With the island's murder rate reaching record levels, Puerto Rican governor Luis Fortuño is allocating $20 million to provide police with more training and resources to combat the rising levels of violence.

With just over six weeks to go in 2011, the murder rate in Puerto Rico has tied a record 995 homicides in one year. 

Fortuño's announcement comes as Puerto Rican police statistics said that over 49 percent of the murders committed so far this year on the island were drug-related.

Fortuño said Thursday that officers would take new courses on topics including civil rights, abuse of authority and crime scene investigation. The Puerto Rican governor said the training would also lead to more arrests and convictions.

Fortuño has said he will also set aside $32 million to increase police salaries.

The announcement comes just months after a federal report accused the department of illegal killings, corruption and civil rights violations. The report demanded that the government adhere to its 130 recommendations, including providing officers with more training.

 

That figure represents 490 people who were murdered for reasons linked to the drug trade, which uses the Caribbean island as a "bridge" to smuggle drugs to the U.S. mainland.

Part of those illegal drugs coming from South America remains in Puerto Rico for local consumption and the trade has becomes a lucrative business for rival gangs.

The large quantity of weapons circulating illegally on the island facilitates the "war" between gangs over control of drug corners, located mainly in Puerto Rico's public housing projects.

The island is expected to reach 1,000 murders so far this year by next weekend.

At the current murder rate of 3.1 killings per day, the U.S. commonwealth could finish 2011 with 1,135 violent deaths and a murder rate of 30.5 per 100,000 residents.

The figures show that 87 percent of the violent deaths in Puerto Rico were committed with firearms.

The wave of violence is not restricted to drugs, with 14.5 percent of the murders - or 144 deaths so far this year - being labelled as revenge killings.

Fights and arguments led to 12.2 percent of the murders, while 6.7 percent were committed during robberies. The rising number of incidents of domestic violence amounted to 2.7 percent of the killings.

Some analysts have said that one of the reasons that murders are on the rise in Puerto Rico, now exceeding the yearly record of 995 killings set in 1994, is that only 42 percent of the killers have been caught.

That impunity, according to the analysis, has contributed to the continuation of the murder wave, which is resulting in growing insecurity among the Puerto Rican public.

The worrisome situation on the island led the leader of the main opposition Popular Democratic Party, Alejandro García Padilla, to ask the National Guard to watch the coastlines, ports and airports to try and prevent the entry of drugs and weapons.

The National Guard was deployed on the streets of the island 18 months ago on joint patrols with the police, a measure that has not reduced the crime rate but has led to complaints over its high cost.

García Padilla, in an effort to improve the situation, proposed buying better equipment for the police and reestablishing within the department a separate investigative command.

Based on reporting by the Associated Press and EFE. 

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