BY TANIA POLANCO
INTER NEWS SERVICE
Criminality and violence will not diminish on the island as long as the government’s strategy continues to be centered exclusively in the prosecution of criminal activities, without effectively looking at social problems, such as unemployment, quality of life issues, mental health and social exclusion, according to criminologists Gary Gutiérrez and José Raúl Cepeda.
At a time when the island’s homicide rate is higher than 960 and bids fair to break the island’s record, both professionals, concurred that the high crime rate and other manifestations of violence cannot be analyzed within the same margin as the intensification of the social and economic problems affecting the Puerto Rican population.
Gutiérrez noted that many people survive by receiving assistance from government programs, jobs that lead no-where or running up their credit cards, while another large portion of the population lives in poverty and with no chance of social progress.
This lack of inclusion, he said, generates frustration and mental health problems which could be contributing to the increase in violence registered on the island and which will not be subject to control by the Police Department’s “mano dura” or “tough hand,” strategy because the issue is social and economic and easily escapes punitive management.
“Crime is a symptom of the economic and social problems in the island and needs to be taken care of with economic policies of inclusion. The police are there to investigate the criminal activities [and] make arrests, period. The current ways will not put the brakes on the incidence of crime,” Gutiérrez said.
The criminologist said that the discussion about the superintendent’s lack of effectiveness in bringing down crime rates — criticism which cost former Superintendent Luis Figueroa Sancha his post — and slapping current Superintendent Emilio Díaz Colón in the face on a daily basis, are not as important as finding real solutions to solve crimes.
“For me the topic about who is superintendent is irrelevant, because this is not about a problem on how the Police [Department] is headed. Crime is managed with economic policies, social programs and inclusion,” he said.
Gutiérrez explained that the neoliberal economic policy implemented by the Fortuño administration since 2008 promotes a dynamic where the “internationals” increase their earnings, while the population a diminution in lifestyle.
Gutiérrez said that although there is an “evident pattern of increasing violence” on the island, the government insists on continuing a failed public policy “that is sustained in the punitive speech pushed by the more conservative sectors of the U.S. Republican Party.”
Cepeda, meanwhile, said that the anti-crime plan is the same one that has been used in the U.S. during the past four decades and has been a complete failure.
“If something has been proven by this anti-crime plan is that the criminalization policy and the tough measures policy don’t work. And in Puerto Rico this failure is evidenced in the high crime rates, violence, homicides and in the consolidation of drug trafficking as a buoyant economic activity.”
Cepedo said that the Strike Force plan announced in September that will process certain crimes in federal court rather than state court will most likely not work either.
“Hundreds of Strike Force operations have taken place in Puerto Rico with the participation of the police, federal drug enforcement agents; however we still have huge statistics on drug abusers, the same access to the drugs sales black market and the same weaknesses in the anti-crime policy,” Cepeda said.
“The ‘Angel Millones’ and ‘Junior Capsulas’ are reproduced every day in Puerto Rico especially in the economically disadvantaged sectors, where drugs promise to be the big economic jump,” he added.
He warned that public policies based on repression and tough measures end up generating more crimes.