The Governor's decision to call a summit to address citizen insecurity in Puerto Rico should be considered as a step to implement strategies that include both quick response to crime and healthy approaches to tackle the problem at its source.
The first week of 2019 shows a high murder rate –with 18 people killed in shootings, some of them in broad daylight in public spaces- that calls for the Police to urgently take practical initiatives.
However, working for Puerto Rico to be a safe island requires enforcing projects that will integrate social components such as housing, health care, education and work as drivers of change to build safe communities in the long term.
This is not the first time that La Fortaleza calls for these summits to decide on strategies against crime. We hope that this time the call becomes the space to articulate a good offensive strategy against criminal groups that take lives and tranquility, as happened in a shopping center in Dorado, while hundreds of citizens were shopping on Epiphany Eve. There, gunmen shot down a man in front of a store. The tourist area of Isla Verde was the scene of another lethal shooting in broad daylight; and there was a similar event in front of a centrally located store in Puerto Nuevo. Some of these attacks were recorded by citizens, who posted the images on social media, what shows not only how frequent these events happen but also some kind of resignation. In 2018, the Police reported 639 murders. This month, the shocking frequency of these crimes maintains that of the previous months.
The meeting held yesterday by the Governor with several members of safety agencies and mayors shows how important agency collaboration to stop the crime wave –which extends to U.S. law and order agencies- is for him. The Governor also stresses the need for additional federal allocations.
However, it is necessary that clear and efficient guides come through the chain of command from La Fortaleza and the Police. Good leadership inspires confidence and determination in the ranks, and then to citizens
At the same time, although Police salaries should be better, this does not justify non-compliance with tasks, particularly those of law and order, which protect lives. That is why it is imperative that Police officers, as well as members of other agencies of the Puerto Rico Department of Public Safety, prove their ethical commitment and professional expertise before a society that faces serious challenges.
However, healthy approach strategies that will eradicate the causes of crime and violence must join this effort, saving the island from its horrible consequences. A punitive emphasis should not be the only action, since it has already proved its failure. In addition to limit investment in preventive efforts, heavy hand has not prevented crime recurrence, neither has it provided proper assistance to victims and witnesses of crimes.
Specialists from different disciplines, third sector organizations and health professionals rightly define citizens’ insecurity as one of public health that threatens life in democracy.
The response to Puerto Rico´s serious citizen insecurity problem must be an interdisciplinary and multi-sectoral approach, with concrete and measurable actions. They should cope with inequality, intrafamily violence that affects thousands of women, children and the elderly. This requires protecting human rights and promoting an environment of equity and of better quality of life. It is time to implement plans that include a comprehensive perspective that leads to the reconstruction of a society of peace.