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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

With 100 homicides recorded this year to date, mayors call for joint plan with central gov’t

Puerto Rico Mayors Association President and Villalba Mayor Luis Javier Hernández Ortiz, foreground, speaks while Salinas Mayor Karilyn Bonilla Colón and Cayey Mayor Rolando Ortiz Velázquez look on.

By The Star Staff

The sobering figure of 100 homicides so far in 2023 has put the members of the Puerto Rico Mayors Association on alert, and on Monday the organization that groups Popular Democratic Party mayors called on Gov. Pedro Pierlusi Urrutia to address the lack of effectiveness of the Public Safety Bureau’s anti-crime plan and reiterated the willingness of the mayors to be part of the solution.

“The rise in crime is all over Puerto Rico and not just in metropolitan areas,” said Mayors Association President Luis Javier Hernández Ortiz. “In recent weeks there has been an increase in violent incidents that claim lives, and not only those involved in criminal activity, but reach innocents. What we are seeing at the moment is that the state government has been moving resources to the area where the incidents are recorded, but then they withdraw without anyone seeing a comprehensive plan to guarantee the safety of citizens.”

Hernández Ortiz, who is the mayor of Villalba, said the best example of the strategy of the central government not being effective “is in view of all, every day shootings in broad daylight, murders, assaults, robberies and ‘carjackings’ are more frequent.”

“Mayors cannot assume the responsibility that corresponds to the state government, which is to guarantee the safety of citizens, the solving of cases and the implementation of measures for the prevention of crimes,” he said. “Of course we can cooperate, but our call to the governor is for planned and strategic action.”

Hernández Ortiz pointed out that one alternative is to pass House Bill 1618, proposed by Reps. Orlando Aponte Rosario and Juan José Santiago Nieves, to establish the “Fund to Cover Public Safety Services in the Municipalities” and which would amend Law 20-2017 of the Department of Public Safety in order to identify resources for higher salaries for municipal police officers and other increases to the base salary, which currently averages $1,400 a month.

“In less than 10 years, the state police force has been reduced by more than 50% and it is the municipal police forces that are called on to respond, despite the fact that they have very limited resources,” the Mayors Association leader said.

Meanwhile, Arecibo Mayor Carlos “Tito” Ramírez Irizarry said he expects the Department of Public Safety to share its plans to handle the crime problem in greater detail and with more frequency.

“We mayors are constantly in the communities and we have first-hand information generated by our municipal police,” he said. “From my point of view, additional action is required beyond what is being done now. I reiterate that all mayors, without exception, are available to be part of the solution. Interagency coordination is key in this process.”

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