Outlaw Police Force, documents the brutality and shortcomings of the second largest police department in the United States with more then 17,000 police officers.
The abuses are not “isolated incidents,” but “pervasive and systemic, island-wide and ongoing,” Jennifer Turner of the ACLU human rights program said.
The analysis was released nine months after the U.S. Department of Justice published its own report on constitutional violations committed by the PRPD, which covered incidents between 2004 and 2008 along with the repression of protesters in 2009 and 2010.
But the ACLU document describes additional areas of police brutality that includes incidents from 2007 right up to last month.
According to the ACLU, the Puerto Rican police lack mechanisms to investigate complaints about abuse, even covers up such cases, and has no systems to train, supervise or sanction its agents.
ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero complained that the San Juan government has not yet fulfilled its promise to reform the system.
The head of the ACLU of Puerto Rico, William Ramirez, said the reforms proposed by Gov. Luis Fortuño for a public accounting of police activities have been, in the best of cases, “superficial” and almost none have been put into practice.
Among the cases documented by the ACLU is the excessive use of force against the civilian population, particularly in poor neighborhoods and toward blacks and Dominican immigrants, plus the violent suppression of peaceful demonstrations with rubber bullets, clubs and a kind of tear gas not used on the U.S. mainland since the 1970s.
Nor has the PRPD taken the necessary steps to protect victims of domestic violence or to investigate either these crimes or rapes or any other forms of aggression against women.
According to the ACLU report, between 2010 and 2011, PRPD officers killed at least 21 civilians. In fact, the per capita rate of fatal shootings by police in 2010 was almost triple the rate recorded in New York in the same year.
And the PRPD reported only about 1 percent of rape cases. In the United States, the number of rapes reported by the police is four times greater than the number of homicides, but in 2010, Puerto Rican police reported 1,000 homicides and only 39 rapes, according to the document.
This contrasts with the fact that the per capita rate of women slain by their men in Puerto Rico is the highest in the world - in 2011 it was six times higher than in Los Angeles with a virtually equal population of around 3.7 million.
Between 2005 and 2010 more than 1,700 police officers, or 10 percent of the PRPD, were arrested for criminal activities, including assault, domestic violence, drug trafficking and homicide. At least 84 police still on active duty have been arrested more than once for domestic violence, the ACLU said.
The Department of Justice “should enter into a court-enforceable and court-monitored agreement with the PRPD,” the ACLU recommends.
“The agreement should include a detailed and court-enforceable plan for comprehensive reforms that addresses all of the findings and the recommendations contained in the DOJ findings letter and this report,” the civil rights organization says.
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