The Puerto Rico Police Department is promoting the creation of neighborhood watch groups to help fight the crime wave besetting Loiza, a low-income San Juan suburb where a score of youths have been slain this year.

The director of the PRPD's Community Relations Office in the Carolina district, Luis Romero, told Efe on Tuesday that the creation of a citizens' group to monitor security in Piñones, Loiza's tourist area, has been planned.

Romero said that the watch groups are made up of a minimum of 12 citizens who try to prevent crime by steering at-risk youths away from illicit activities.

At present, there are 21 neighborhood watch groups in Puerto Rico.

The initiative comes along with efforts by many other organizations and volunteers who are trying to find methods to contain the violence in Loiza, which - like many other towns on the island - is suffering from the effects of economic stagnation, the exodus of youthful residents with more resources and the illegal drug trade.

The initiative of creating watch groups in Loiza follows the massacre of four people on Oct. 20 in Piñones, a coastal area that attracts many visitors and tourists on weekends.

Just a week earlier, four other people died in another shootout in the same area, that one an apparent settling of scores among criminals.

The streets of Puerto Rico's main cities for years have been the scene of increasing crime resulting from clashes among gangs for control of drug corners as well as because of generalized social and economic deterioration.

A total of 745 people have been murdered so far this year on the island of 3.6 million residents, a figure that - though very high - is still lower than the 789 violent deaths registered by this time last year. EFE