PR Police commissioner: ‘We will be energetic’ in enforcing COVID executive order in tourist zones

Police to control traffic from 11 pm onward and assign more officers to Motorized Unit

By Pedro Correa Henry

Twitter: @pete_r_correa

Special to The Star

Puerto Rico Police Bureau Commissioner Antonio López announced Monday that the agency will be issuing a set of measures that seek to minimize the crowding of people late at night in Puerto Rico’s tourist zones and enforce the latest executive order issued by Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia to control the coronavirus pandemic.

During a meeting at police headquarters in Hato Rey with Health Secretary-designate Carlos Mellado López, Puerto Rico Tourism Co. Director Carlos Mercado and officers from the San Juan and Carolina Police headquarters, López said the measures to be implemented to mitigate future incidents, mostly in response to numerous occurrences in the San Juan metropolitan area, will be focused on “prevention, intervention and referral.”

“We will establish a traffic control plan from 11 p.m. onwards, where the flow of vehicles will be controlled for residents, people staying in different places, and employees,” the Police commissioner said. “These [the aforementioned] will have access, but for those people who want to go for a walk at that time, there is an executive order that dictates the closing of businesses at 11 p.m. and that, by 12 a.m., everyone is supposed to be at home.”

“We will be energetic,” López said, adding that the police will increase resources for the Motorized Unit to obtain more mobility within the Condado neighborhood of San Juan, the Isla Verde district of Carolina and Old San Juan.

López urged citizens to inform authorities whenever they witness an incident that is in violation of any safety protocol.

“To those who are recording videos, who do it in a good way, we also request that you to take a few seconds and dial 9-1-1 and inform us what is happening because the videos are being uploaded an hour after [the incident takes place] and, when the police arrive, we don’t find the people who were involved,” he said.

Public Safety Secretary-designate Alexis Torres also urged citizens to contact authorities and told the STAR that “we are going to continue evaluating operational plans to obtain more presence in these areas.”

When asked what it meant for a citizen to not comply with a quarantine procedure when both social media and news outlets uploaded over the weekend videos of tourists not complying with the coronavirus executive order, Torres said the agency is “working in coordination with the Health Department, who are the ones that really are focused on this sort of enforcement.”

“But, we, as we seek to keep working as a team [with the Health Department], are not necessarily looking at one person in particular, we are looking for every citizen, every tourist and every person who is in the streets to be responsible for complying with the executive orders,” the Public Safety secretary-designate said.

“Was it brought up for discussion how the police will manage the aforementioned incidents as most netizens have been highlighting that African-American tourists are to blame for the incidents and, if so, what would the Public Safety Department be doing to prevent people from taking the law into their own hands?” the STAR asked.

Torres said “we are not looking here at race, religion or sex.”

“We are simply here enforcing the law under the Puerto Rico Constitution, and, obviously looking at the governor’s executive order,” he said. “There’s no reason or way that we are pointing fingers at a particular person. We are going to make adjustments to our operational plans, and we will be looking out for what might happen in these tourist zones; we will assign personnel there in minutes.”

“But we will not focus on a particular person, much less in terms of their race,” added Torres.

Later in the day, when asked about the citizen arrested in Bayamón for not complying with the quarantine process, Mellado López said her arrest was due to providing false information to the Health Department as she agreed to being tested for the coronavirus, but then did otherwise.

“She was a resident of Florida, she arrived in Puerto Rico, she didn’t bring a [negative COVID] test and signed [a document] to commit to being under quarantine, but that was not the case,” Mellado López said. “She was at an event in La Perla [neighborhood in Old San Juan], where we intervened with a great number of tourists, and specifically four tourists did not [take] a COVID test nor were they intending to.”

On Sunday evening the island Department of Justice filed a series of charges against three tourists for violation of the Penal Code and the executive order issued to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Justice Secretary-designate Domingo Emanuelli said both he and prosecutor Ivette Nieves Cordero filed charges in San Juan Superior Court against Soneris Andrea Serrano Moya, who is of Puerto Rican origin and a resident of the state of Florida, Mohamed Hamzan Hizam and Talita Saraí Carrillo, residents of New York and Chicago, respectively, for two less serious charges and one serious charge.

“Serrano Moya, Hamzan Hizam and Carrillo swore in the document that they would remain in quarantine for 14 days,” Emanuelli said. “However, inspectors from the Department of Health along with agents from the Puerto Rico Police intervened with them in a La Perla store during the quarantine period they were supposed to comply with [by remaining] in the place that they reported in the Traveler’s Declaration.”

“This act constitutes a felony,” he added. “They could also face two additional less serious charges for breaking curfew and failure to wear a mask.”

Emanuelli added in a written statement that the three tourists could face a fixed sentence of three years in prison for violation of Article 212 of the Penal Code, after the Health Department confirmed that they lied on the Traveler’s Declaration, which is required for anyone entering the island.

Judge Iraida Rodríguez of the San Juan Superior Court found cause on all charges against the three accused and ordered the arrest of Hamzan Hizam and Carrillo, for whom bail was set at $25,000. Serrano Moya was granted $10,000 bail.

Serrano Moya was arrested Sunday night by Health Department inspectors and police agents and was taken before the magistrate at the San Juan Court, while Hamzan Hizam and Carrillo were charged in absentia.

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