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Cop Out

October 24, 2002
Copyright © 2002 CARIBBEAN BUSINESS. All Rights Reserved.

The public debate over the Police Department’s crime statistics witnessed over the past few weeks is a sad example of a lot of what’s wrong, not only in the current administration, but also the political opposition, the press and the overall level of public discourse in Puerto Rico.

In a nutshell, crime has gone through the roof this year. Faced with mounting public pressure on the issue, Police Superintendent Miguel Pereira’s best answer has been to argue that there’s really not that much more crime than in the past. The problem, he said, is that in the past the crime statistics were understated.

The argument provoked the reappearance in public of former Superintendent Pedro Toledo, an ex-FBI agent who is generally given high marks across party lines for his excellent performance at the helm of the local police during the eight years of the Rossello administration. He lashed out against Pereira saying he felt both his record and his integrity as a public servant were being attacked to give the Calderon administration an excuse for its poor handling of the crime situation. He pointed out very clearly that the large increase in crime is significant even when compared against last year, when statistics were already in the hands of the present administration.

From that point on, it’s been a free for all, with the administration, the opposition, and to a large extent--the press, turning this into an issue of who’s right on the issue of the crime statistics.

But the issue should not be whether or not crime statistics were understated in the past. In fact, the issue should not even be whether we have more or less crime today than we had last year, or the year before. That’s an issue of record keeping.

The issues should be (a) how much crime we have now and (b) what are we doing to fight it. And the answers are (a) way too much and (b) not enough.

In May we featured Pereira’s anti-crime plan in an extensive front page story. Five months later, it’s patently obvious that the plan is not working. You don’t need comparative statistics to know that.

"Crime incidence is not a police problem, but a social problem," Pereira told us then. "Crime prevention and crime solving are the police’s responsibility."

Indeed, and right now both points seem out of control.

We are keenly aware that crime is a complex issue with intricate social root causes that cannot possibly be eradicated overnight. But like with any complex problem, while it’s perfectly all right to set forth medium- to long-term objectives and strategies, you also have to take care of the problem in the short term.

As we said back in May, we applaud Pereira’s anti-crime plan’s emphasis on long-term strategies geared towards prevention. But while doing that the immediate problem is getting worse.

Crime is a human and social evil for many reasons. It is a threat to the peace and tranquility of Puerto Rico’s families. But no less important is its negative effect on business and the economy. It raises the cost of doing business, not only in the general sense that so many tax dollars have to go to crime fighting, prosecution, and correction, but in the very immediate sense that so many businesses in Puerto Rico have to allocate money to provide for their own security or have their operations disrupted because of criminal activity.

Crime is also a barrier to economic development. For outside investors deciding whether or not to set up operations on the island, or anywhere else, quality of life is an important factor in the selection. And crime incidence is one, if not the most important factor determining relative quality of life. Thus, crime directly affects Puerto Rico’s ability to attract investment.

We have no doubt the Superintendent understands the importance of law and order in fostering a better business climate. He told us back in May he intended to reach out to the business community to explore ways in which his plan could best address the particular concerns of business and, in turn, how businesses can help him in his crime-fighting efforts.

We’re still waiting. And we are sure the business community–who are also personally concerned–remain committed to help.

This Caribbean Business article appears courtesy of Casiano Communications.
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