Lawmaker raises alarm over spike in homicides
By John McPhaul
Rep. Orlando Aponte Rosario, who chairs the Legal Committee in the island House of Representatives, spoke out Sunday about what he said is a public safety crisis on the island, after the Puerto Rico Police Bureau reported earlier in the day a record 531 homicides so far this year, well over the 461 recorded last year.
“That reduction in crime figures due to the curfew and restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic disappeared. They [the police] must devise new strategies, reorganize human resources and maximize equipment available,” the legislator said. “Of course that is not enough. You have to create or renew agreements with neighborhood, sports and religious groups. We are in the middle of a public safety crisis and I am sure that in the population there is a desire to cooperate, but there must be leadership from La Fortaleza, the Department of Public Safety and the Police Bureau.”
According to published official data, the Caguas police region shows the largest increase in homicides, with 31 cases versus 17 on the same date in 2020.
At the beginning of the year, it was the Mayagüez region that had spearheaded the rise. Currently, that region shows an increase of eight more homicides than last year.
Meanwhile, the San Juan region has observed a higher rise recently and as of Saturday had an increase
of 13 cases above the 101 it had on the same date in 2020.
Aponte Rosario, who represents Orocovis, Villalba, Barranquitas and Coamo in the lower chamber, pointed to rumors that another work stoppage by some members of the Police Bureau is being planned, as occurred on the weekend of Oct. 31.
Last Tuesday, Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia pointed to an ex-police officer as the instigator of the work stoppage, after Halloween weekend ended with 14 slayings, including the shooting death of a 16-year-old boy in the middle of a kidnapping in front of El Hipopótamo Restaurant in Río Piedras.
Although the governor did not identify him, he implied, Aponte Rosario said, that it was Gabriel Hernández Ramos, a retired ex-policeman who lives in New Jersey and is a self-styled police leader. The main complaints of the officers are the conditions of their retirement. They demand the implementation of Law 81 (Worthy Retirement), which is opposed by the Financial Oversight and Management Board, the legislator said.
According to current regulations, police officers who are absent from work can take sick leave for three days without being required to present a medical certificate.
“In all this scenario that we have, it is also vital to update the agreements that exist with the federal authorities and examine how the situation is handled in other jurisdictions,” Aponte Rosario said. “For example, in Los Angeles, California, along with other cities in the United States, there is a wave of violence that has extended over 18 months, from May 2020 to this November. There, homicides have increased by 16% and aggravated assault by 23%.”
The lawmaker also pointed out that social workers consulted say that the COVID-19 pandemic has played a major role in the explosion of the violence.
“How are we going to handle this, because it is an issue where we all have to do our part,” he said. “Of course, in the Legal Committee of the House of Representatives we have been working on various measures since I took office last January and we are ready to evaluate new ideas, concepts and strategies.”