Island of Impunity: Puerto Rico's Outlaw Police Force

Document Date: June 19, 2012
Affiliate: ACLU of Puerto Rico National Chapter

A report released by the ACLU in June 2012 concludes that the Puerto Rico Police Department is plagued by a culture of unrestrained abuse and impunity. The PRPD – which, with over 17,000 officers, is the second-largest police department in the U.S – is charged with policing the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.

In July 2013, the U.S. Justice Department entered into a legally binding consent decree with the Puerto Rican government that requires sweeping reforms to end the widespread police brutality on the island. Learn more about the historic agreement here.

After a comprehensive six-month investigation of policing practices in Puerto Rico, building on eight years of work by the ACLU of Puerto Rico documenting cases of police brutality, the ACLU concluded that the PRPD commits serious and rampant abuses in violation Puerto Ricans’ constitutional and human rights, 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. Read More.
  • 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. Read More.
  • Failure to protect victims of domestic violence and to investigate reported crimes of domestic violence, rape, and other gender-based crimes. Read More.

The ACLU’s research shows that these abuses do not represent isolated incidents or aberrant behavior by a few rogue officers, but that such police brutality is pervasive and systemic, island-wide and ongoing. In fact, our research has found that the PRPD’s disciplinary, investigatory, and reporting systems prevent accountability. Read more.

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. Read more»

The ACLU’s report comes nine months after the release of a scathing U.S. Justice Department report on the PRPD, which found a pattern and practice of constitutional violations by the department, including widespread use of excessive force. The Justice Department investigation, the findings of which were long-delayed, focused on 2004 to 2008. The ACLU’s report focuses on incidents from 2007 through May 2012.

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