The recent changes regarding the federal monitor for the Police Reform process should not distract the parties from the major goal of professionalizing the Police, in line with Puerto Rico´s security needs.
By replacing Arnaldo Claudio with former police chief John Romero, federal judge Gustavo Gelpí, who presides over the Police Reform case, ensures continuity in a process seeking to impart a culture of respect for citizens rights in the police force.
Romero -former Chief of Police of Lawrence, Massachusetts, and a member of the New York Police Department for 30 years- as well as the group of experts appointed by the federal judge to assist the new monitor, were part of Claudio´s team. This reduces the impact of change.
The Reform should encourage the Police to carry out their work in an organized and responsible manner and to implement reliable accountability mechanisms. These merits should also define the process itself. The goal is to ensure the protection of civil rights and to strengthen relations with communities, by training agents in the best police practices and the essential tools to fight crime.
The ongoing case responds to an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice that in 2011 revealed, among other findings, the use of excessive force, unreasonable searches and seizures, as well as other improper conduct aimed at suppressing the exercise of freedom of expression. Such actions violated the rights protected by the U.S. Constitution.
Among the changes to achieve a sustainable reform, the Police committed to making professional and respectful interventions, to developing policies and procedures that establish the proper and reasonable application of force and to impose criminal or civil disciplinary measures to any officer who exceeds the use of force. It also committed, among other agreements, to conducting searches and raids under the law and that respond to crime prevention strategies.
It must also ensure fair, impartial and unbiased services. This requires the development of a program to recruit the most suitable and qualified individuals, as well as policies, protocols and procedural manuals that reflect the priorities and values agreed. It involves effective training, supervision, administration, and disciplinary processes and requires updating its technology to optimize its management. Above all, it requires strengthening relationships of respect, trust, and collaboration with communities the ground for public safety.
Under Judge Gelpi´s supervision, and through the role of the monitor, they have identified the areas of opportunity still left for the Police to strengthen its operations imbued by a high sense of responsibility and commitment to every citizen and with an unwavering commitment to democratic values.
However, over the past few years, the Police leadership has shown alarming signs of a lack of willingness to carry out the necessary reforms. Such reluctance to change is related to unnecessary confrontations between the leadership and the outgoing monitor. The arrival of new officials, such as the Secretary of Public Safety and the newly appointed monitor, lays the ground for building bridges.
When Claudio abruptly left office, he left behind questions that must be clarified in order to maintain the transparency of the process. Among his allegations, he attributed a waste of funds that should be directed to cultural, operational, structural, investigative and educational changes that improve Police policies and practices.
Dispelling shadows allows citizens to trust in the transparency of the entities in charge of directing the necessary changes in the Police. Citizens have the right to safety and security and therefore they need to trust in their law and order institutions.