The Puerto Rico Police Department (PRPD) “commits serious and rampant abuses in violation of the United States Constitution, the Puerto Rico Constitution, and the United States’ human rights commitments,” say the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in a new report, released today, on police practices in Puerto Rico. The ACLU conducted a six-month investigation of police practices, finding that the PRPD is “plagued by a culture of violence and corruption” that has been allowed to “run amok for years.”
The report details the PRPD’s abuses including: the unjustified use of lethal force; beatings of black, poor and Dominican men; excessive use of force against peaceful protesters and failure to police and investigate reports of domestic violence and rape. “The PRPD is steeped in a culture of unrestrained abuse and near-total impunity,” wrote Jennifer Turner, ACLU Human Rights Researcher and report author. “The issues plaguing the PRPD predate the administration of the current Governor, Luis Fortuño, and without farreaching reforms, the abuses will continue.”
The ACLU compiled a video of the PRPD’s violence against unarmed protesters. Watch it:
From 2005 to 2010, ten percent of the police force, over 1,700 PRPD officers, were arrested for criminal activity including assault, theft, domestic violence, drug trafficking and murder [PDF]. That figure is nearly three times higher than the number of New York Police Department (NYPD) officers arrested in a comparable five-year period even though the NYPD is twice the size of the PRPD.
By most objective measures, the PRPD faces a host of internal problems, including:
In 2010 and 2011, PRPD officers killed at least 21 civilians. The PRPD’s per capita rate of deadly police shootings in 2010 was almost triple that of New York City. Rape appears to be chronically under reported with only about 1 percent of rapes properly reported to the PRPD.
While the statistics about crime and PRPD activities are shocking, individual cases highlighted in the report offer a disturbing view into the PRPD’s world. For example, an officer who had been arrested eight times and even took a local police chief hostage at gunpoint was reinstated, after which he fatally shot an unarmed teenager and wounded his sister. Despite the series of dangerous, and at time deadly, actions, the officer remained on active duty for several more months before assaulting a court security guard.
The report concludes that “in order to stop the ongoing police abuse and translate planned reforms into real change, a court-enforceable and monitored agreement between the DoJ and the government of Puerto rico that includes a comprehensive reform plan is necessary.”