* Report based on U.S. Justice Department investigation
* Police use "excessive" and "unreasonable" force - report
* U.S. territory grappling with surge in violent crime
SAN JUAN, Sept 8 Puerto Rico's police regularly
use excessive force, conduct illegal searches and commit other
rights violations while failing to curb drug-fueled crime in
the U.S. Caribbean territory, the U.S. Justice Department said
in a report released on Thursday.
The strongly worded, 116-page report offers sharp criticism
of the second-largest police force in the United States. Puerto
Rico, a U.S. commonwealth, has some 17,000 police officers.
The island is struggling to control soaring crime which
authorities say is tied to the illegal drug trade, with
killings on pace to set a record this year.
Law enforcement officials say Puerto Rico is a favored
trafficking route because of its status as a U.S. territory.
"Puerto Rico officials maintain that drug trafficking and
social deterioration are fueling the wave of violent crime,"
the report said. "However, increasing crime cannot be used to
justify continued civil rights violations or the failure to
implement meaningful reforms."
The report said it found police had engaged in a pattern of
unconstitutional stops, searches and arrests, at times using
"unreasonable" and "excessive" force.
"The Puerto Rico Police Department has deep and profound
problems," said Thomas Perez, director of the Justice
Department's Civil Rights Division.
Police have also failed to investigate sex crimes and
domestic violence and frequently discriminate against Puerto
Rico's sizable community of immigrants from the Dominican
Republic, the report said.
Information and data systems are inadequate, the report
said, hampering the police department's ability to fight crime
and keep track of violations by officers.
"The report confirms a breathtaking level of violence and
corruption," said Anthony Romero, executive director of the
American Civil Liberties Union, which has compiled reports of
abuses by the Puerto Rican police.
The Justice Department investigation was launched after a
police officer was caught on videotape shooting an unarmed man
and several other officers were arrested on charges of framing
A rise in corruption cases involving officers has also
tarnished the image of the police. More than 1,700 officers
were arrested on corruption charges between 2005 and 2010.
Frustrated by the force's inability to curb crime, Puerto
Rico Governor Luis Fortuno fired the island's top police
official in July. [ID:nN1E76104K]
Fortuno told reporters he agreed with the report's
findings, adding he had already moved to implement many of the
reforms it recommends.
"We recognize our failings. We are training the police to
respond to the problems shown in the report," he said.
(Reporting by Reuters in San Juan; Editing by Kevin Gray and