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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Governor defends police reform in aftermath of teen car thief’s slaying

Gov. Pedro Pierluisi

By The Star Staff

Following recent allegations of police brutality, including the recent death of a 16-year-old who had stolen a car, Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia defended the police reform on Wednesday.

“This reform is very important. It is supposed to end before the end of 2023. I personally want to know how we are doing in compliance with the different lines of the reform,” the governor said in response to questions from the press. “This type of consent decree reform should not be permanent, it should not be extended. The United States courts have spoken about this; the United States Department of Justice has spoken about this. In other words, the reforms must have a beginning and an end.”

He noted that the reform is headed by a federal judge to ensure there is compliance.

“One of the things is the continuous training of the force and there has been great progress,” Pierluisi said. “Also, what you are looking for is that there are protocols. There has also been great progress in establishing protocols, among other things, for the use of force by police during interventions, in statistics, monitoring, internal investigations; this reform affects all these areas. They are all important areas. Some criticize it; I rather see it as a tool to improve the performance of our public service, in this case, the Puerto Rico Police.”

In 2011, the federal Justice Department after a three-year probe announced that the Puerto Rico Police Department (now Bureau) had engaged in patterns of misconduct that violate the Constitution and federal law, including patterns or practices of using excessive force during routine police activities, relying on unreasonable force in response to public demonstrations, conducting unlawful searches and seizures, and engaging in discriminatory police practices.

In 2013 the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Department of Justice voluntarily entered into a consent decree in which the Police Department agreed to execute a series of reforms.

Regarding recent cases involving the use of police force, the governor said he trusts the investigations that are underway, noting that if they conclude that police officers engaged in excessive use of force, then they should pay. This week, seven police officers were suspended after shooting a 16-year-old to death who had stolen a vehicle, arguing that the teenage suspect was going to hit them with the vehicle.

“I am sure that it will be thoroughly investigated and if someone acted improperly, then he will have to answer to the law,” Pierluisi said. “But that is in the hands of the NIE [Special Investigations Bureau by its Spanish initials] investigators, supervised by the Public Integrity Division of the Department of Justice. I trust our officials in the area of public order. I know that this situation will be clarified as the people expect.”

The governor also expressed solidarity with the two police officers who were injured after a chase in Toa Baja.

“Meanwhile, today we had an incident where two police officers were injured. They were investigating a murder and unfortunately they were ambushed and are injured,” Pierluisi said. “And this reminds us all that members of the police force put their lives at risk every day when they are on the streets protecting us. So my solidarity to those officers; I hope they recover soon, and as for the murders [they were investigating], we want every one to be clarified.”

The governor made his statements after participating along with Canóvanas Mayor Lornna Soto Villanueva in the “Strength for Puerto Rico” service fair, where he toured the New Municipal School of Fine Arts.

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