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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Caguas strengthens its anti-crime tool kit

Caguas Mayor William Miranda Torres (Richard Gutiérrez/The San Juan Daily Star)

Mayor announces $2 million investment in security equipment, including drones

By Richard Gutiérrez

With 126,000 residents, Caguas is one of the largest cities in Puerto Rico. The downside of a larger city is that crime tends to be more prevalent in urban zones than in rural areas.

Recognizing the need to strengthen the city’s security measures, Caguas Mayor William Miranda Torres announced at a press conference Monday that the municipality will invest some $2 million in new security equipment, including the citywide implementation of drones.

“Even though guaranteeing public safety is and fighting against crime is primarily the responsibility of the state, the municipal administration has approached this subject with a humanitarian perspective,” the mayor said. “With this investment of $2 million we are able to double the number of surveillance cameras around our city as well as accomplish the acquisition of body cams for our police officers, a drones unit, more vehicles for our police force, and the installation of the CAD (computer-aided dispatch) system with GPS integration.”

Miranda Torres said it is all part of his comprehensive security plan implemented more than a decade ago, which involves prevention, response, and action strategies against crime.

“We understand there are a multitude of factors that figure into the different occurrences of heinous acts and criminal activity -- economic aspects, inequality, unemployment, lack of opportunity etc. Against that harsh reality, there has been a tremendous effort in the implementation of sports and cultural aspects in our city to prevent criminal activity from happening in the future,” the mayor said. “We have invested a great deal in the municipal police and have our surveillance counts currently with 110 cameras around the city.”

He added that because of those efforts regarding the broad-based security plan implemented more than a decade ago, the city has seen a significant decrease in crime. When looking at the most recent data, which compares 2022 to 2011, crime in Caguas has decreased by 69% overall over that period. That includes a 75% decrease in murders, 83% decrease in robberies, 8% decrease in assaults, 80% decrease in burglaries, a 67% decrease in illegal properties, and 73% decrease in car theft.

Even though the statistics show that crime in Caguas has decreased, Miranda Torres believes that much remains to be done in terms of implementing and reinforcing security around the city. He said that with the announced investment, the Caguas municipal police force will be the most modern and well-equipped municipal force on the island.

The mayor said he believes that the drone unit specifically will increase the level of surveillance in the city and will be especially useful when considering areas of difficult access. With the drones in place, the municipality will be able to fight crime and even perform rescues, he said, effectively protecting the lives and property of the people in the city.

The number of surveillance cameras, meanwhile, will increase from 110 to 236 cameras around the city. With a $998,790 investment, the cameras will be strategically placed to maximize coverage.

The mayor emphasized that technology will be a great work tool, noting that the installation of the CAD and GPS system will be used for quick and effective responses. For example, with the system in place, the city will be monitorable in real time, and the security team will be able to create a map of the areas that need the most attention, with the ability to immediately dispatch units to attend to a given emergency.

The budget will also include the acquisition of nine new police cars, a tow truck and two vans, for a combined investment of $363,079. Last year the municipality invested $674,500 in 10 patrol cars, 18 motorcycles and five golf carts, all for the use of the municipal police force. Miranda Torres also noted additional new equipment for the police force, including new portable radios, rifles and of course the body cams, for a sum of $410,270.

“Currently, 50 of our officers are equipped with body cams; we are purchasing 60 additional cameras to make sure that 100% of our police force is equipped with body cams,” Miranda Torres said.

There are currently 105 police officers in the Caguas municipal police force, and the municipality is looking forward to hiring 20 more officers at the very least. The municipality believes the pay is competitive, with cadets starting at $1,850 and moving on to $2,353 once they have graduated as municipal police officers. The STAR asked the mayor what other measures are being implemented to motivate more officers to join the Caguas municipal police force.

“Finding people who want to serve in the police force has been extraordinarily difficult,” Miranda Torres said. “They are currently looking into adding more community programs and links, to spread the word to young people and families in the municipality.” The mayor added that they have a multitude of programs in the municipal department of education where they spend time with young people and answer any question they may have about the police force. Visits to schools have been key to putting the word about those opportunities out there for the people, which is the most important part, he said.

“We need to wait and see how people become motivated and if all of the federal aid that’s been received to help improve the force helps with that,” Miranda Torres said. “However, the efforts to promote the force to the youth will continue; we have to wait and see the results, but we keep working hard for those results.”

When asked what he would say to other municipal and public service providers of the island regarding the implementation of technological security measures, the mayor told the STAR that he had a rather realistic approach to the question.

“There are a lot of municipalities that due to economic and fiscal reasons have to make a couple of adjustments, so some municipalities simply don’t have police officers; they depend entirely on the state,” Miranda Torres said. “With a minimal investment in these systems, they can have something, which can make a huge difference in the security of the town. They should most certainly consider the implementation of drones and security cameras in their respective municipalities; it could most certainly be an option for them.”

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