Police say roadblocks are not only for COVID-19 order
By John McPhaul
After the Puerto Rico Public Safety Bureau announced Monday that police roadblocks would be set up around the island to monitor compliance with the latest executive order by Gov. Wanda Vázquez Garced, which seeks to stop the recent sharp rise in coronavirus infections, on Thursday the Highway Patrol Bureau changed its explanation for the roadblocks following complaints that they are a violation of people’s rights.
“What happens is that roadblocks cannot be specifically designed for a single purpose, let alone a regulation. There is jurisprudence for the roadblocks,” said Lt. Elvin Zeno, director of the Highway Patrol Bureau, in a radio interview.
“We have always stood firm. We want to enforce any type of law and any type of regulation, and in this case regulation 92-10,” he said. “If there is an irregularity that the officer detects that the people inside the vehicle are not from the same family unit, he has the power to issue a ticket. If the person does not agree with it, they have the right to request an appeal for review within 30 days to the court where the events occurred. That has not changed at all. We cannot say that the roadblock is for the purposes of the executive order.”
“At the Highway Patrol Bureau we cannot determine a roadblock specifically for a single law or regulation,” Zeno added. He said the roadblock is “to detect a driver under the influence of intoxicating [alcoholic] beverages, and all additional infractions that occur at the blockade, we will enforce.”
“As reported, last night [Wednesday] the Puerto Rico Police issued 268 tickets for administrative offenses at the roadblocks, and not one [was] related to the executive order on COVID-19,” the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) charged through its Twitter account @ACLUPR. “Stop the abuse against workers and the overwhelmed people -- do not use the pandemic to achieve what would otherwise not be legal.”
The ACLU in Puerto Rico “is the guardian of the civil liberties guaranteed in our current legal system, and for which we work day by day in the courts, legislatures and the various communities,” according to the 100-year-old rights organization. “The ACLU strives to defend and preserve the individual rights and guarantees preserved in the Constitution of the United States of America and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.”
As previously reported by the Star, Public Safety Secretary Pedro Janer said Monday that roadblocks will be carried out around the island through December.
“Our commitment to our citizens is to guarantee safety on the highways and ensure compliance with Executive Order 2020-087 signed by Governor Vázquez Garced, in force until Jan. 7, 2021,” Janer said in a written statement. “This year, the holiday season will be different from what we are used to and we urge people to stay safe and celebrate holidays only with those who make up their nuclear family; only in this way can we prevent COVID-19 infection.”
Zeno said Monday that “the roadblocks had been paused at the beginning of this emergency, but it is necessary to resume them to ensure compliance with the executive order that seeks to stop [coronavirus] infection in Puerto Rico.”
“We will be very attentive to any violation and we will observe, for example, that if the people who are [in] a vehicle are not part of the same nuclear family, they must be wearing masks or they will be subject to a fine of $100 each,” he said. “The blockades will be carried out in an orderly manner to avoid, as far as possible, affecting traffic. The line at a roadblock will be established in the area of the shoulder of the road so that traffic flow in the lanes is maintained.”