Good afternoon – buenas tardes – and thank you all for being here.
I’d like to thank Governor García Padilla for welcoming me to San Juan today, and for hosting this important press conference. It is an honor to join him, Associate Attorney General West, Chief of the Special Litigation Section Jonathan Smith, Puerto Rico Secretary of Justice Sánchez Betances – and our distinguished colleagues – in announcing the latest action that the Department of Justice has taken to reduce crime, ensure public safety and promote the highest standards of professionalism and integrity throughout America’s law enforcement community.
Today, the Justice Department and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico filed an historic and court-enforceable agreement to ensure that local police services will be delivered in a manner that is both highly effective and consistent with the Constitution, the laws of the United States and our most treasured values. This agreement will require the Puerto Rico Police Department to implement – and to sustain – a variety of policies and practices related to ethical and responsible policing; police training; the use of force; searches and seizures; equal protection and non-discrimination; community engagement; and more. These actions and policies are designed to remedy a range of longstanding and entrenched deficiencies that were uncovered by an extensive Justice Department investigation – many of which caused or contributed to unlawful conduct, such as the use of excessive force, including deadly force; misconduct to suppress the exercise of protected First Amendment rights; unconstitutional stops, searches and arrests; and other discriminatory practices, such as a systemic failure to investigate sexual assault and domestic violence allegations.
Once approved by Federal District Judge Gustavo Gelpi and fully implemented by the Commonwealth – and the men and women of the Puerto Rico Police Department – this agreement will serve as a blueprint for building a modern law enforcement agency that’s well-equipped to keep the people of Puerto Rico safe, while protecting their rights and civil liberties.
As we move forward, I’d like to acknowledge our strong partnership with Governor García Padilla, Superintendent Héctor Pesquera and other officials here in Puerto Rico. I thank them for their commitment to addressing the problems that have been uncovered – which were both wide-ranging and deeply-rooted. I’d like to recognize the brave officers serving the Puerto Rico Police Department, who – through this agreement – will gain the tools, training and critical support they need. The reforms that flow from this agreement will make their jobs not only easier, but also safer, more effective and more rewarding. And as the agreement is implemented, the public’s confidence in the Department – and its willingness to cooperate in public safety initiatives – will increase.
Finally, I’d like to acknowledge all those whose individual contributions were instrumental in advancing the Justice Department’s investigation and making this agreement a reality. Under the leadership of Associate Attorney General West – as well as Assistant Attorney General Tom Perez and Deputy Assistant Attorney General Roy Austin, of the Department’s Civil Rights Division – the men and women of the Special Litigation Section have worked tirelessly for more than two years to make today’s announcement possible. Special thanks to the career attorneys, investigators and paralegals, led by Acting Deputy Chief Luis Saucedo, who conducted the investigation and negotiated this important agreement.
I thank Governor García Padilla and his predecessor Luis Fortuño, who have shown a real commitment to reform. Most importantly, I’d like to thank the many police professionals, investigators, attorneys, experts, local officials, community leaders and other stakeholders who came together to examine troubling and illegal practices and find responsible solutions. And I particularly want to recognize and support the efforts that the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico has undertaken to ensure that the rights of all individuals – including our children – are protected.
As we speak, the Justice Department is collaborating with Commonwealth officials to develop safe, lawful and cost-effective alternatives to incarceration for the many young people caught up in the correctional system in Puerto Rico – facilities whose unsafe conditions have been the subject of department scrutiny and oversight for more than 15 years. I am encouraged to note that this Administration is committed to exploring juvenile correctional alternatives that have worked elsewhere. And we anticipate that these efforts will greatly reduce the need for large, and often unsafe, correctional institutions for young people across this beautiful island.
I believe everyone here can be proud of today’s outcome, which represents a critical step forward – and reaffirms the Justice Department’s commitment to fair and vigorous law enforcement at every level. We stand with you as partners committed to this goal, and I am pleased to announce several ways in which the Justice Department is bolstering our partnership. Because the agreement will institutionalize a culture of accountability, the Justice Department will make available $10 million in asset forfeiture funds – in addition to Puerto Rico’s equitable share of any assets seized and liquidated in the future – to defray the cost of modernizing and reforming the PRPD. In addition, the department is investing additional resources in joint taskforces between Justice Department components and local law enforcement agencies. We are extending an existing carjacking initiative involving 13 local task force officers detailed to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. We are creating a new task force, supported by 26 local task force officers, to enhance gun and drug interdiction efforts on the island. These task forces have a real impact on violent crime. The officers participating in them will obtain critical training to share with their colleagues, and help to build Puerto Rico’s internal capacity to improve public safety in the long-term.
The settlement and the additional resources we are announcing today underscore our determination to work closely with federal, local, and tribal authorities to protect not only the safety of our people – but also the civil rights we hold dear.
And, although I recognize that complete and lasting reform will not take hold overnight, I’m confident that this agreement lays out a clear path for responding to concerns, correcting troubling practices, safeguarding the rights of Puerto Rican citizens, restoring public trust, and ensuring public safety.
At this time, it is my privilege to introduce our distinguished host, and a key partner in this reform effort – Governor García Padilla, who will provide additional details on today’s announcement.