The most recent report prepared by Arnaldo Claudio, technical compliance advisor (TCA) of the police reform, brings warnings outlined by several experts, including him and former superintendent Michelle Hernández Fraley, regarding the impact that the Department of Public Security (DPS), created last year and headed by Héctor Pesquera, has on the police chain of command.
"The most persistent challenge in the reform is its current leadership crisis and the implementation of Law 20 (which created the DPS). The crisis has created great uncertainty in all areas of the police, "says part of the report that Claudio submitted to federal judge Gustavo Gelpi on Monday.
In his report, Claudio argues that this "chaos" affects all personnel "and public safety in Puerto Rico" in very specific aspects such as the lack of police officers during the festive season.
"It is not open to discussion that the Police Commissioner does not have direct authority and the total command of the operations of the Police, as required in the agreement (of the reform)," says the report on the changes to which the government of Puerto Rico committed itself after a federal Justice Department's lawsuit for civil rights violations by the Police, including the period when Pesquera was superintendent.
Claudio points in his report to Gelpí, who in charge of overseeing the implementation of the reform, that is is "regularly" excluded from the discussions related to the implementation of law 20, which consolidated seven security and emergency agencies under the umbrella of the new DPS.
Claudio explains that problems with promotions and transfers without explanation, questionable practices in the payment of overtime and "failures to take action against officers with dubious disciplinary " continue.
In fact, Claudio pointed directly to Pesquera in another report that has to do with the way in which the Police handled demonstrations on April 18 and April 27 at the Capitol; on April 25 against the Center for Puerto Rico, in Río Piedras, and on May 1, at the end of the general strike in Hato Rey.
According to Claudio, Pesquera violated the DSP law when he gave instructions to high-ranking police officers on May 1, without being confirmed by the Senate, which happened eight days later.
On May 1 there were confrontations between protesters and the police. Claudio argues that Pesquera and Alfonso Orona, the governor's chief legal adviser, arrived that day at the Headquarters.
Claudio´s report says that Pesquera told a high-ranking officer"Defuse that," when he entrusted him with the mission of removing the protesters from the Luis Muñoz Marín international airport.
An unidentified policewoman in the report said that, when Pesquera gave the order, the situation at the airport was under control, but she did not intervene to "not complicate things." At that time, former Superintendent Hernández Fraley did not countermand the decision.
In an interview with El Nuevo Día in January, one week after her dismissal as Police Commissioner, Hernández Fraley said that the approval of the DPS law and the appointment of Pesquera weakened her leadership in the police and tied her up on administrative matters such as budget management. She also said that she was left out of several meetings with federal authorities.
According to interviews to several officers –done by Claudio and his team- on May 1, when Pesquera went to the Headquarters, he also questioned why they did not place tire blocks the protesters' buses to prevent them from leaving the place. They warned him that this practice was illegal in Puerto Rico.
For Claudio, Pesquera violated the DSP law when giving the orders because he had not been confirmed.
Yesterday, when reacting yesterday to Claudio´s comments, governor Ricardo Rosselló backed Pesquera.
"Secretary Pesquera has my confidence and he did have the authority. He is the secretary, "he said.
“So Claudio is wrong,” said the governor in an aside with the press at Expo Caribe 2018, in the Isla Grande Convention Center.
Claudio evaluated the work of the Police with the protesters on those dates. In general terms, it concludes, after an investigation of an official identified as José L. Pujol, that the police avoided confrontations "at all costs" by using tools such as pepper spray and tear gas.
"The police appear to have learned to self-limit, have more discipline and a better perspective of the mission goal," reads the report. "The evaluation of the available videos shows that the use of force by members of the Police in these events was appropriate with some exceptions."
However, he points out that in the videos and reports on use of force in the Police, it is evident that in many cases where force was used, incidents were not reported as required by a general order and the Police reform.
He also concludes that the Police work plans in three of the four cases mentioned - that of April 25 was considered an unpredictable event - were defective. He added that no one in the Police is trained in the Management and Control of Crowds section, which is part of general order 600.
"Despite the importance of correctly documenting the use of force, the evidence shows that the Police did not do so, which makes it impossible to determine if force was used within the parameters established in the Police," reads the report.
"It is clear that the documentation was incomplete," he added, describing the difficulties he faced to receive the Police videos of the demonstrations.
When referring specifically to the protests on May 1, he maintained that, in the work plan, it was not evident that the San Juan area commander tried to contact the organizers, there was not an estimated number of participants, no official vehicles were identified to transport potential arrested people and no breakdown wasmade on how each unit in the area would react to the chain of command.
"It is clear that there was no integrated work plan with the role of each specialized unit to avoid duplication and misunderstandings in the execution of functions," reads the report in which it is detailed that, "Possible scenarios" according to the behavior of the protesters were not established. Specifically on how to react if protesters entered private buildings, took control of the avenue or set fires.
However, Claudio pointed out that the videos he was able to evaluate "show the police officers acting with discipline" and that they dispersed "violent" protesters with "the minimum necessary force".
"They avoided physical confrontations with violent protesters by dispersing them using pepper spray, tear gas and less-than-lethal ammunition," the report states.
Claudio endorsed the reaction of the Police to the April 18 event at the Capitol, a demonstration by the Frent Ciudadano (Citizens Front) in favor of the Audit of Public Debt. He also considered the performance of the agents adequate on April 25 during a protest in front of the Centro de Puerto Rico building, of the Sila M. Calderón Foundation, during a visit by the president of the Senate, Thomas Rivera Schatz. Claudió had the same opinion about the Police during a protest on April 27 at the Capitol.
The technical advisor and his team did not evaluate the police during some arrests on Sunday, April 23, also in front of the Capitol.
However, Claudio, railed against the police for alleged lack of transparency in handling and delivering the videos they take at those events.
First, he explained, an officer told him that the police had "lots of videos", but they gave him a single disc with television reports and videos downloaded from internet. They did not handle videos taken by police until December, and they were edited, denounced Claudio.
"These facts cast doubts about the videos that were received and it could be questioned that they only represent part of the incidents recorded that day."
Since May, the Civil Rights Commission (CDC, Spanish acronym) has been investigating the procedures followed by the Police to record citizens in mass events. Its executive director, Ever Padilla, said that he formally asked Claudio for the two reports submitted and recalled that the CDC made an ocular inspection on Friday at the General Headquarters as part of its investigation and the alleged cybernetic filming of the Police.
Are you going to interview Pesquera?
That was discussed in the Commission and we agreed to complete the entire investigative phase to then summon the secretary and clarify doubts.
The investigation of the CDC began precisely because of a lawsuit filed last May by pro-independence legislators, Denis Márquez and Juan Dalmau, in response to complaints from protesters who alleged that the police monitored their movements on social networks.
For Marquez, Claudio's remarks are not surprising, as he had anticipated them when the DSP bill was discussed in the House of Representatives.
"(The DSD) is a new bureaucracy, and that's what I said in my turn when the bill came; it is a union of agencies without rhyme or reason, "he said.
Márquez said that Pesquera has too much power as head of seven agencies under the umbrella of the DSP "and there is no freedom of action for the leaders of those agencies."
While explaining that he had not read Claudio's reports, New Progressive Party Senator Henry Neumann said that the monitor's concerns are due to the fact that the DSP was created less than a year ago.
He recalled that Claudio expressed his concerns in executive hearings, but the president of the Senate Public Safety Commission also assured that they were dispelled or included as amendments in the bill.
Neumann rejected the need to amend the DSP law.
"I am a faithful believer in the DSP because it emulates US Homeland Security which, according to experts, has been a success for that country," he said.
Gloria Ruiz Kuilan collaborated on this report.