Yesterday, budget discussions regarding La Uniformada (Puerto Rico Police Department) took a new turn when federal judge Gustavo Gelpí asked the Oversight Board to reach an agreement with the government of Puerto Rico so that they open a new police academy in February 2019.
The petition arose after several days of negotiation between the Secretary of Public Safety, Héctor Pesquera, and the Board´s Executive Director Natalie Jaresko about who has to identify the funds necessary to recruit new policemen.
According to Gelpí, the elected branches of Puerto Rico and their Board should discuss and reach consensus on this matter, as well as the other fiscal matters related to the Agreement and the (Police) Reform so that additional proceedings before the court - which is well aware of the economic situation - can be avoided.
Gelpí's request also comes at a time when La Uniformada needs more than 2,000 officers on the streets, according to the V2A company, after an evaluation of necessity conducted as part of the Police Reform.
For months, Gelpí has increased the pressure to address the reduction in the number of police officers, due to retirement or because they moved to police departments in other jurisdictions in the mainland.
Monitor Arnaldo Claudio has also warned in official presentations that, according to the V2A study, in the coming years, a massive number of officers will be old enough to retire.
In his request, Gelpí said that "it is imperative that the new class of the Academy begins on the date set for 2019, established by the court during the last status hearing."
"A total enrollment is not as important as the start and flow of the new class," the judge said. "The last class composed mostly of officers of the Puerto Rico Police finished in 2015."
He added that the new Academy class will provide integrity and above all efficiency to the Puerto Rico Police, as well as more security and care for the US citizens and other residents of Puerto Rico.
Last August, during the last status hearing, Judge Gelpí said that the Police Reform could not be affected by PROMESA.
PROMESA Section 204 (d) (1) states that the Board "shall not exercise applicable authorities to impede territorial actions taken to comply with a court-issued consent decree or injunction, or an administrative order or settlement with a Federal agency, with respect to Federal programs. "
Meanwhile, Pesquera and other government officials have claimed that budget cuts of over $ 30 million, promoted by the Board, not only affect the operation of the agency, but also prevent the recruitment of police officers.
"We have always agreed with the need to recruit more police officers. Now, itis important to point out that given the fiscal situation Puerto Rico is going through and the fiscal controls imposed by the Board, compliance with the issued directive does not depend only on the government of Puerto Rico," said yesterday Police Commissioner Henry Escalera.
"It is important to have a conversation with the Oversight Board to ensure budgetary flexibility that will allowsus to establish the training mechanism and have an academy. It is the only way for the Police to be able to comply with the order issued today," he added.
For its part, the Board reacted to Gelpí's order with a sentence: "We will continue working with the Police to ensure that they can comply with the court order”.
During this week, Natalie Jaresko, the Board´s Executive Director, said she doubted that the cuts really would put the operation of the Police at risk and that she hoped that no requirement of the Police Reform would be affected.
Meanwhile, at a meeting with senators, she said that if they wanted to reduce cuts to the police, they could happen on other items of the government budget, which raised criticism from the officials.
For bankruptcy lawyer John Mudd, who has closely followed the PROMESA process, Judge Gelpí's move "is not common, but it's not unheard of."
"What can happen is that they reach an agreement or tell the government to take funds from one place to put them in another, since the Board can tell the judge that the government does have where to get the money from, such as from the contracts that are not essential."
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