• The Star Staff

Gov’t initiates renovation plan for island police stations to improve officers’ morale

By Pedro Correa Henry

Twitter: @pete_r_correa

Special to The Star

“My commitment to the police is not for today, it is forever,” Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia began after announcing Thursday that his administration is initiating an “aggressive” work plan to refurbish 11 command posts and 112 barracks of the Puerto Rico Police Bureau.

During a press conference held outside of the Carolina Police Command Post, Pierluisi, who was flanked by Public Buildings Authority (AEP by its Spanish initials) Director Andrés Rivera, Public Safety Secretary-designate Alexis Torres, and Police Bureau Commissioner Antonio López, said the mitigation process will be led by the AEP’s conservation divisions and non-profit organizations such as the Azriel Foundation founded by pastor Héctor Delgado, and joint municipal and legislative efforts will include beautification work, reconstruction and equipment improvement.

The governor said further that two remaining command posts and 18 additional barracks will be addressed through Sen. Henry Neumann Zayas’ “Adopt a Barrack” initiative as part of enforcing Act 224-2018.

“That is why it is so necessary that we provide them with the resources they need. A barracks in good condition is important for them to be able to do their work, be motivated, and have what they need to serve our people,” the governor said. “Our police officers expose their lives daily, work long hours and suffer from a lack of resources and equipment. Even so, they demonstrate every day their loyalty to Puerto Rico, reiterate their commitment to our people, and prove it with their bravery and courage.”

When asked if the plans would be carried out simultaneously across the island, Pierluisi said “the project will begin in the Humacao municipality and will carry on across the country.”

“Meanwhile, both the CDBG-DR [Community Development Block Grant for Disaster Recovery] and CDBG-MIT [Community Development Block Grant for Mitigation] programs could be used to provide funds either to the AEP or to the Police [Bureau] itself for improvements to the barracks beyond refurbishment, such as repairs and other improvements, as well as for new construction,” the governor told members of the press. “But for that, either AEP or the Police must file proposals to the Housing Department and determine if a funding allocation could take place. It’s not being ruled out.”

As for further plans to relocate police officers if substantial mitigation projects were to take place in barracks, López said proposals have been filed at the AEP to get the General Police Post in Hato Rey into “acceptable condition for work.”

“We don’t rule out another structure, but many funds are being invested in this building to be improved,” the Police commissioner said.

Governor vows to demand retirement benefits for public servants, but says fiscal board has final word

As for improving retirement benefits for police officers recruited before 2000, as well as for firefighters, custodial officers, and paramedics of the central government and municipalities, as Senate Bill 1623 once sought to achieve, Pierluisi said the issue remains pending, noting that the federal Financial Management and Oversight Board (FOMB) requested a fiscal impact study and it has not been submitted.

“What I want is to honor every public servant and retiree’s pensions in Puerto Rico and find the legal way to do so whatever the federal [Title III Bankruptcy] court rules, whatever the FOMB decides,” the governor said. “And for those who are yet to retire, they have my utmost support, but what happens is that I am a realistic person, and if the FOMB blocks or forbids the effort, we would have our hands tied.”

“But I will keep demanding,” he added. “We must be persistent in this life, and I will do so on this issue.”

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