The US Department of Justice has arrested more than a dozen Puerto Rico Police Department officers on corruption charges, claiming they were taking part in a "criminal organization, run out of the police department.”
According to CNN, Justice Department prosecutors indicted 16 current and former police officers on Thursday, stating they "used their affiliation with law enforcement to make money through robbery, extortion, manipulating court records and selling illegal narcotics.”
As noted by Reuters, drug division officers from three separate areas were part of the arrests. Some officers allegedly offered armed protection to drug dealers in exchange for bribes. Others reportedly planted evidence against innocent individuals before extorting them for money and release. US Attorney Rosa Emilia Rodriguez-Velez, meanwhile, said officers also arrested civilians and confiscated drugs that were later sold illegally.
The suspects "not only betrayed the citizens they were sworn to protect, they also betrayed the thousands of honest, hard-working law enforcement officers who risk their lives every day to keep us safe,” she told Fox News.
If convicted, the officers could land in jail on life sentences.
The recently announced arrests are yet another blow to a police force that many groups, including the Justice Department, have criticized for various drug- and corruption-related reasons. In 2010, federal officials detained scores of Puerto Rican police in what was billed then as the largest corruption case in FBI history. A total of 130 arrests were made, 89 of which were law enforcement officials.
In a statement by the Justice Department, officials claimed that officers were providing armed protection for drug dealers.
"In exchange for their security services during the undercover drug transactions, the defendants, a majority of whom are law enforcement officers, received payments ranging from $500 to $4,500 per transaction," the statement read.
The next year, a Justice Department survey found the Puerto Rico Police Department (PRPD) guilty of regularly violating civil liberties and exhibiting behavior that left it “broken in a number of critical and fundamental respects.” According to the New York Times, the report said police often used excessive force, even lethal force, at times “when no force or lesser force was called for.”
“Unfortunately, far too many PRPD officers have broken their oath to uphold the rule of law, as they have been responsible for acts of crime and corruption and have routinely violated the constitutional rights of the residents of Puerto Rico,” the report stated, as quoted by the Times.
In 2012, a separate investigation into the PRPD by the American Civil Liberties Union concluded it was "a dysfunctional and recalcitrant police force that has run amok for years."
In July 2013, the Justice Department reached an agreement with Puerto Rico that would instate tougher rules, establish better recruitment and training practices, and potentially help reduce violence and corruption in the department. According to Reuters, the deal would take 10 years to enact and cost about $200 million.