Sixteen former Puerto Rican police officers were convicted of using their position to run a criminal organization, the Department of Justice announced Monday. The charges include racketeering, robbery, extortion, and firearms charges for using their police-issued firearms to commit their crimes. The convicted officers will be sentenced in December.
The officers stole property, cash and narcotics from suspected criminals, planted evidence in order to extort victims in return for their release, and accepted bribes in return for giving false testimony or failing to appear in court at all, court documents revealed.
Puerto Rico has been subject to scrutiny since 2011 due to high rates of police corruption and drug trafficking-related violence. The federal government intervened by expanding Operation Caribbean Resilience, a joint initiative focused on dismantling criminal organizations in Puerto Rico led by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) with support from U.S. Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Coast Guard, and the Puerto Rican Police Department, in 2012. The previous year, the murder rate reached a record 1,117 per year, six times that of the U.S. mainland and by 2012 more than 70 percent of homicides on the island that year were related to drug trafficking.
Puerto Rico’s police department recently released its first report detailing changes to the department as mandated by the federal government after a 2011 report highlighted illegal killings, corruption and civil rights violations within its 17,000-person police force.