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Juvenile Delinquency Statistics Unreliable…Targeted, La Perla Residents Say They Are Under Siege By Police

Government Unable To Track Juvenile Delinquency

By Melissa B. Gonzalez Valentin of WOW News

September 30, 2002
Copyright © 2002 WOW NEWS. All rights reserved.

The disparity of statistical information within the government has made it impossible for public officials to determine if juvenile delinquency in Puerto Rico is on the rise, said Anibal Jose Torres, executive director of the Youth Affairs Office on Monday.

Based on a five-year study performed by sociologist Dr. Pedro Vale, Torres said they were only able to establish that juvenile crimes tend to represent 23% of all crimes in Puerto Rico. The study covers 1996 to 2000.

"There has been concern about the trustworthiness of some statistics. Thus, our decision to work in terms of tendencies instead of exact numbers," Vale stated.

Some of the factors that Torres said impede the government from establishing an accurate delinquency rate in Puerto Rico are:

*Low rate of solved Type 1 crimes — According to police statistics, almost 90% of the cases remain unsolved, thus making it impossible to know how many of these crimes are perpetrated by minors.

*Different calendar years — Statistical information at the Justice Department and the Courts Administration work according to fiscal years (July 1 to June 30), whereas the Police Department works according to natural years (Jan. 1 to Dec. 31).

*Classification of regional areas — The study revealed that judicial and police regions don’t include the same municipalities. Therefore, a judicial area may be divided into three police areas, turning the collection of data into a statistical nightmare.

Torres explained that because the rate of crime solving is so low, Vale was forced to rely on the yearly number of police interventions with minors. He also used the number of young people admitted every year into juvenile correctional facilities to get an idea of where the juvenile delinquency rate stands in Puerto Rico. Police interventions mean that a minor can be arrested for a crime, but later released for lack of evidence to present the case before the judge.

As a result of the study, the agency chief recommended that these disparities be coordinated to enable the government to make annual comparisons of juvenile delinquency rates in Puerto Rico.

Despite its limitations, the study was able to build a profile of juvenile delinquents in Puerto Rico. For example, the average age of juvenile felons is 15.2 years. About eighty percent are males. Most young delinquents come from single-parent households.

Torres added that, contrary to popular belief, only 18.1% live in public housing projects. He also said 9 out of every 10 minors were unemployed at the time they reached the judicial system and one third of them, 32.8% were school dropouts.

The agency chief noted the importance of establishing and promoting more jobs or educational opportunities, as well as recreational events for minors, in order to divert their attention from illicit activities. Torres said the study also showed that more police interventions are made during school time than during school breaks.

Torres presented the results of the study during a press conference held at the Inter American University in Rio Piedras on Monday. Several representatives of the Youths Affairs Office, the Mental Health and Drug Services Administration, as well as university professors, also participated in the presentation.

La Perla Residents Say They Are Under Siege By Police

September 28, 2002
Copyright © 2002 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved.

SAN JUAN (AP) - Armed police protected by bulletproof vests are occupying the seaside slum of "La Perla," raiding houses, searching vehicles, and patting down residents.

Since the occupation began Sept. 13, police say they have confiscated AK-47s, M-16 rifles, and shotguns. Officers also seized $300,000 cash, 245 pounds of cocaine, 11 pounds of heroin, and 11 pounds of marijuana.

Twenty-two people have been arrested, and police say the occupation may last for a year.

"(Drug dealers) informed us they have high-caliber weapons and they are better-armed than police," said Police Inspector Humberto D'Leon. "It was a challenge," he said, referring to a local television interview with an alleged La Perla drug dealer who dared officers to enter the barrio.

But residents say the police patrols, down to 40 officers from 176 when the raid began, harass them and treat them like criminals.

"Police are criminalizing all people in La Perla," said Jorge Gomez, a 46-year-old ship welder.

Police continued searches Friday in "The Pearl," checking vehicles and people. In a separate raid Friday, police arrested 120 people across Puerto Rico on charges including prostitution and drugs.

Drug trafficking through the Caribbean has increased in recent years, and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency estimates that 30% of South American heroin and cocaine bound for the United States moves through Puerto Rico.

Many La Perla residents charged police raid their homes without warrants. Police insisted they do have warrants.

Gomez said his house has been searched once and, on a normal work day, he's often searched at least four times.

Nearly every door in La Perla appears to have been pried open. One has a sign pleading: "Don't break into the house again. I'm a woman living alone."

Maria M. Negron, a preschool administrator in La Perla, is weary of the several checkpoints she has to get through each day. To arrive at work on time, the 52-year-old now has to leave a half hour earlier from her home on the outskirts of San Juan.

"They search you to the last hair," she said.

Sonia Viruet, a 46-year-old hospital worker, says police forced their way into her home Sept. 16 and pointed guns at her. Her two granddaughters were with her.

"Nothing so ugly has happened to me in my life," she said. Now, the younger granddaughter wakes up startled, and the 9-year-old has missed four days of school because she's traumatized," Viruet said.

Police spokesman Angel Sevilla said the searches are legal and necessary to rid the island of drugs and weapons.

"We ask them where they're going, to present ID. . ." he said. "There are no strip searches. We pat some people down, we ask them to empty their pockets, and we check the trunks of cars. We're trying to wipe out drugs, not make people's lives miserable."

A needle-exchange program with two heroin shooting galleries also has been affected, said Dr. Jose Vargas Vidot.

Police no longer allow his nonprofit Community Initiative program to enter La Perla, which they visited twice a week to distribute clean needles to 40-50 addicts.

Many drug addicts, who are HIV positive and still beg in tourist areas, say they're still getting drugs, just not in La Perla.

"They've made it difficult for us," one said on condition of anonymity. "But it's still easy to get drugs."

Cops Target 'The Pearl'

By Matthew Hay Brown | San Juan Bureau

September 23, 2002
Copyright © 2002 Orlando Sentinel. All rights reserved.


High-crime area.

(RICARDO FIGUEROA FOR The Orlando Sentinel)


SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- The cabinet doors hang open. Bowls and plates and knives and forks lie strewn about the kitchen floor. The table lies broken neatly in half and folded in on itself.

Carmen Gonzalez, a bodega owner who has lived all her 63 years alongside the dealers and addicts and prostitutes in the island's most notorious slum, says she has never been through anything like this.?

"A person can't live with them breaking in the doors every time they want," she says. "If only they would knock."

The police have come to La Perla.

Rising to a televised taunt by local gangsters, they arrived in force -- 125 officers led by San Juan police Chief Wanda Rivera descending into the seaside barrio in cruisers and sport utility vehicles while a helicopter swept the rocky coastline to scout for anyone trying to flee. In a zone where police have long been wary to tread, heavily armed SWAT teams in bulletproof vests spread through the streets and into homes.

By the end of their first week here, police had broken up drug laboratories, crack houses and animal-fighting pits, and had arrested 20 suspects. They had seized tens of thousands of bags of heroin, cocaine and marijuana, hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash, as well as grenade launchers, stolen cars, electronic surveillance equipment and an alligator.

In the words of island police Superintendent Miguel Pereira, they're planning to stay awhile. Officials are planning to continue a presence of at least 60 officers indefinitely.

But in this closely knit community of 2,000 at the edge of Old San Juan, the occupation has disrupted the lives not only of the criminals -- many of whom have fled for other parts of the city -- but also their law-abiding neighbors who feel harassed and intimidated by continuing patrols and all-hours searches.

"They come in to bring order, but they make it impossible to live here," says William Campos, manager of the Bar La Muralla.

"It was better the way it was before," adds city worker Alejandro Baez. "I could sleep peacefully in my home."

'The Pearl'

The name translates as 'The Pearl' -- a warren of weather-beaten concrete huts in pastel yellows, greens and blues huddled against the Atlantic Ocean at the base of the centuries-old city wall.

It has been called the world's most picturesque slum. The vibrant community, immortalized in anthropologist Oscar Lewis' 1966 study "La Vida," has produced artists and writers, athletes and entertainers, teachers and doctors.

It also has been a major punto, a drug point, where narcotics are bought, sold and used openly. Until the police arrived, customers from all over the island were greeted at the main portal by youths with tackle boxes filled with heroin and crack. Under a mural cursing the police, armed gangsters would turn back wayward cruise-ship passengers who had wandered down from Old San Juan proper.

This Caribbean U.S. commonwealth has long been a major transshipment port for narcotics traveling from South America to the mainland United States. Estimates vary widely, but by all accounts, hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of heroin and cocaine pass through Puerto Rico every year, and up to a quarter of the drugs stays on the island.

The drug trade has helped push the murder rate to three times the U.S. average. In 2000, there were 18 homicides per 100,000 residents, more per capita than in any state. Through the weekend, more than 550 had been killed this year on the island of 3.8 million.

La Perla is a community of fierce loyalties. Outsiders are eyed suspiciously. Even during the 1990s, the years of Gov. Pedro Rosselló's Mano Dura -- Strong Hand -- approach to crime, the authorities treaded lightly here. In what seems to have been a tacit agreement, the gangsters kept their criminal activity out of Old San Juan.

The challenge

Those two worlds collided Sept. 13, days after youths who identified themselves as dealers showed drugs and brandished weapons for local television cameras and boasted that they controlled La Perla. They challenged police to come down, warning officers would be received with bullets.

As it turned out, the police met little resistance and now have settled in. By the end of the week, their haul included hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of marijuana, cocaine and heroin, $300,000 in cash, nine cars and 20 weapons. In addition to shutting down crack houses and drug laboratories, officers escorted animal-control workers through to take custody of pit bulls, snakes and other exotic animals. Electric-company workers ripped out pirate power lines.

Now police man the portal, stopping cars coming and going by the only access road. They check the book bags of students climbing the stairs to Old San Juan. Someone has painted over the mural.

Officials say information gained in La Perla led them last week to a home in Puerto Nuevo, on the other side of San Juan, where they seized more drugs and another $280,000.

Residents who have stayed say officers have entered their homes repeatedly without search warrants.

"Every time they change shifts, they turn the house upside down again," says a woman who does not want to give her name.

Police defend searches

Police Inspector Jesus Toledo says the buildings that officers have entered without warrants have been unoccupied. He says police have sought warrants before entering homes.

"Most of the people who have been complaining are involved in the drug trafficking," Toledo says. "They want to force the police out. We don't work that way. We're going to stay and make La Perla a nice place to live."

Residents here say more than half the population has left. Police, in pairs, patrol empty streets.

Maria Maldonado speaks hesitantly. The mother of three says she is afraid officers will see her talking to a reporter.

"My children don't want to go to school," she says. "The police are intimidating the people. I'm scared to leave my house. I'm afraid they're going to break in."

Maldonado says police are entering occupied homes without warrants. She is one of several who say they felt safer before the officers came.

"When the drug dealers are here, nothing ever happens," she says. "We live peacefully. There's respect."

Mario DiFrisco serves the addicts of La Perla. From a spare building overlooking the ocean, he feeds and clothes them, and cleans and dresses their abscesses.

"It had to be done," DiFrisco says of the police raid. "Things were out of control here. But there are ways of doing things. You have to have supervision. You have to have warrants to go into these buildings.

"There are a lot of delinquents here, but there are a lot of decent people, too. You can't treat them like garbage."

On an ordinary morning, DiFrisco's office would shake periodically with the chanting of the montala, the announcement of a new drug on offer at the crack house next door. But the shack now is empty, its plywood floor still littered with Burger King wrappers and orange plastic caps from needle-exchange syringes. The only sound is the crash of the surf into the rocks below his open window.

DiFrisco has tried looking for clients to take to a rehabilitation program, but says the police presence has chased them away.

"They just go from one area to another," he says. "For me it's difficult because I have a group of people I could help. Now I have to go looking for them."

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