SAN JUAN (Reuters) - Puerto Rico’s top police official resigned Saturday as the U.S. Caribbean territory battles a crime wave with killings on pace to set a record this year.
Police Superintendent Jose Figueroa Sancha, a 25-year FBI veteran who took over the police department in January 2009, said he stepped down because of health reasons but acknowledged criticism over spiraling crime.
“Regardless of the criticism that may come from politically motivated sectors, the development and future of the people of Puerto Rico will be closely related to the work being done by our police,” he said in statement.
Figueroa Sancha’s resignation comes as Puerto Rico saw its deadliest month on record in June with 101 killings compared to 84 in June 1994, the second most violent on record, according to police statistics. Twenty-nine people were killed in one weekend alone.
Last year, 955 killings were reported, just short of the island’s record of 995 in 1994. So far this year, 568 killings have been recorded.
Much of the island’s violent crime is tied to the illegal drug trade. Law enforcement authorities say Puerto Rico is a favored trafficking route because of its status as a U.S. commonwealth.
Once drugs reach the island, they can be smuggled to the U.S. mainland aboard airplanes or ships without having to pass through a U.S. customs checkpoint.
Authorities say they are bracing for an increase in trafficking through the Caribbean after a crackdown on drug routes through Mexico.
Puerto Rico Governor Luis Fortuno named retired Colonel Jose Luis Rivera as interim police superintendent.
Editing by Kevin Gray and Xavier Briand