San Juan – The Puerto Rico Police Department has engaged in a pattern and practice of misconduct that violates the U.S. Constitution and federal law, the head of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division said here Thursday.
Assistant Attorney General Thomas E. Perez, who traveled to San Juan to analyze the situation along with Puerto Rico Gov. Luis Fortuño, said at a press conference that the PRPD is violating the Constitution by using excessive force and making illegal raids and seizures.
"The Puerto Rico Police Department is broken in a number of critical ways," Perez said, noting that federal investigators detected errors in the investigation of sexual crimes and in others carried out by PRPD members.
Perez also referred to police abuses committed against Puerto Rico's Dominican community.
"The police are using discriminatory practices against people of Dominican origin and the Department is not gathering data to investigate these situations. The police is not ensuring that all individuals receive equal treatment, without regard to their sex, origin, religion or sexual orientation," the assistant attorney general emphasized.
He said that he is aware that crime in Puerto Rico has increased in recent years and that the island is dealing with a serious social problem, which - he said - does not justify the increase in crime in the heart of the PRPD.
Puerto Rico, with a population of around 4 million, has suffered 786 murders so far this year, 117 more than during the same period in 2010.
"The problems are wide ranging and deeply rooted, and have created a crisis of confidence that makes it extremely difficult to develop police-community partnerships that are a cornerstone of effective policing," Perez said.
Gov. Fortuño, at the same press conference, defended the work of the police, which is key - he said - in the fight against drug trafficking and organized crime, after he said he regretted that the conduct of certain individuals was tarnishing the work of the entire department.
Perez, who also presented an exhaustive 125-page report on the subject, emphasized that a process is under way that he warned will be long but will result in the transformation of the forces of order in Puerto Rico.
The report, entitled "Investigative Findings on the Puerto Rico Police Department," emphasizes that too many PRPD agents have been found responsible for criminal acts and corruption.