4 thoughts on “Why does Puerto Rico have a higher crime rate than the United States?

  1. Two-Front Battle in Puerto Rico
    Two-Front Battle in Puerto Rico: Crime and Apathy

    December 28, 2003


    SAN JUAN, P.R. – It was a long autumn for Nestor Muñiz, and

    the winter, he guesses, will be longer still. A stray bullet killed his daughter Nicole as she drove past a housing project here one August night, a month before her 17th birthday.

    She was among more than 750 people killed this year in

    Puerto Rico, a small island (only twice the size of Rhode

    Island) with a homicide rate more than three times the

    United States average. More murders per capita take place

    here than in any American state, according to the Federal

    Bureau of Investigation.

    Since Nicole’s death, which was widely covered by the news

    media here, Mr. Muñiz has made lowering crime on the island

    his mission. He has organized a march with other relatives

    of murder victims, lobbied politicians and worked to inspire a collective sense of responsibility among Puerto Ricans – the most crucial step, he says, toward abating the problem.

    “It’s going to take a big, big change,” Mr. Muñiz said, taking a break at the furniture shop he manages in San Juan, where 1.5 million of the island’s nearly 4 million residents live and where most of the island’s violent deaths take place. “People here have been like, `If it didn’t happen to me, I don’t care.’ ”

    Nicole’s killing commanded more attention than most because of its randomness, but the outpouring of concern did not slow the homicide rate, which the police attribute largely to the drug trade. Three superintendents of the Puerto Rico Police Department have quit in two years; the latest, Victor Rivera Gonzalez, is leaving Jan. 6. In an interview, he said that even a last-minute offer to raise his $107,000 salary by $20,000 did not sway him.

    Superintendent Rivera said the root problem was insufficient staffing: Puerto Rico has 21,000 police officers, and by his reckoning, the force should grow by at least 4,000. He said he envied New York City’s police force, but in fact the ratio there is about the same: 40,000 officers for a population of 8 million.

    As of Dec. 14, New York had 569 murders this year, according to the New York police. Puerto Rico had 752 by

    Dec. 17. Last year there were 774 murders on the island, up

    from 744 in 2001, the F.B.I. said.

    The island’s major newspapers keep a running tab of the

    deaths, with graphic articles about shootings, stabbings

    and carjackings almost daily. This month alone, there have

    been articles about a quadruple homicide outside a San Juan

    disco and the shooting death of a nursery school teacher in

    Juncos who was hunted down in her home by a gang seeking

    revenge on her brother.

    After Nicole’s death, Superintendent Rivera announced a new

    war on street crime that doubled police patrols from 4 p.m.

    Friday to 4 a.m. Monday, sent frequent helicopter patrols

    over known drug-dealing areas and dispatched K-9 units to

    sniff out guns at nightclubs, where many shootings have

    taken place.

    The police have also tried to reduce an estimated 1,500

    drug puntos, or distribution spots, with frequent raids,

    Superintendent Rivera said. And the department has

    shortened the initial training time for recruits, to get

    them on the streets faster.

    Because of its 270 miles of coastline, much of it isolated,

    and its location between South America and the United

    States, Puerto Rico has long been a way station for

    shipments of cocaine and marijuana. About 75 percent of the drugs move on to Miami, New York and other points north, Superintendent Rivera said.

    Young men peddle the drugs that remain here, often in the

    housing projects of San Juan, he said. The competition

    among dealers is fierce and often fatal.

    Murders of drug dealers and their associates are by far the

    most common kind, which leads some Puerto Ricans to play

    down the problem.

    “It’s not a good idea to be on the street or in the discotheque at 3 or 4 in the morning,” said Freddy Van, a cabdriver in San Juan. “But if you go early or don’t go at all, you don’t have a problem.”

    Superintendent Rivera says he wants a law requiring bars

    and nightclubs to close at 2 a.m. A Puerto Rican legislator

    proposed such a bill after the quadruple murder outside the

    disco, but the island’s powerful tourism industry is fighting it.

    Another proposed law would increase penalties for killings

    by stray gunfire, which are on the rise. But some legislators said creating laws would not help, pointing to a strict gun-control law passed in 2000 that they said had done nothing to diminish a huge illegal gun trade.

    “We have enough laws on the books,” said Iris Miriam RuÌz,

    a minority leader in the Puerto Rico House of Representatives. “We need to enforce the existing laws

    better and deal with the economic problems of Puerto Rico.”

    Ms. RuÌz said it would also help to find a police superintendent who would stay on the job, because the

    department was “a difficult bureaucracy” and new

    superintendents needed time to win the loyalty of the

    force. Ms. RuÌz, like other members of the minority political party, the New Progressive Party, said Gov. Sila Calderon was too soft on crime and Puerto Rico needed a return to mano dura, or strong hand tactics.

    Ms. Calderon’s predecessor, Pedro Rosello, used that

    approach in his two terms in the 1990’s, when the murder

    rate dropped after the number reached a high of 995 in

    1994. Now Mr. Rosello is running for governor again and

    promising to bring back mano dura, an approach that

    involved, among other things, having the National Guard

    swoop down on housing projects.

    Like Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani’s anticrime tactics in New

    York, Mr. Rosello’s drew complaints of civil rights


    Superintendent Rivera said that the news media had

    exaggerated the crime problem and that most categories of

    crime, including robbery, rape, aggravated assault and car

    theft, were down this year. He said it would be hard to

    adopt New York’s intensive crime-fighting tactics without

    sharply raising police salaries, which he said start at

    about $21,300. In New York, the entry-level police salary

    is $34,500.

    One point on which Superintendent Rivera and his critics

    agree is that Puerto Rico’s bail laws need overhauling. The

    island’s Constitution does not allow judges to deny bail

    and gives them wide discretion in setting it, so many

    accused killers go free while awaiting trial.

    In one high-profile case, a man accused of killing a teenage trumpet player turned out to have been out on bail after being charged in another killing months earlier.

    Mr. Muñiz said that bail reform would help but that the

    biggest change had to be in the apathetic attitude he says

    has engulfed the island.

    When a convoy of police vehicles descended on a drug punto

    in the Vista Hermosa housing project one recent Friday

    night, a crowd that had gathered for an outdoor party

    watched impassively as the police arrested a teenage boy

    and an older man, seizing bags of crack cocaine and

    marijuana from their pockets.

    A woman in a Santa Claus hat had been selling rolling

    papers at a table on the sidewalk and seemed to barely

    notice the disruption.

    Mr. Muñiz, who said he was never involved in politics or

    crime fighting before Nicole’s death, said that his best

    consciousness-raising effort to date had been a march on

    Oct. 5, Nicole’s 17th birthday. As many as 1,000 relatives

    of murder victims participated, he said, many carrying

    photos of their dead.

    Next year, billboards will go up around San Juan with a

    picture of Nicole, who had hoped to study fashion design at

    Boston University, and a line from an essay she wrote

    shortly before her death: “I only wish that violence comes

    to an end.” Mr. Muñiz hopes people will notice.

  2. Our Island of Puerto Rico has so much corruption and violence because the united states keeps supporting us on a yearly basis in which i gives the island 600 million and our goverment does use it correctly . they have shorten our schools ..and even closed many of them , they raised all pricess at the university .apaprently because there is no funds . but yet what have done with the 600 Million we recieve. the governer is a corrupted man along with all those whom work for him ,. the goverment instead of heloing the poor . they make fake campiangs for what …to let the population see that there are no funds ..but yet they can build train stations and goverment offices. i wish Obama would consider making San Juan a State. that way all the bs can stop …this is what we need ..if i was president i would not support an island that isnt giving me anything ..but yet it takes ,.i vote for statehood.. without any other consideration ..98% of the drugs that reach the us come through our island ..and the goverment is part of it ……

  3. Adam, mi hermano – Puerto Ricans paid more than $2billion in taxes in 2009? Can you see that $600million is a spit in the bucket? Can you see that its more stupid to send $600million to SUDAN or $2billion to Pakistan? Likewise, Puerto Ricans need another Veterans Hospital on the island that the US refuses to construct? Would you like to be treated by US Doctors or by the people you served in your island? Puerto Rico is not that far away…

  4. as a boricua, living in the mainland, I am disgusted with the govorment, and police department in puertorico, for allowing crime to grow so high.

Leave a Reply