Official over Puerto Rico police reform resigns in protest
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — A retired Army officer overseeing a federally mandated reform of Puerto Rico’s police department resigned on Tuesday, saying he’s lost trust in the process.
Arnaldo Claudio said in a phone interview that the U.S. Department of Justice and the federal court are not taking sufficient action to end wrongdoing and that the money meant to overhaul the large department is being misspent.
“I don’t want to be associated with such a system,” he said. “There is something called resignation and something called ethical and moral values.”
Claudio was appointed nearly five years ago to oversee a multimillion-dollar, 10-year reform of an agency accused of corruption, illegal killings and civil rights violations. The reform called for numerous changes, including the creation of new disciplinary procedures, a use-of-force policy and additional training for officers before they’re assigned to the streets.
Since being appointed, Claudio said he has submitted eight reports detailing illegal use of force, illegal transfers and violations of constitutional civil rights, among other things, but has not received support from federal officials.
Claudio also said that between $5 million and $7 million is being spent on private lawyers involved in the process instead of going to reforming Puerto Rico’s police department.
The resignation surprised many, including Puerto Rico Justice Secretary Wanda Vázquez, who said in a statement that Claudio worked well with her agency and collaborated for the benefit of the island’s police department. His resignation comes as Puerto Rico’s governor has been clashing with a federal control board overseeing the island’s finances over how money should be spent amid a 12-year economic recession.
William Ramírez, executive director of the ACLU in Puerto Rico, said in a phone interview that Claudio’s departure is a blow to reform efforts.
“He showed us that he had genuine interest,” said Ramírez, who initially opposed Claudio’s appointment because of his military background. “It’s very unfortunate that he resigned. It’s definitely a setback because it’s taken a lot of time to win the confidence of the people.”
He said that he has not seen any changes in the police department after Claudio submitted those reports.
“Puerto Rico’s police still has a lot of work to do to comply with the reform,” Ramírez said, adding that at least seven people on the island of 3.1 million have been killed by officers so far this year, including an epileptic patient who authorities say was wielding a machete.
A spokeswoman for Puerto Rico’s police department referred calls for comment to Karixia Ortiz, spokeswoman for the island’s Department of Public Safety. She did not immediately return a message for comment. Meanwhile, Public Affairs Secretary Anthony Maceira said in a statement that the government is committed to protecting citizens.
Ramírez, however, said no one is investigating such shootings.
“In Puerto Rico, there is no independent monitoring of the police department,” he said. “That’s a problem.”
More than 100 law enforcement officials across Puerto Rico have been charged with corruption in the past decade.