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Latino Daily News

Thursday July 7, 2011

Puerto Rico’s Police Chief Resigns as Island’s Violence Rises

Puerto Rico’s Police Chief Resigns as Island’s Violence Rises

Photo: Puerto Rico's Police Chief Resigns as Island's Violence Increases

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Following a record number of homicides in Puerto Rico, the island’s police chief, Jose Figueroa Sancha, resigned Saturday.

Gov. Luis Fortuño’s administration said Col. Jose Luis Rivera will be serving as interim police chief.

Local press has speculated that Figueroa Sancha’s resignation was prompted by Puerto Rico’s record 101 murders committed in June, but the governor’s office stated that he asked to be relieved of his duties to take care of unspecified health issues.

A statement from the governor said, “Jose Figueroa Sancha was an incorruptible, tireless and implacable fighter against crime and drug trafficking. Under his command, powerful drug-trafficking organizations were attacked and dismantled like never before in Puerto Rico.”

As Figueroa Sancha steps down, there is currently an average of 10 murders each weekend. June’s homicide report shows there were 19 more killings than June 2010, and 21 more than June 2009. So far this year, there have been 568 homicides in U.S. commonwealth.

San Juan saw the highest number of homicides in June.

Authorities say the increase in violence in mostly due to rival gangs fighting for “turf”.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is now urging the government to take action, stating that Figueroa Sancha’s resignation does not change the status of violence or the abuse of power by police in Puerto Rico.

Sancha, who worked for the FBI for 23 years before becoming police chief in November 2008, is leaving the post in the midst of a crime wave and criticism of the department’s use of excessive force by police on peaceful protestors, Dominican immigrants, and low-income and black Puerto Ricans, as we have extensively documented. Police have beaten, pepper-sprayed and tear-gassed student and labor protestors. The abuses are legion, and have been largely ignored by both the Puerto Rican and U.S. governments.

Today, the ACLU, along with LatinoJustice Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund and the National Institute for Latino Policy, ran ads in Roll Call and Congressional Quarterly Today asking Congress to speak out against these abuses and make clear that as this kind of violent restriction of constitutionally protected rights would not be tolerated on the mainland, so it should not be tolerated in Puerto Rico.

Congress should also call on the Department of Justice to bring its ongoing investigation of the Puerto Rico Police Department, which was initiated in July 2008, to a close and issue its findings. Sancha’s resignation will not fix the problem of systemic police abuse and brutality that predated his appointment and continued on his watch.

Our organizations will be having a congressional briefing on July 12 at 10 a.m. in 2226 Rayburn, at which we will preview findings of a forthcoming ACLU report that documents the severity and scope of police abuse on a level that shocks the conscious. Under the U.S. Constitution, Puerto Ricans are entitled to the same rights and protections as all U.S. citizens.