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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

More than half of gender violence complaints against police agents go unresolved

Rep. Jocelyne Rodríguez Negrón

By The Star Staff

About 65% of the gender violence complaints filed against police officers in five years went unresolved, according to a probe conducted by the island House of Representatives.

Women’s Affairs Committee Chairwoman Jocelyne Rodríguez Negrón on Sunday presented the findings and recommendations of an investigation report into the protocols used when police officers are involved in cases of gender violence.

The report is the result of House Resolution 659, a measure that was filed at the beginning of 2022 to investigate, among other matters, why complaints against police officers go unresolved or do not result in criminal charges.

“It is commendable that there is total transparency, rigor, and commitment when it comes to resolving cases of gender violence among the members of the Puerto Rico Police Bureau,” said the District 19 (Mayagüez and San Germán) legislator.

“This committee investigated why the complaints are not resolved, the failure to file charges against agents who engage in this conduct, possible solutions and identification of resources so that agents have more training and professional help,” Rodríguez Negrón added.

Among the report’s main findings is that 65% of the cases from Jan. 1, 2017 to Nov. 2, 2022 were consulted and not filed, according to data provided by the Justice Department. That percentage represents 242 cases not filed out of a total of 372.

“When we carefully evaluate these statistics, it is alarming to observe the recurrence of names of members of the police, with different complaint numbers and dates, where the final disposition is consulted and not filed,” Rodríguez Negrón pointed out.

Through various information requests, the Office of the Women’s Advocate (OPM by its Spanish initials) told the House committee that the Police Bureau provides the data that feed its statistics. Concerning complaints of domestic violence against members of the police force, during the period from Jan. 1, 2017 to Oct. 24, 2022, the OPM received 422 complaints.

The OPM also disclosed to the House panel that only 17 municipal councils, or 22% of the total 77 municipal councils that have municipal police, have been trained on Law 59-2020, known as the “Law for Education, Prevention and Management of Domestic Violence for the Municipalities of Puerto Rico.”

The Department of Public Safety (DSP) reported during the hearing that it is in the process of complying with Act 83-2020, the purpose of which is for the commissioner of the Police Bureau to establish a “Women and Domestic Violence Crime Unit,” which will consolidate the investigation of crimes committed against women.

Related to domestic violence involving a police officer, the DSP is governed by General Order 600, Section 644, entitled “Investigation of Domestic Violence Incident Involving Puerto Rico Police Employees,” which establishes additional procedures for handling such cases.

The organization Kilómetro Cero sent comments about the investigation, stating that four intimate femicides perpetrated by police officers have occurred in the past five years and that there was a total of 78 domestic violence complaints in the past year.

The House committee issued a series of recommendations to strengthen the necessary mechanisms to protect victims. Among them was new proposed legislation for a procedure that would allow the OPM to investigate gender violence complaints against police officers.

Likewise, the report proposes the creation of a Prosecutors Unit specializing in crimes perpetrated by law enforcement agents that will work closely with the OPM. The committee suggested that the OPM be the entity to manage the specialized unit with budget allocations from the Justice Department and the Police Bureau.

In addition, it recommended administrative fines be issued by the OPM against municipalities that have not complied with the training mandated under Law 59-2020, and that police officers receive additional training related to the biopsychosocial aspects of gender violence.

“Institutionally, the failure is obvious: the police do not comply with the protocols established for handling domestic violence in cases that involve agents of their own body and, when they comply with them, they turn out to be ineffective,” Rodríguez Negrón said.

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