New strategies aiming at combating crime in Puerto Rico should emerge from validated data that show that they will lead to better public safety without affecting citizens rights that strengthen democracy.
We recognize the interest of the government in taking actions that would stop homicides and other serious crimes. However, some proposals recently outlined, such as limiting the right to bail and more flexibility in gun-possession requirement, have not proved to be more effective in combating crime.
The Rules of Criminal Procedure contain extensive provisions regarding the conditions of the constitutional right to bail for people charged with a crime. Judges can apply measures contained between Rule 218 and 228 to guarantee court appearances and ensure public safety after allegations are made.
The rules specify a list of serious crimes with special precautions to be taken, including electronic supervision. These crimes are murder, kidnapping, sexual assault, drug law violation, carrying firearms and domestic violence and continuous criminal activity, among others.
On the other hand, Puerto Ricans are mainly against limiting the constitutional right to bail. They have shown objections to changing the rules in order to guarantee court appearances of suspects who are presumed innocent until found guilty.
Modern criminology studies show that less than one percent of people under bail commits a crime or fail to appear for trial.
Meanwhile, constitutionalists say that flexibility in gun-possession requirements has not stopped violent crimes in the United States, despite their liberal gun laws. Last year, among the objections that prevented the approval of a bill for these purposes, was the reduction of the 120-day term to complete the investigation of people applying for firearm licenses, and permit payment.
Measures to address crime in Puerto Rico should be preceded by an honest recognition of the causes of criminal activity. They also require to examine how the state resolves crimes, allegations and prosecutions.
Criminal cases in courts have been reduced from 46,116 in fiscal year 2012-13 to 26,434 in the 2016-17 period. Meanwhile, the homicide clearance rate, fixed at 23 percent until 2018, reflects a serious deficiency. This should be addressed by recruiting more personnel for investigation tasks and improving their training through new techniques and equipment.
The revitalization of the Puerto Rico Forensic Sciences Institute is essential for this task and the agreement signed with entities such as the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors seems right for that purpose. Spokespersons for the Institute have expressed their commitment to increase the analytical capacity and technical training.
Regarding the Police, it is up to federal authorities to provide mechanisms to advance in the reform agreed on July 17, 2013. It is also important to give way to the analysis of deficiencies pointed out by experts from the Public Safety Department, in order to achieve efficiency in core areas that reflect non-compliance.
Such analysis will help explain additional federal allocations to strengthen law enforcement agencies, without omitting adjustments that will allow higher efficiency with current allocations.
It is also necessary to set preventive health-care approaches that complement strategic police offensives, product of outlined plans with technological support.
The time has come to face those recurring errors in the strategy to fight crime as well as the –unaddressed- causes of a malady that deeply affects Puerto Rico. It is crucial to assume this task with commitment to excellence for the reconstruction of Puerto Rico.