As Puerto Rico struggles with widespread corruption in its law enforcement ranks and a soaring violent crime rate, the island’s government is looking to the U.S.’s most well-known and heralded police departments for help.
Puerto Rico Gov. Alejandro García Padilla selected New York City Police Department chief of transportation James Tuller Cintrón as the new superintendent of the Puerto Rico Police Department.
Tuller, who was born in New York, lived in Puerto Rico as a child and has had a long law enforcement career in New York. He starts his job Dec. 1.
Tuller will replace Hectór Pesquera, a former FBI official who surprised many last Thursday when he resigned after less than two turbulent years on the job, where the department faced widespread allegations of corruption and excessive force.
Secretary of State David Bernier acknowledged Thursday that Pesquera's resignation took him by surprise and he noted that recently he and the chief participated in a meeting with the U.S. Marshal for the District of New Jersey, Juan Mattos Jr., named to oversee the reform of the 18,000-member PRPD.
The resignation of Pesquera, who was named to the post in 2012 by then-Gov. Luis Fortuño when crime on the island was at an historic high, comes at a delicate moment for the Puerto Rico Police Department.
The second-largest police department in the United States is finding itself unable to halt the crime wave linked to drug trafficking and is facing a reform process demanded by the federal Justice Department to do away with corruption and the violation of civil rights on the part of some officers.
The Justice Department’s pledged in July $10 million to the Puerto Rican government to combat police corruption, extrajudicial killings and civil rights violations, ending what had been two years of tense negotiations that focused on reforming the territory’s plagued law enforcement agency.
The cash infusion follows a DOJ report, released in September 2011, which found evidence that the Puerto Rico Police Department (PRPD) violated the Constitution and federal laws by using excess and unreasonable force, making unconstitutional stops, searches and arrests, and targeting individuals of Dominican descent, among other problems.
“The settlement and the additional resources we are announcing today underscore our determination to work closely with federal, local and tribal authorities to protect not only the safety of our people – but also the civil rights we hold dear,” U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said during a press conference.
Despite the praise the agreement received, some experts warned not to expect immediate results as the situation in the PRPD is seen as widespread and the Justice Department is giving the U.S. territory 10 years to implement all the changes outlined in the deal.
The 2011 Justice Department report stated that from January 2005 to November 2010, there were more than 1,709 arrests of PRPD officers, with the charges varying from theft and simple assault to rape, drug trafficking, and murder. Hundreds of other officers also engaged in domestic violence; many have been arrested multiple times for harming their partners.
“There are problems at all levels of the police: in its pay, its leadership, its training,” said Rafael Fantauzzi, the president of the National Puerto Rican Coalition. “It’s going to take a while for anything to happen, but this is a good first step for the new government.”
The Associated Press and Efe contributed to this report.