Failure to Police Crimes of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault in Puerto Rico

[Deaths from domestic violence] are activities that are not directly part of the functions of the police of Puerto Rico. Possibly they may be directed at other agencies that can work on them.
—Díaz Colón, Former Superintendent of Police, July 2011

The Puerto Rico Police Department systematically fails to protect victims of domestic violence and to investigate reported crimes of domestic violence and sexual assault. The PRPD is failing to protect women and girls from abusive intimate partners and ex-partners, and the PRPD is not policing those crimes when they are committed.

> Slideshow: Failure to Police Crimes of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault in Puerto Rico »

Failure to Address Domestic Violence and Prevent Intimate Partner Homicides

Puerto Rico has the highest per capita rate in the world of women over 14 killed by their partners.  The numbers are disturbing, and climbing:  107 women were killed by their intimate partners in a five-year period from 2007 to 2011.  The number of women killed by their intimate partners jumped significantly in 2011, to 30 women killed.  That year, 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.  In 2006, the PRPD reported 23 murders of women at the hands of their partners or spouses, placing Puerto Rico first on an international list comparing the number of women killed in each country/territory.

The ACLU documented cases of women killed by their partners and ex-partners who had repeatedly gone to the PRPD for help and were denied adequate assistance.  Further, the PRPD is failing to ensure that women confronting domestic violence utilize the legal options available to them, and it is failing to enforce existing protective orders by arresting abusers who violate orders that are in place. 

Of the women killed by their intimate partners from 1991 to 1999, only 17 percent had orders of protection, a scant 2 percent had orders of arrest against their murderer, and 4 percent had expired orders of protection.  In 2007, 25 percent of the women killed by their partners had previously reported incidents of domestic violence to the PRPD.  Few women are seeking protection from their abusive partners, in part because they lack faith in a system that is failing to provide adequate protection to victims.

Moreover, the PRPD has recorded an appalling number of complaints of domestic violence by PRPD officers.  The PRPD recorded nearly 1,500 domestic violence complaints against police officers from 2005 to 2010.  At least 84 still-active officers have been arrested two or more times for domestic violence.  The PRPD’s failure to address domestic violence among its ranks is symptomatic of a larger institutional dysfunction of the police department’s policing of domestic violence and other sexual and gender-based crimes.

Failure to Address Sexual Assault

The PRPD is not adequately responding to or investigating rape crimes, and it is significantly underreporting these crimes.  Only about 1% of rapes are being properly reported by the PRPD.  In most U.S. jurisdictions the number of reported rapes is four times the number of homicides, but the PRPD reported only 39 rapes and over 1,000 homicides in 2010.Based on data from police departments around the U.S., we would expect the rape statistics to be 100 times the figure reported by the PRPD. 

The remarkable data spread between reported forcible rape and murder is the result of the PRPD’s failure to follow protocols to respond to, record, or investigate crimes of rape.  Official sources estimate that, in the case of sexual violence, only about 16 percent of rapes are reported.  In their latest study, issued in 2007, the Puerto Rico Department of Health’s Center for Assistance to Rape Victims estimated that 18,000 people in Puerto Rico, mostly women and girls, are victims of sexual violence each year.


Full Report: Failure to Police Crimes of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault

Join the ACLU in calling on Governor Luis Fortuño, and PRPD Chief Héctor Pesquera, to address the pervasive police brutality in Puerto Rico to ensure that the promises of the U.S. Constitution are as real for the citizens of Puerto Rico as they are for all other U.S. citizens.

Stay Informed