Crime Rises in Puerto Rico After Hurricane Maria

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More than a month after Hurricane Maria wrecked the island, Puerto Rico’s overwhelmed police force of 13,000 officers is struggling to contain crime, just as before, but now with longer shifts, against emboldened criminals and on streets cloaked in darkness, the Miami Herald reports. “It’s easier to burglarize — there’s no alarms, no phone systems. It’s dark. The delinquents are taking advantage of the crisis that Puerto Rico is in,” said police officer Heriberto Soto, during a night patrol that included calls for a robbery shooting, homeless men torching the outsides of stolen cables to steal the copper inside and and a high-speed car chase of suspected gunmen. The future for law enforcement on the island is bleak. The department has lost about 4,000 officers in the past five years and, because of the island’s economic crisis, cannot count on fresh recruits anytime soon.

Hundreds of U.S. Army soldiers, outside law-enforcement officers and private security guards are helping temporarily, but robberies, murders and drug dealing have resumed at levels that would seem outrageous in mainland states but are tragically normal here. In the month since Maria ravaged the island, there have been no fewer than 34 murders. Crime has largely returned to pre-storm levels, said Puerto Rico police superintendent Héctor Pesquera. Puerto Rico’s crime rate has been largely “out of sight, out of mind” for years in the eyes of mainland authorities, who have given the island’s law-enforcement community precious few resources, he said. “We were in really dire shape before the storm,” Pesquera said, of his staffing levels. “Now, certainly, we’re not going to be in any better position. In fact, it’s going to be the opposite.” Crime in Puerto Rico, long an issue, has been exacerbated by a $74 billion debt crisis that left state institutions in shambles, hundreds of thousands unemployed and many residents leaving the island for Florida and other states.

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