U.S. government report slams Puerto Rico police

SAN JUAN, (Reuters) – Puerto Rico’s police regularly  use excessive force, conduct illegal searches and commit other  rights violations while failing to curb drug-fueled crime in  the U.S. Caribbean territory, the U.S. Justice Department said  in a report released yesterday.

The strongly worded, 116-page report offers sharp criticism  of the second-largest police force in the United States. Puerto  Rico, a U.S. commonwealth, has some 17,000 police officers.

The island is struggling to control soaring crime which  authorities say is tied to the illegal drug trade, with  killings on pace to set a record this year.

Law enforcement officials say Puerto Rico is a favored  trafficking route because of its status as a U.S. territory.

“Puerto Rico officials maintain that drug trafficking and  social deterioration are fueling the wave of violent crime,”  the report said. “However, increasing crime cannot be used to  justify continued civil rights violations or the failure to  implement meaningful reforms.”

The report said it found police had engaged in a pattern of  unconstitutional stops, searches and arrests, at times using  “unreasonable” and “excessive” force.

“The Puerto Rico Police Department has deep and profound  problems,” said Thomas Perez, director of the Justice  Department’s Civil Rights Division.

Police have also failed to investigate sex crimes and  domestic violence and frequently discriminate against Puerto  Rico’s sizable community of immigrants from the Dominican  Republic, the report said.

Information and data systems are inadequate, the report  said, hampering the police department’s ability to fight crime  and keep track of violations by officers.

“The report confirms a breathtaking level of violence and  corruption,” said Anthony Romero, executive director of the  American Civil Liberties Union, which has compiled reports of  abuses by the Puerto Rican police.

The Justice Department investigation was launched after a  police officer was caught on videotape shooting an unarmed man  and several other officers were arrested on charges of framing  suspects.

A rise in corruption cases involving officers has also  tarnished the image of the police. More than 1,700 officers  were arrested on corruption charges between 2005 and 2010.

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