The ACLU today released a report that finds the Puerto Rico Police Department — the second-largest police department in the U.S. — is plagued by a culture of unrestrained abuse and brutality. The use of excessive or lethal force is routine among the 17,000 officer-department. In recent years, civil and human rights violations have resulted in the unjustifiable loss of civilians’ lives, and severe and lasting injuries.
Our report, “Island of Impunity: Puerto Rico’s Outlaw Police Force,” documents 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 report identifies numerous deficiencies that are responsible for the crisis at the PRPD, including 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. The lack of accountability and discipline has led to some troubling statistics that starkly illustrate a department in crisis.
For example, 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.
Meanwhile, 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 180-page report comes nine months after the release of a scathing U.S. Justice Department report on the PRPD, which found numerous constitutional violations, including widespread use of excessive force.
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.
To learn more and read the report, please visit: www.aclu.org/puertorico.