A new report by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) released yesterday finds that the Puerto Rico Police Department (PRPD) committed widespread abuse and brutality against civilians between 2007 and 2011. The 180-page report, titled “Island of Impunity: Puerto Rico’s Outlaw Police Force,” says the 17,000 officers of the PRPD were responsible for “serious and rampant abuses in violation of Puerto Ricans’ constitutional and human rights.”
The charges cited in the report include violent suppression of peaceful protests using batons, rubber bullets, and a toxic form of tear gas; failure to protect against or investigate cases of domestic violence, rape, and other gender-based crimes; and use of excessive and lethal force against civilians, especially in poor and Black or Dominican immigrant neighborhoods. “There is clearly no will by the police force to change its ways, and no leadership in Puerto Rico that’s interested in effective and real reform,” explained Jennifer Turner, ACLU human rights researcher and author of the report. PRPD Superintendent Héctor Pesquera responded to the report by calling its allegations “absolutely false.”
The report calls on the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to enter into an enforceable agreement with the PRPD to increase accountability. The PRPD, which is the second-largest police force in the U.S. after the New York Police Department, has faced increasing scrutiny over suspected abuses. But the attention is justified: in 2010 the rate of fatal police shootings per capita in Puerto Rico were triple the rate in New York City, and civilians filed 27,400 complaints against officers between 2004 and 2010.