From 2014 to 2020, 71 people died due to the use of police force in Puerto Rico. Of these fatalities, 46 -excluding intimate suicides and femicides involving agents- occurred due to the firing of a regulation weapon, according to a study carried out by the Kilometer 0 organization.
The analysis, titled “License to kill: deaths due to the use of police force in Puerto Rico, 2014-2020″, It also concluded that it is men between 20 and 29 years old, poor and without university studies or technical careers who are at greater risk of being direct victims of the improper use of police force.
At greater risk are also poor neighborhoods, where the death rate from police use of force is 3.5, as well as people who live in racially mixed communities, regardless of whether they are located in poor areas or not.
“These are not cases of guys who are with a machine gun sowing terror in a community. These are not the people who die at the hands of the Police”, he pointed Mari Mari Narvaez, Executive Director of Kilometer 0.
“The Police have not even considered that the number of people who die as a result of the police force is a problem,” pointed out, for his part, Dr. Luis A. Avilés, researcher of the study.
Deaths due to the use of police force are considered to be those that occur as a result of the use of a regulation weapon, a “taser” or substances, such as pepper spray or tear gas. Deaths resulting from blows inflicted by a police officer or a pursuit in an official vehicle are also included.
Public health entities, such as Global Burden of Diseasehowever, provide a broader view and also classify intimate femicides committed by officers with their regulation weapons, police suicide, and deaths that occur during the arrest process or when the victim is under arrest as a death by police violence. the custody of the Uniformed.
The study follows these recommendations and included the suicide of police officers, as well as femicides, if they are carried out with the regulation weapon. “We understand that the Police should not relinquish their responsibility when they arm a person and do not verify if they are in the right position in terms of their mental health”Aviles said.
Of these 71 deaths, 46 (64.8%) were due to the firing of regulation weapons by state officials (36) and municipal agents (10). Another eight fatalities occurred while the victim was in the custody of the authorities, four in vehicle chases and two due to the use of a “taser” pistol, an instrument with lethal capacity that is being used too frequently, the interviewees agreed.
In the analyzed period, there were also six suicides and three femicides in circumstances of domestic violence.
Mari Narváez, who documented these types of incidents since before the organization was founded, explained that the process was extremely complex, which even included a lawsuit to the Police Bureau to claim the delivery of the information. To complete the analysis, it used multiple sources of information, including the media and social networks.
There are even cases compiled by the organization that do not appear among the Police statistics. For example, during the period studied, the Uniformed does not assume responsibility for any of the eight people who died while in its custody. Nor do they recognize the suicides of police officers or the intimate femicides committed by their members.
Of the 71 deaths identified by Kilometer 0, the Police register or report only 26, for 36%. “Hiding the dead is one of the most reckless things you can do as a government,” Mari Narvaez said.
Among the 46 deaths caused by the use of a regulation weapon -excluding intimate femicides and suicides- 43% of the fatal victims were unarmed when shot by a state or municipal police officer.
This data, explained Avilés, reveals two important aspects: that deaths by use of force can be reduced without risking the life and physical integrity of officers or other people, and the urgency of questioning and rethinking Police training models.
Mari Narváez explained that the Police, in multiple instances, are trained by law enforcement officers from the United States who face a very different reality in terms of possession of weapons.
The proportion of fatalities not carrying firearms for the United States is 16%.
“The militarized police, which is like the one we have, is a police that thinks that everyone is their enemy, and that they are here to destroy the enemy… it is not a community police,” Mari Narváez said.
In the United States, there are 121 firearms – legal or illegal – for every 100 people, for a total of 393 million weapons, Avilés pointed out. In Puerto Rico, there are 13 guns for every 100 people. “There is no country in the world that has more weapons than people, only the United States,” added the researcher.
Despite the fact that the Uniformed does not count the intimate femicides committed by officers against their ex-partners using the regulation weapon as cases of official use of force, Avilés maintained that keeping these statistics is necessary to understand police violence.
The position of the Uniformed, he added, is that these are incidents committed by one of its members, but in his individual character. These deaths, however, occurred with a weapon that is provided by the Police Bureau, Avilés pointed out. “It is not the responsibility of the police as an individual, but rather the responsibility of the Police as an institution that arms an individual, that keeps him armed and that does not watch over his mental health,” he added.
Mari Narváez maintained that there is practically absolute impunity in internal cases of domestic violence. In 2017, of 99 domestic violence complaints, there was not a single conviction against police officers, according to a report by former federal monitor Arnaldo Claudio. While, in the general population, at least, there is a 14% of convictions in these cases.
At the beginning of the year, after the murder of agent Brenda Liz Pérez Bahamonde at the hands of her ex-partner, also a police officer, Lieutenant Aymeé Alvarado, coordinator of the Domestic Violence Division of the Police Bureau, indicated that none of the 78 instances in those in which agents were charged with this crime during 2021 prospered in court.
They demand changes
As part of their recommendations for the development of public policy, both Mari Narváez and Avilés pointed out the need for institutional changes to avoid impunity.
They suggest the creation of an independent civil and technical body that evaluates each of the cases of deaths or injuries due to the use of lethal police force. There is also an urgent need to establish specialized prosecutors in matters of police violence.
Furthermore, any measure that facilitates the acquisition and carrying of firearms by the civilian population must be avoided. According to Avilés, studies have shown that states with greater restrictions on weapons have lower mortality due to the use of police force.
Approached about the bill that is currently being discussed by the Legislative Assembly to make the Weapons Law more flexible to allow, among other things, the carrying of two firearms, both expressed their opposition. “In public policy, you always have to question what is the problem you want to solve. In this case, what is the problem that you want to solve so that a person carries two firearms?” Avilés said.
As part of the report, they also suggest establishing intervention teams that do not require police action to intervene with people experiencing emotional crisis or trauma.