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Assistant Attorney General Thomas E. Perez Speaks at the Press Conference to Announce PRPD Investigative Findings
San Juan, Puerto Rico ~ Thursday, September 8, 2011

Thank you for joining us. We are here to discuss the results of our three year investigation of the Puerto Rico Police Department.  

 

In July 2008, the Justice Department began its investigation of the Puerto Rico Police Department with a simple mission – to ensure that Puerto Rico has a police force that reduces crime, respects the Constitution, and earns the confidence of the public it is charged with protecting.    These three goals are the guidepost for all of our police reform efforts.  

 

Our investigation has been independent, exhaustive and inclusive.   Our attorneys and investigators, led by Luis Saucedo, conducted extensive interviews with command staff and rank-and-file officers; participated in ride-alongs with officers and supervisors; attended training courses at the police academy; and reviewed thousands of pages of documents.   We also met with and interviewed external stakeholders, including community members and local civil rights organizations.

 

Throughout the process, we provided real time feedback to the Department and to the administration.   For instance, on three separate occasions in 2008 and 2009, we outlined our serious concerns in writing.   In September 2010, the team briefed Governor Fortuño on the status of our investigation.   He listened carefully, and his administration has been very cooperative.   Thank you Governor for providing unfettered access to the Department.

 

We have now completed our investigation, and today we are releasing our 116 page findings report.  

 

In short, the PRPD is broken in a number of critical ways.   The problems are wide ranging and deeply rooted in the department’s culture.   The vast majority of the problems we identified have existed for many years, long before the current administration assumed office.

 

As outlined in our findings report, we found reasonable cause to believe that PRPD engages in a pattern and practice of unconstitutional and/or unlawful conduct in three areas.  

  • We found that officers often use unnecessary and unreasonable force, including deadly force, in the course of arresting or detaining individuals who pose little, if any, risk of harm, or who offer minimal resistance.   Officers also use excessive physical force in response to perceived verbal slights or continue using force after an individual stops resisting.  
  • We found that officers use unreasonable force and engage in other misconduct designed to suppress the exercise of First Amendment rights.   PRPD’s reliance on indiscriminate and unreasonable force to suppress protected speech instills fear in individuals, and discourages future actions protected by the First Amendment.
  • We found that officers conduct unconstitutional searches of civilians’ homes without warrants or consent.   Officers all too often plant evidence during searches, rely on excessive force and intimidation as search aids, and proceed with searches even when knowing that the address, identity of the individual, or other pertinent information is incorrect.   Officers also regularly detain and arrest individuals without reasonable suspicion or probable cause, in violation of the Fourth Amendment.  

In addition to these formal findings, our investigation uncovered other deficiencies of serious concern. In particular, we uncovered troubling evidence that PRPD frequently fails to properly investigate and report sex crimes and incidents of domestic violence, including crimes committed b police officers themselves, and that the department engages in discriminatory policing practices that target individuals of Dominican descent.   At this time, we do not make a formal finding of a pattern and practice violation in these areas, in part because PRPD does not adequately collect data to evaluate these issues. But we are concerned that these deficiencies point to a lack of basic systems of accountability to ensure that all individuals are treated equally by police offices, regardless of race, ethnicity, national origin, or sex.

  • We also conclude in our report that there are a number of critical underlying deficiencies that are root causes of the pattern and practice violations, and other areas of concerns that we found.
  • We found that policies fail to guide officers on lawful policing practices, such as use of force and searches.
  • We found that pre-service field training is insufficient, and in-service training is virtually non-existent.
  • We found that there is no external oversight of officer standards and training.
  • We found that tactical units have been allowed to develop violent subcultures.
  • Supervision is lacking, discipline is seriously deficient, and internal investigations take years to complete.   

The Department also lacks sufficient early warning systems and other accountability tools designed to identify officers with potential for problem behaviors.

 

We are well aware that the Puerto Rico Police Department faces significant challenges as Puerto Rico’s primary law enforcement agency. Violent crime rates have escalated in recent years, and last year Puerto Rico saw the second highest number of murders in its history. There have been 786 murders thus far this year.   If this pace continues, there will be over 1,000 murders.   There are some who believe we must either control crime by any means necessary, or protect people’s rights under the Constitution, but we cannot do both.   I categorically reject this false choice.   The PRPD cannot use rising crime to justify systemic violations of the law and the Constitution. An effective law enforcement agency must have the trust and cooperation of the community it is charged with protecting – a police department cannot gain trust without respecting the Constitutional rights of the people in the community.

 

In order to gain the trust of the community and improve public safety, PRPD will have to address a series of long-standing and entrenched systemic deficiencies that we uncovered in the course of our investigation, which have allowed unlawful and unconstitutional practices to become commonplace.

 

Now that I have outlined our findings, let me discuss where we go from here.   We will take the Report, and we will continue our active engagement with Governor Fortuño, key stakeholders in the community, the police department, and others across the Island in order to transform the Report into a comprehensive enforceable blueprint for sustainable reform

 

We will continue to actively engage all stakeholders in the process of developing and implementing a comprehensive blueprint for sustainable reform that will reduce crime, ensure respect for the Constitution, and restore public confidence in PRPD.   For this reform to be sustainable, it must not only be informed by the views of the people of Puerto Rico, but over seen by civic institutions. We are committed to making this process transparent and building civilian oversight capacity which will be necessary to sustain reforms after our role has ended.

 

We had a very productive meeting with Governor Fortuño yesterday.   We discussed our findings, and heard from the Governor about measures he has taken thus far to address the challenges confronting PRPD.   I would rather fix the problem than fix the blame, and I believe Governor Fortuño agrees.   The bulk of the problems predate this administration, but this Governor is accountable for addressing them, and has readily acknowledged this in meetings.

 

We hope to continue working in a collaborative fashion with Governor Fortuño, rather than engaging in contested litigation, in crafting the blueprint for sustainable reform. However, we will not hesitate to enter litigation if we are not able to reach an agreement that produces sustainable reform.

 

Reforming PRPD will not be easy.   Nor will reform come quickly.   Culture change never occurs overnight.   The Department of Justice will remain actively engaged for as long as necessary to ensure sustainable reform.

 

In closing, I would like to address two key sets of stakeholders who play a critical role in reforming this police department.   To the men and women of the PRPD, I look forward to continuing to hear your ideas.   The heroic actions of so many hardworking, law abiding officers have been overshadowed by the misdeeds of others, and the systematic deficiencies that have created a crisis of public confidence.  Fixing the problems will make your job easier and more rewarding.   To the people of Puerto Rico, we are here for as long as it takes to assist in building a police force that you deserve. Failure is not an option, but sustainable reform is only possible with your continued engagement.

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