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Sky-High Murder Rate in Puerto Rico Puts Police Under Scrutiny

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June 21, 2011

Today’s New York Times reports the sky-high murder rate in Puerto Rico has put the territory’s police department — the second largest in the nation behind New York — under pressure to ramp up training and instruction, as well as coordination with federal authorities.

But it appears the pressure to crack down on crime may have come at the expense of civil liberties. The article mentions the ACLU’s pressure on the Justice Department to complete its investigation into allegations of police brutality and suppression of First Amendment-protected protest.

“While it is nothing new that police have had carte blanche in their dealings with the low-income and immigrant community, it’s the first time it has broken through to dissidents, students and the middle class,” said Anthony D. Romero, the A.C.L.U.’s executive director.

Mr. Romero said he applauded the police department’s recent efforts to address these longstanding problems. “But until the reforms are implemented, it’s hard to know how serious the reforms are,” he said.

From research and interviews the ACLU conducted this year, the murder problem extends inside the police force as well. Last September, a police officer was charged with second-degree murder after he shot a bystander while responding to a report of robbery at a Burger King. The same month, an elderly man was shot by police while his son was being served with an arrest warrant. And these were not isolated incidents: this page lists the people who have been killed by police since 1994.

More incidents of police brutality can be found in this video. The ACLU released a preliminary report on these problems last week to coincide with President Obama’s visit to Puerto Rico; the full report will be released in the fall.

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