Agencies cracking down on ‘atypical’ tourist behavior in SJ metro area

Capital city police chief says plans ‘have yielded results’

By Pedro Correa Henry

Twitter: @pete_r_correa

Special to The Star

In response to complaints from residents through various outlets about the behavior of tourists in the San Juan metropolitan area amid the coronavirus pandemic, commonwealth and municipal government agencies have been joining forces to address the problems and enforce the COVID-19 executive order.

San Juan Municipal Police Commissioner Lt. Col. José Juan García told the STAR on Sunday that the agency has participated in meetings with entrepreneurs and resident committees in the city, as well as mayor Miguel Romero, to plan strategies to establish order in both Old San Juan and La Placita de Santurce.

“In San Juan, both the state and municipal police have accomplished the establishment of plans that have yielded results,” García said. “No plan is perfect, as it needs to be adjusted day by day with any other situation; however, we are not seeing issues of great magnitude.”

As a result, García said, issues have simmered down enough to allow authorities to respond quickly to confidential tips and keep control of the aforementioned areas as “situations of greater indiscipline, such as shouting and fighting, have minimized sufficiently.”

However, García told the STAR that the San Juan Police “issued seven fines for not using face masks last night [Saturday], and 14 more were issued to tourists the night before.”

“We have also arrested a tourist and a resident [yesterday] for not following police orders to wear a face mask,” he said.

As for Condado, García said that both the island Department of Public Safety and the Puerto Rico Police Bureau have implemented strategies similar to the ones he decided to apply a month ago in Old San Juan and Santurce.

“Fifteen minutes before businesses have to close, we patrol through and urge every citizen who’s enjoying their time in La Placita through our police car speakers to get into their vehicles, return to their home [or lodging] as closing time is near and curfew begins in an hour, both in English and Spanish,” he said. “In Old San Juan and La Perla [neighborhood], we do it differently as we analyze how traffic is going after 8 p.m.”

“Depending how traffic is flowing, we decide to control the entrance to Old San Juan, we always allow business owners, Uber drivers, ambulances and residents to enter the city,” added the San Juan Police commissioner. “After 11 p.m., we shut down San Juan and we begin informing both citizens who are on foot or driving to leave the area as curfew is about to begin and no one can be on the public roadway.”

When the STAR asked if such situations are normal or not, García said “it has been an atypical situation that has been taking place in the past few months.”

“The situations might have increased more, but we decided to take control of the matter,” he said. “Many [people] have contemplated getting out of San Juan and doing the same things in other municipalities, such as Fajardo, Luquillo, Cabo Rojo and Bayamón, as it is documented on social media outlets.”

Meanwhile, Carolina Municipal Police Commissioner Rubén Moyeno Cintrón told the STAR that officers have issued fines for noncompliance with the use of face masks as required by the executive order declared by Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia to control the coronavirus pandemic, although Moyeno Cintrón did not provide a specific number.

“As for other issues, we have had them under control, as always,” he said, noting that no arrests have taken place due to noncompliance with the COVID order.

Island Justice Secretary-designate Domingo Emanuelli said in a press release meanwhile that three tourists were jailed on Saturday and a fourth is free with an electronic ankle bracelet, after they were detained on Friday and a Superior Court determined cause for their arrest for drug law violations, obstruction of justice and use of violence, as well as resisting arrest.

Emanuelli said the arrests are part of the Integrated Security Plan for Tourist Zones that was put into effect last week after several incidents with tourists who refused to follow instructions to wear masks and keep their distance from each other, as is required under the executive order that seeks to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Edison Njoku Konan, 24, from Michigan, was arrested Friday night by police officers in La Placita in Santurce.

According to authorities, he assaulted and spat at municipal agents when they detained him for refusing to wear a mask.

Prosecutor Ivette Nieves filed the charges before San Juan Superior Court Judge Iraida Rodríguez Castro, who found cause for arrest against the tourist for obstruction of justice and use of violence or intimidation against a public authority and set bail at $50,000.

According to the press release from the island Justice Department, after posting bail he was released wearing an electronic bracelet.

However, the San Juan police commissioner told the STAR that “Sandra Arroyo, [Agent] No. 781 of the Santurce Precinct, said, in relation to the detainee arrested at the Santurce Plaza for aggression and obstruction, Edison Njoku Konan will be admitted to the No. 705 [metropolitan intake center of the island Department of Correction and Rehabilitation] in Bayamón.”

Judge Rodríguez Castro also found cause against tourist Catrez Blake, also from Michigan, for possession of marijuana.

Steven Jones, 26, and Amirah Mills, 20, both residents of New Jersey, were brought before Rodríguez Castro for possession of controlled substances and obstruction of justice, respectively.

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