Municipal police in Puerto Rico will now receive training on how to handle cases of intimate partner violence, according to a new measure signed into law by Gov. Wanda Vázquez earlier this month. The signing of Proyecto del Senado 1174 (P.S. 1174) came just one day after Type Investigations and GEN published a yearlong investigation into how the Puerto Rican government has failed to attend the island’s domestic violence crisis.
“As we continue to educate our public officials, they’ll be useful tools in all corners of our island to be prevention agents, saving the lives of our victims, and therefore, the emotional stability of hundreds of families,” Vázquez said in a press release.
The new measure signed by Gov. Vázquez applies to municipal police departments in Puerto Rico’s 78 towns. Each department functions independently from each other and from the Puerto Rico Police Department (PRPD), according to the 1977 law that created them. PRPD currently is under a 2013 consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice after a civil rights lawsuit accused the department of excessive use of force, unconstitutional searches, and failing to adequately investigate cases of intimate partner violence. The consent decree, which in part requires that PRPD officers receive domestic violence training, doesn’t extend to municipal police. P.S. 1174 aims to close that knowledge gap. Women’s Advocate Lersy Boria has been tasked with creating and implementing training for municipal officers and all other staff in these precincts by October. Every year, municipal police will be required to take an eight-hour workshop on domestic violence prevention, handling of these cases, and proper investigation techniques, among other topics.
The joint investigation highlighted the myriad issues facing the PRPD; from mishandling domestic violence cases and failing to enforce protective orders, to the sheer number of abusers within the force. Advocates have largely been skeptical of the effectiveness of domestic violence training over the past couple of years. “It’s not like you can take an eight-hour workshop and suddenly become an expert in gender violence,” Vilma González, executive director of the women’s rights coalition Coordinadora Paz para la Mujer told Type Investigations and GEN at the time of the original investigation.
Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory, has long struggled with an epidemic of violence against women. Our investigation found that domestic violence murders skyrocketed after Hurricane Maria. The intimate murder rate soared to 1.7 per 100,000 women, up from 0.77 per 100,000 in 2017. Advocates fear the cascading crises in the island—austerity measures related to the debt crisis, a series of devastating earthquakes, the coronavirus pandemic—are making victims in the island even more vulnerable, and have called on the government to take action.
On September 4, 2019, Gov. Vázquez issued a national alert putting public agencies on notice, and requesting they take intimate partner violence seriously. As part of the alert, her administration created a working group tasked with drafting a plan to fight gender violence in the island. Several feminist organizations have since left the working group, saying the efforts did not feel serious. A source with knowledge of the meetings said that there has been little focus on systemic flaws; instead, some suggestions feel misguided. One of the ideas floated in the meetings was the creation of an education campaign against reggaetón, the urban music genre. Organizations still involved in the discussions include government officials, religious representatives, civic associations, and organizations that offer victim services.
Nearly 11 months after the creation of the working group, no draft of their plan has been made public.