The House of Representatives Committee on Women’s Affairs reached conclusions similar to the findings of an investigation by the Gender Investigative Unit — a joint effort by the Center for Investigative Journalism (CPI, in Spanish) and Todas — with the Miami Herald: the Puerto Rico Police Bureau fails in addressing gender violence that involves its members.
The main recommendation of the report approved last Wednesday is to legislate so that the Women’s Advocate Office (OPM, in Spanish) is the agency assigned to receive, manage, and investigate complaints of gender violence involving members of the Puerto Rico Police Bureau, so that they can later be consulted with a prosecutor from outside the region in which the defendant works.
Committee Chairwoman Rep. Jocelyne Rodríguez Negrón said she will present a bill next week to create a special domestic violence advocacy office that handles complaints against members of the Police Bureau, and that works within the OPM.
She said it will not require the allocation of additional money, but a transfer of funds from the Police to the OPM, to address the issue of domestic violence.
“We don’t have to spend a lot. What we do need is an independent entity that investigates these complaints,” she said.
The report is the result of the legislative investigation that House Resolution 659 ordered the commission to examine the existing protocols to address cases of gender violence within the Police Bureau.
The Resolution also ordered an investigation of the complaints filed against Police officers, the resources allocated to address the problem of domestic violence within the police force and the reasons why all the complaints against the officers are not resolved, and to explain the causes for which charges are not filed against some police officers who engage in this conduct. It also had to evaluate possible solutions to streamline the process and to provide agents with more training and professional help.
As part of the public hearings, the Committee received information from the Department of Justice indicating that, between January 1, 2017, and November 2, 2022, no charges were filed in 242 complaints against members of the Police Bureau, from a total of 372 that were consulted with a prosecutor.
“In other words, 65% of the cases are consulted and not filed,” reads the report, which also highlights that “it is alarming to see the repetition of names of members of the Police force, with different complaint numbers and dates, in which the final decision is consulted and not filed.”
The lack of legal prosecution against police officers is one of the aspects of the legislative investigation that most concerned Rep. Rodríguez Negrón, co-author of the measure.
“It is outrageous what we found. Unfortunately, the cases do not prosper. They don’t even make it to court, they remain a mere complaint. That raises doubts about the matter,” said the lawmaker in an interview with the CPI.
The report includes the names and data of 24 police officers against whom more than one complaint of domestic violence was filed in the period between 2017 and 2021. In total, 51 complaints were filed against these police officers, but only 21 reached the courts and in the other 30, complaints were never charged.
Of those court cases, there were four guilty verdicts. Nine ended with a decision of no cause for arrest, in four there was no cause for trial, or they were dismissed in preliminary hearings and two were filed away. One case ended in a not-guilty verdict.
The conclusions of the report of the House Commission on Women’s Affairs echo the findings of the investigation published by the Gender Investigative Unit and the Miami Herald, which showed that hundreds of police officers were arrested, between 2010 and 2021, for crimes of domestic violence but very few faced the consequences.
An analysis of the data that the Police Bureau provided to the journalists at the time after a CPI lawsuit, revealed that more than 800 police officers were arrested for 960 incidents of domestic violence. Only 36 ended in convictions.
From 2015 to 2020, the percentage of cases filed after complaints against officers for domestic violence was 63.7%, according to information the CPI and the Miami Herald analyzed. This percentage is very similar to the 65% of cases not filed included in the House report for a more recent period — January 1, 2017, to November 2, 2022 — which shows the ongoing trend.
When in May 2022 the CPI and the Miami Herald confronted Police Commissioner Antonio López Figueroa with the statistics of complaints filed versus the cases filed in the Court, he attributed it to the fact that it is more frequent that an officer is arrested “even when the elements [of the crime] don’t exist” so that a prosecutor subsequently determines whether to file charges. The Commissioner argued that this happens because the process against a member of Police “is more rigorous than for any other citizen.”
“Every complaint of domestic violence cases that involves a police officer will be consulted with a prosecutor, even though, from the investigation, we believe it is not a case to take to a prosecutor because the elements do not exist,” said Sergeant Ivette Rivera Velázquez of the Domestic Violence Unit, agreeing with the Commissioner’s opinion. “We activated the protocol so that there is no doubt that the investigation was completed and that, nevertheless, we took it to a prosecutor to evaluate that investigation,” she added during that interview.
Several of the people, including survivors of police domestic violence, that the CPI and the Miami Herald interviewed for their investigative reporting, disputed the police explanation. One of them was the Executive director of the nonprofit Kilómetro 0, María Mari Narváez, who also testified at the public hearings held by the House of Representatives Committee on Women’s Affairs as part of their investigation.
Mari Narváez said the Police “do not comply with the protocols established for the management of domestic violence and when they comply, they turn out to be totally ineffective.”
In the last five years, four police officers and two ex-police officers murdered their partners or ex-partners.
The legislative report also highlights the discrepancies in the number of complaints filed against police officers registered by different agencies of the government of Puerto Rico.
For example, the Department of Justice and the Department of Public Safety reported 372 complaints against police officers for domestic violence between January 1, 2017, and November 2, 2022. Meanwhile, data from the OPM — which gets these statistics directly from the Police Bureau — indicated that for a similar period, from January 1, 2017, to October 24, 2022, it had a record of 422 complaints against members of the Police. Their numbers represent 50 more complaints than those offered by the Department of Justice and the Department of Public Safety.
Municipalities in gross non-compliance
One of the findings of the House committee’s report is the gross non-compliance of the municipalities with Act 59 of 2020 for the Education, Prevention and Management of Domestic Violence for the Municipalities of Puerto Rico. This legislation created an education and training program attached to the OPM, for the prevention and management of domestic violence for all municipal police officers.
It establishes that municipal police officers and officials who work in municipal headquarters must get eight hours of education per year in matters of prevention and intervention in cases of domestic violence, including investigative strategies, interviewing victims and witnesses, and crime scene management.
According to information the OPM provided to the House of Representatives Committee on Women’s Affairs, only 43 municipalities have taken the training that Act 59 requires, which represents 58% of the total number of those that have municipal police, which is 74 — Culebra, Luquillo, Aibonito, and Cayey do not have a Municipal Police force.
The OPM assured the Committee that it has made “countless efforts” to get the remaining 31 municipalities to comply with the training. Some of the challenges mentioned are that the participants do not connect [to online sessions] or do not show up to where the training will be offered.
Among the report’s recommendations are that the OPM impose administrative fines on municipalities that have not complied with Act 59 training. It must also conduct training related to the biopsychosocial aspects of gender violence aimed at all Police officers with a curriculum that the OPM evaluates.
Track record of ex-femicide agent Diego Figueroa Torres is uncertain
One of the people who was summoned to present testimony as part of the investigation was former police officer Diego Figueroa Torres, president of the United Police Organization Front (FUPO, in Spanish). Eight days after he signed a statement that established that “the Police Bureau deals with all cases of gender violence as a public health problem without differentiating the job of those involved in the matter,” he murdered Iraida Hornedo Camacho. Later, he committed suicide.
The Committee requested to withdraw his testimony from the documents to be considered in its investigation and requested his work history from the Police Bureau. From the documents sent to the Committee, it appears that Figueroa Torres was sued on multiple occasions for several reasons. However, it was not clear how many complaints he had in total because the information provided by the Police Bureau was incomplete and mixed with data from other agents.
The Bureau did not explain the information to the Committee before the report was published.