Puerto Rico woke up to 2020 in horror at the murder of a family, including two nine-year-old twins, shot in their home in an unprecedented violent crime in our recent history. This heartbreaking tragedy demands our authorities to act diligently and to recognize the multiple dimensions of criminality.
The measures adopted for decades to fight crime have proved to be ineffective. Crimes are increasing in frequency and perversity. Experts insist that the current uneven focus, based on force and punishment, must be evaluated. Criminality has deeper roots that run through the whole society. Fighting crime requires diverse and integrated strategies.
The brutal murder of the Trujillo Alto's family who was shot to death inside their home after celebrating New Year’s Eve, suggests a possible retaliation against an elder son of the couple. Someone allegedly attempted to kill him on Monday, and when he filed a complaint with police, they arrested him on the pending charges. However, that episode should have been investigated. This crime warns authorities that they should take measures to protect families from potential attacks in similar circumstances.
The attack on the two children, who were shot at point-blank range, shows an increasingly intolerable level of violence. Last year, we have already seen signs indicating how complex the problem is and that violence and disregard for life increase. The list of crimes includes woman murdered in broad daylight and in front of her daughters, allegedly by her stepdaughter. An argument over a cell phone, fuelled by aggression and gender-based violence, led to the murder of a young woman in Fajardo. A traditional party in Hatillo ended with several gunshot wounds, also in broad daylight. Meanwhile, gender-based violence continues to grow without any reaction from the state.
Authorities seem to declare themselves powerless in the face of many of these crimes. They attribute the problem to factors they do not control, such as dysfunctional families and school dropouts. The government recycles measures which are insufficient and unfocused and that have been repeatedly unsuccessful. They have recently announced they will reactivate gunshot detectors as an isolated measure whose effectiveness has not been proved. Once again, public housing will be the specific focus of surveillance, a trend that criminalizes poverty.
Fighting crime also means dismantling those structures that support drug and gun trafficking. Integrated tax control strategies must be implemented to detect criminal organizations' leaders. Strengthening police intelligence, investigations and prosecutions must go hand in hand with measures to protect victims and witnesses of crime. It also means reforming the prison system that criminalizes without rehabilitating.
Building a safe society involves reducing inequality and fighting. It is necessary to provide adequate services that promote the integral well-being of children from an early age, generate quality jobs and tackle addictions with a health approach. There are so many studies that prove that the “iron fist” strategy as the only way to fight crime is not effective. And there are plenty of evidence-based recommendations offering multidisciplinary perspectives to deal with the problem.
Puerto Rico demands serious and consistent proposals and implementation of public safety strategies. Fighting crime is not just a police matter. As long as they keep focused on that approach, the Police will continue to fight against organizations that have more weapons and intelligence strategies.
Crime is a fatal symptom of an unequal society, without tangible and cohesive social justice and public safety policies. It reflects material, social and political poverty, which results in loss of lives.
Puerto Rico began 2020 with a brutal murder in Trujillo Alto. Solving this murder must be a priority. This horrifying crime also calls authorities to implement radical changes in public safety strategies.