Photo: Hector Pesquera
The Puerto Rican political sphere reacted Thursday with surprise to the resignation of police chief Hector Pesquera, a move that coincides with the naming of the supervisor to oversee the reform of the island’s security forces.
The resignation of Pesquera, who was named to the post in 2012 by then-Gov. Luis Fortuño when crime on the island was at an historic high, comes at a delicate moment for the Puerto Rico Police Department.
The second-largest police department in the United States is finding itself unable to halt the crime wave linked to drug trafficking and is facing a reform process demanded by the federal Justice Department to do away with corruption and the violation of civil rights on the part of some officers.
Secretary of State David Bernier acknowledged Thursday that Pesquera’s resignation took him by surprise and he noted that recently he and the chief participated in a meeting with the U.S. Marshal for the District of New Jersey, Juan Mattos Jr., named to oversee the reform of the 18,000-member PRPD.
The nomination was ratified by a federal judge on Wednesday, hours before Pesquera announced he was stepping down.
Pesquera, the FBI chief in Puerto Rico in the 1990s, took over the police force in March 2012 amid controversy over his $283,000 annual salary and with the challenge of reducing a crime wave that in 2011 had resulted in a record 1,136 homicides.
At the beginning of 2013, new Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla expressed his confidence in Pesquera and congratulated him on the drop in crime, given that in 2012 the island experienced “only” 967 murders.
Pesquera told a news conference Thursday that his decision to step down had nothing to do with the naming of Mattos.
“They are personal reasons. It would not be appropriate to talk about the reasons for which I’m resigning, but they are valid reasons,” he said.
The U.S. Justice Department sued the PRPD in 2012 over the disproportionate use of force and other abuses.
Plaguing the police force have been unprofessional practices as well as corruption that became evident in October 2012, when the FBI arrested 133 Puerto Rican cops and public officials on suspicion of colluding with drug traffickers.
The Puerto Rican government has announced that it will name a replacement for Pesquera before he leaves his post on Nov. 15.