The Puerto Rico Police Department (PRPD) has long been a beleaguered entity, with low salaries, inadequate training, and a persistent lack of resources and support in its training academy and local departments all crippling officers’ abilities to protect citizens and enforce the law.
But in addition to these systemic problems, some officers have exacerbated the negative reputation of the PRPD by abusing the power invested in them, using the police department to establish and maintain their own criminal network.
It’s been a problem that’s dogged the department for years, and one that’s so far-reaching that the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) intervened with an investigation and raid. The culmination of their intervention came in late September with the indictment of 10 PRPD officers who used extortion, robbery, manipulation of court records, and the sale of illegal drugs to make money.
In a statement issued to the press, U.S. Attorney Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez said that “the people wielding the guns and stealing the drugs here weren’t mob goodfellas or mafia soldiers – these were police officers violating their oaths to enforce the law, making a mockery of the police’s sacred responsibility to protect the public. These police officers violated the trust of the people of Puerto Rico and not only dishonored the police department, but also their fellow, honest, and hardworking officers.”
The FBI gathered evidence of the officers’ collusion in working “together to conduct traffic stops and enter homes or buildings used by persons suspected of being engaged in criminal activity to steal money, property and narcotics.”
The FBI added that the officers “planted evidence to make false arrests [and] extorted narcotics and firearms from individuals in exchange for their release.” In addition, the PRPD officers “gave false testimony, manipulated court records and failed to appear in court when required so that cases would be dismissed.”
Two of the officers were also accused of releasing a federal fugitive in exchange for guns. Among the officers were a lieutenant and sargeant of the anti-drug squad.
Indictment on the cards
The FBI and the US District Attorney indicate that the investigation is ongoing, and that it is possible more police officers will be indicted. According to a post on the Univision website, Puerto Rico’s police department is the second largest in U.S. jurisdiction and more than 100 of its officers have been detained for a variety of violations in the past five years.
As for other officers who might be involved in the criminal ring, PRPD chief of police José Caldero has a warning for them: “We’re going to clean house,” he says.