Violence in Puerto Rico

Historically, Puerto Rico has seen higher levels of violence than the states. Those numbers had been improving. But Puerto Rico is now facing a spate of violence that has led Island leaders to ask for help from the federal government.

An FBI official, Charles Leff, described the situation as “a crisis of violence.” He told CBS News that law enforcement is understaffed. Police department spokespeople agreed. They claimed that police officers are leaving the Island for the states in large numbers.

Jenniffer Gonzalez-Colon, the Resident Commissioner of Puerto Rico, sent a letter to the Department of Justice asking for more resources to “secure the nation’s Caribbean border” and to cope with “the rising tide” of violence.

Calle 13 rapper Residente and rapper Bad Bunny were able to talk with Governor Rossello about the problem of violence. Rossello later detailed the measures being taken to address the problem, including requesting more federal help, investing more in law enforcement on the Island, and community watch efforts. “We are all united to combat crime,” the governor said.

The secretary of public safety, Héctor Pesquera, does not agree with the characterization of “a crisis of violence.” The most recent figures publicly available from the FBI are from 2016, when Puerto Rico’s 224 violent crimes per 100,000 inhabitants were lower than the national median. However, the territory reported 19.9 murders per 100,000 residents, which was more than triple the median homicide rate in the states. Gonzalez-Colon reported that there were 20.3 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants in 2017, citing FBI figures.

There is widespread agreement that the problem of violence in Puerto Rico centers on drugs, as Puerto Rico is used as a transfer point for drugs from Latin America to the United States.

“In light of these developments,” Gonzalez-Colon’s letter said, “it is critical that the federal government take all necessary actions to ensure the safety and security of the 3.2 million Americans in Puerto Rico. Therefore, I strongly urge DOJ and DHS to increase their law enforcement capabilities and personnel on the island. I also ask that you provide technical assistance and actively engage with the Government of Puerto Rico to determine how to better assist the territory in combatting drug-related violence.”

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