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Crime Must Be Reduced Now


January 20, 2005
Copyright © 2005 CARIBBEAN BUSINESS. All Rights Reserved.

The crime news in Puerto Rico these days is mostly bad and getting worse. Much is said publicly by government officials about curtailing crime in our streets; but the reality is no one really feels safe anymore on our beautiful island. Crime has become the No. 1 concern of Puerto Rico’s residents, with the island dominating the U.S. in the number of people murdered each year.

Last month, in a drive-by shooting, a father and two of his daughters were killed on their way home, a senseless act that has fueled even greater fear among many Puerto Rico parents that no matter how much they look after their children, they are never really safe.

Drive-by shootings, massacres, and shoot-outs in public places dominate the island’s media almost on a daily basis. Most of these murders (60%) are connected to the illicit drug trade. In the aftermath of nearly 800 murders in 2004, island residents are left wondering what, if anything, is being done or can be done to reduce Puerto Rico’s murder rate, the highest in the nation.

After four police chiefs, from 2001 to 2004, many see it as welcome relief that Pedro Toledo has returned to head the Puerto Rico Police Department. While some criticize Toledo’s Mano Dura (zero-tolerance program), you can’t deny the fact it was effective in reducing crime during the latter part of the 1990s. Toledo’s crime-reducing program decreased murders by 27% from 954 in 1993 to 695 in 2000. The overall reaction to Toledo’s appointment has been positive, with the public welcoming the change because at least something is now being done to take back the streets from criminals and drug dealers.

It won’t be easy. Puerto Rico’s new superintendent has his work cut out for him. The island’s high incidence of murders, illicit drug trade, budgetary problems that make an increase in the police force and officer’s salaries unlikely anytime soon, are some of Toledo’s major challenges.

Getting a hold on Puerto Rico’s crime problem isn’t something we can wait years to take effect. Although long-term strategies such as improving education and working with communities and parents to prevent children from growing up delinquents are needed, the island must enact solutions to get a grip on the crime problem as soon as possible.

We no longer can wait for long-term strategies to take effect. While these are positive, immediate actions are required. During the past decade, crime rates have plummeted throughout the mainland U.S. The decline has been fueled by sustained economic growth, tougher gun laws, and more law enforcement officers.

Puerto Rico’s law enforcement agencies must be equipped with the resources, personnel, equipment, and technology required to combat crime and solve cases. Not only is investment required in the island’s police force, but new information and communications technologies to give law enforcement agencies new crime-fighting tools are needed as soon as possible. Expanding community police and surveillance programs with strategies aimed at high crime areas also are needed.

Commonwealth and federal courts and prosecutors must work together to ensure criminals are prosecuted and serve a just sentence. Less than half (about 44%) of the homicide cases in Puerto Rico during 2004 were resolved. Too many criminals are walking the streets because their court date in Commonwealth courts was postponed again and again.

Puerto Rico’s prosperity shouldn’t be measured just in terms of dollars and cents. It needs to be measured in terms of quality of life. Getting a grip on crime will go far toward improving our quality of life.

This Caribbean Business article appears courtesy of Casiano Communications.
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