Forensic Sciences Institute to regain autonomy as governor signs HB 2075
By Pedro Correa Henry
Special to The Star
After Forensic Sciences Bureau (FSB) Commissioner María Conte Miller gave an ultimatum that she would resign over bureaucracy from the Department of Public Safety (DPS) that she said was harming the agency’s performance and employees protested to defend her and demand autonomy, the Forensic Sciences Institute (FSI) now returns as an independent governmental entity after Gov. Wanda Vázquez Garced on Tuesday signed House Bill 2075 into law along with other bills approved during the special legislative session that concluded on Aug. 9.
During a press conference in Room 209-B at the Pedro Rosselló Convention Center, Vázquez said that while the government recognized that the Department of Public Safety (DSP) Law, signed in 2017, “had, and still has, an important mission when it comes to the island’s security,” the FSI (then called the FSB) faced more challenges than expected, including mounting backlogs in their investigations and other tasks. The new law written by New Progressive Party Rep. José “Quiquito” Meléndez will allow the institution to perform better, Vázquez said.
“As Dr. Conte herself laid out, it’s important and necessary to count on an independent FSI; this will allow that everyone, everyone at the institution, can perform their investigative and scientific work without major inconveniences,” the governor said. “The institute, as of 90 days [from now], will be an autonomous entity governed by a board chaired by the secretary of Justice [Inés del C. Carrau Martínez] and composed of the secretary of Public Safety [Pedro Janer], the Medical Sciences Campus chancellor [Segundo Rodríguez Quilichini], the Department of Health secretary [Lorenzo González Feliciano] and the Puerto Rico Police Bureau commissioner [Henry Escalera] and other three members who will be part of this board.”
Likewise, the governor said the legislation is important as she experienced working with them as the former secretary of Justice and collaborated with the now-FSI executive director, Conte Miller, who at the time worked as a forensic pathologist on many of her cases.
“As an attorney at the Department of Justice, I grew to see the FSI as being the answer, the important research arm and the indispensable tool in criminal investigations,” Vázquez said. “I had the opportunity to spend time with Dr. Conte as a [forensic] pathologist on many cases, from violent crimes, cases of domestic violence, murdered children, children who were sexual abuse victims. I was an attorney and she was a forensic pathologist during every part of the process, so I know about their efficiency and that’s why I do and will always defend the FSI.”
Meanwhile, Conte Miller said she was grateful to the Legislature for approving the bill, the Puerto Rican press whose efforts in covering the FSI, she said, led “in great measure” to its improvement, and is the instrument for informing the island, and the institute’s employees and their union as it helped them find the autonomy they demanded. She added that the legislative determination will help the FSI and DPS work effectively as a team.
“I have to thank the DPS colleagues for their kindness and respectful treatment that they always had toward us and now, more than ever, we’ll be a team as we can help more efficiently in your battle, which is ours, too,” Conte Miller said.
Meanwhile, the Star asked Vázquez if she still has any confidence in DPS Secretary Pedro Janer, as this outlet reported on Aug. 6 that then-FSB employees claimed that he had never stepped foot in the agency or acknowledged its needs. The governor said what matters at this time is that the agency is now independent.
“Anyway, now with the new legislation, they will have the opportunity to bring any concerns directly to the doctor [Conte Miller],” Vázquez said. “The [FSI] will be governed by the board itself, so I believe that those issues should dissipate.”
During the press conference the governor also signed bills that would benefit the public health field in various ways, such as adding new categories in the nursing practice, adjusting nurses’ income in both the public and private healthcare sectors, and protecting patients with clean claims from surprise medical invoices.