On June 10th, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) published a scathing report on Puerto Rico’s police department. It showcased what the ACLU concluded as evidence of police brutality, systematic violations of civil rights and overall failure to reform a scandal ridden police force.
With the Department of Justice (DOJ) report from last September in mind, Governor Fortuño was quick to react. He reaffirmed important reforms were already in place and dismissed the ACLU, charging they focused on a minority of the police officers. Fortuño pointed out that over 2,000 police officers have been trained to handle domestic violence intervention as and engage with the LGBT and Dominican population on the Island.
Without missing a beat, the opposition party, Popular Democratic Party (PPD in Spanish), used the ACLU’s report to hammer their message that the New Progressive Party (PNP in Spanish, and the party in power) has failed to reform the embattled police force. Senator Garcia-Padilla, the candidate for the PPD, exhorted the Governor to adopt the ACLU’s policy recommendations.
Following the report the ACLU filed a lawsuit on behalf of a group of University of Puerto Rico (UPR) students against the Puerto Rico Police. In the complaint, the ACLU focused on police interventions at the university following student protests. The interventions threatened to close the university. At the time, the Governor used the police force to force open the gates, which students blocked, and maintained a presence inside the university — to the dismay of students and the opposition party.
Among the relief requested by the ACLU is placing the entire police force under federal supervision, increase training to the cadets and establishing a way citizens can voice their complaints. The superintendent promised to oppose the lawsuit, calling it meritless and a distraction. If the ACLU were to prevail, the entire police force could be placed under “federal command”, and effectively go back to the early colonial days of Puerto Rico’s history with the U.S.
As all things in Puerto Rico, the problem depends on the color you see it with. This was seen this week when Alicia Menendez interviewed Senator Eduardo Bhatia (PPD) and Secretary of State Kenneth McClintock (PNP) on the controversy. McClintock echoed the governor’s argument. He stated the police force was well on its way to reform and that the problems lie in the federal government’s inadequate funding in a location in the middle of the drug trade. Senator Bhatia strongly disagreed with McClintock, placing the blame on the current administration. An administration that just named its third superintendent in 4 years.
On the “street”, the ACLU’s report was in the news and out within days. Most on the Island are painfully aware of sky-high crime rates, increasingly deadly carjackings and home invasions. This in addition to a police force, that although free of the corruption that is usually seen in some Latin American countries, has featured too many trigger happy officers.
However, they are also aware the PNP government took over the police force following eight (8) years of PPD control. Not letting the PNP go without blame, the public is aware that a crisis of this magnitude does not happen overnight. Notwithstanding, Governor Fortuño is aware that crime and security will hold part of the key for his re-election.