Puerto Rico activating Guard to fight crime

(MILITARY TIMES)   SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Puerto Rico’s governor is activating the National Guard to battle crime in the U.S. territory.

Gov. Luis Fortuno said Monday night’s executive order activating the Guard is intended as a temporary measure while new police recruits are trained.

“Nobody, especially me, can be happy with the number of killings last year. We have to do much more to stop this,” Fortuno said in his state of the commonwealth speech.

In 2009, Puerto Rico, with nearly 4 million people, had its third-worst year for homicides on record, with more than 890 people slain. Officials said traffickers flooding the island with drug money were making it one of the most violent places under the American flag.

Capt. Paul Dahlen, the Puerto Rico Guard’s public affairs officer, said Tuesday that as many as 1,000 soldiers will join police patrolling in high-crime areas of San Juan, Bayamon, Carolina and Ponce. About 100 of them will be focused on repairing police squad cars.

Training for troops going out on crime-fighting operations will begin this weekend. It’s not yet clear when they will start joining patrols.

Fortuno distanced his plan from the “hard-hand” strategy that former Gov. Pedro Rossello adopted in the 1990s, when frequent raids of housing projects cut crime but led to accusations of rights violations.

Even so, the local director of the American Civil Liberties Union said adding soldiers to the island’s 19,000-strong police force is a poor strategy.

“The problem is not numbers,” said the ACLU’s William Ramirez. “It seems like there are enough men on the streets. It’s a matter of how you move them around.”

The United States has a constitutional tradition of keeping military and civilian authorities separate, and the law limits use of federal troops to enforce civil laws.

The last time Puerto Rican Guard troops assisted police patrols was in 2004, when former Gov. Sila Calderon activated the National Guard, sending 500 troops to help police patrol public events and areas where large amounts of people gather.


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