The crime rate in Puerto Rico has historically been higher than in any state.
Over the past few years, however, it has been declining fairly steadily. It is now lower than in many states.
According to the FBI, there were 6,479 violent crimes in Puerto Rico in 2019 (the most recent year for which data has been published), compared with 8,378 in Utah, a state with a similar population size. Idaho, another state with a similar population size, had 4,404.
FBI data shows that the rate of violent crime across the U.S. has stayed fairly steady while Puerto Rico’s has decreased.
U.S. News and World Report lists San Juan’s crime rate as “below average.” Sources that continue to report a high crime rate for Puerto Rico typically either are using outdated information or are reporting on people’s feelings: residents of Puerto Rico continue to worry more about violent crime than the average person in the states.
Causes of crime in Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico’s historically higher crime rate is tied to the drug trade. Since travel from Puerto Rico to the mainland United States is easy, Puerto Rico has been an appealing target for drug traffickers. U.S. law enforcement is involved in the control of this type of crime, as in the recent DEA arrest of the leader of a drug trafficking organization carrying cocaine from Puerto Rico to New Jersey.
Drug trafficking is not a particularly Puerto Rican problem; the Department of Justice reports that “most of the cocaine smuggled to the islands from South America is transshipped to other markets, primarily on the U.S. mainland.” Puerto Rico is used by South American smugglers and the United States is responsible for law enforcement in the territory.
Resident Commissioner Jennifer González-Colón of Puerto Rico and Delegate Stacey Plaskett of the US Virgin Islands introduced the Caribbean Border Counternarcotics Strategy Act in the House of Representatives in February. Senators Rick Scott of Florida and Alex Padilla of California introduced the companion bill in the Senate.
“Drug trafficking in the Caribbean represents a major security threat to the United States,” said González-Colón in a statement. “Nowhere is this risk more apparent than in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, where the illicit activities of drug smugglers operating in the region fuel most of the violent crime we see in our streets and communities. That’s why I’ve long advocated for the federal government to prioritize and allocate the necessary resources to address this threat.”
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