Puerto Rico: governor promises to clean up the police

Right-wing Puerto Rican governor Luis FortuƱo is now trying to control damage from a Sept. 8 report by the US Justice Department condemning unconstitutional conduct by the island’s police force. The report cited “continued civil rights violations,” “the failure to implement meaningful reforms,” discrimination against Dominicans, and failure to report and investigate alleged sex crimes and domestic violence. The US government’s criticisms followed repeated charges of police brutality from Puerto Rican student protesters and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

Gov. FortuƱo says that he has been working to end abuses in the department since he took office in 2009. His reforms have included appointing an independent monitor, replacing police superintendent JosĆ© Figueroa Sancha, improving training programs, and instituting a detailed “use of force” policy. “Most of the problems occurred before my time,” FortuƱo told the New York Times in an interview. “I accept responsibility. My mandate is to change that. But this will take time. It was years in the making, and it will take years to fix.”

But there are many questions about the impact and direction of FortuƱo’s reform program. The Times notes that just this summer a police department internal affairs agent, Norman Torrens, was suddenly demoted after he reported that police in Vega Alta in the north were manipulating crimes statistics. Torrens is now suing the deparment.

One example FortuƱo gave the Times of his reform efforts was his decision to get “expert” advice from the New York City Police Department after Puerto Rican police agents clubbed and pepper-sprayed student protesters, apparently without provocation, at the Capitol building on June 30, 2010. (NYT, Oct. 5) On Sept. 24 of this year, less than two weeks before the Times article appeared, New York police officers themselves were videotaped using pepper-spray against youthful protesters from the Occupy Wall Street movement for no apparent reason.

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Oct. 9.

See our last post on Puerto Rico.