Can Puerto Rico control the ongoing crime wave?
The answer to the question posed by the title of this column is—Yes! But immediately another question is posed—How? And there lies the problem.
There is no doubt that any human activity can be brought under control if the will to do it is strong enough and the desire, or the need to do it, is so overwhelming that the end justifies the means. That is the remedy of the problem.
Authoritarian governments rely on the principles that the end justifies the means. However, the strength of the democratic system is based on the principle that the end does not justify the means. In a democracy, the means to an end are as important as the end itself.
An example of the end justifying the means is when a dictator believes that in order to govern for the benefit of the community he must eliminate all opposition, and will thereby justify the assassination or incarceration of all his opponents. In a democracy, however, the president or highest elected official must try to convince a majority that what he intends to do will be to the benefit of the community. In doing so, he must allow the opposition to publicly express the reasons why they are against the government's plans, without punishing them for expressing their opposition.
Under a fascist or a communist dictatorship, the ruler or dictator could eliminate or substantially reduce illegal drug traffic in the community he rules by killing all suspected drug dealers. Through the absolute ruler's control of the media, a very thorough and extensive antidrug campaign could be carried out, justifying the assassination of all suspected illegal drug dealers.
Similar methods of control could be used by a dictator under a fascist or communist government to put an end to armed assaults at residences, armed robberies and rape of girls or boys by committing perpetrators of those acts to a life of hard labor in jobs that could help reduce government expenses. There again, the rulers could use the controlled media to justify the use of "kangaroo" courts to convict those accused of the designated crimes.
However, those of us who believe strongly in our democracy recoil at the use of such methods and will defend all our civil rights, as guaranteed by our Constitution. We must, therefore, look for means acceptable under our system of law and order to control or reduce the crime wave that is enveloping us.
There is no secret formula and no guarantee that any one method can help reduce murders, rapes and other vicious crimes. However, there are many ways in which we can help re-establish respect for others, respect for the law and respect for our police, prosecuting attorneys and judges. Obviously, nothing significant can be achieved without the commitment of the majority of our citizens to cooperate and support the plans and strategies proposed. In order to achieve our purpose, parents must cooperate by teaching their children and must be willing to participate in strategies and support the government. Among the decisions that should help, I would suggest that:
The Justice Department, the Police Department, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the FBI, the Supreme Court and the judiciary system in Puerto Rico, the federal court, the U.S. District Attorney's Office, the Puerto Rico and U.S. correctional systems and criminal psychologists and psychiatrists select representatives to meet and identify how each institution can contribute to help reduce and control crime, and what resources, human and otherwise, each institution would need to best carry out its responsibility. For instance, the judiciary system would commit itself to establishing and demanding respect in the courts, abstain from allowing defense lawyers to postpone trials at the last moment for unsubstantial reasons, and abstain from insulting and scolding police officers unnecessarily in open court. Much more can be achieved if the judge calls the police officer to his office and warns him not to behave inappropriately or do what the judge feels could be deemed inappropriate. The judiciary, especially our local judges, must commit to holding trials as soon as possible.
The government must prepare a plan to substantially expand the education of our children in the history and meaning of democracy, and the teaching of respect for our system of law and order. A plan for our teachers to educate our children as to their role in a democratic society should be prepared. What no longer is taught in many homes today must be taught in our schools. Unless we commit the human and economic resources to the teaching of democracy, the respect for authority as well as for law and order, and what the citizen's role in our community should be, we will never reduce or control our crime wave.
We must look at other cities and states of the union that have been able to reduce crime and improve the quality of life, and if necessary hire as consultants some of the people who have played central roles in successfully carrying out plans for reducing crime in other cities.
In addition, I specifically suggest we look to cities and states of the union because they have similar systems of law and more or less the same constitutional guarantees that we have to respect and abide by in Puerto Rico.
One of the most obvious examples of a city that has reduced criminal activity in the past two decades has been New York, under Mayor Rudy Giuliani. He should either be engaged as an adviser, or if he isn't available, he could recommend other capable candidates.
We do know, however, that one of his strategies for reducing crime in New York was to start enforcing the rules and laws which were meant to establish order in the city, and those that punished behavior that infringes upon the rights of law-abiding citizens. For example: enforcing parking laws or regulations such as no parking on one side of the street or no parking on sidewalks. Such behavior—parking on sidewalks and parking on a side of a street where parking wasn't allowed—affected the rights of other law-abiding citizens. Enforcement of those laws and regulations emphasized the necessity of respecting the rights of others.
In Puerto Rico, I have no doubt that enforcement of parking, drunk-driving and other similar laws would help establish a sense of respect for the law and for the rights of others. However, such enforcement would require a review of drunk-driving penalties. More severe penalties could be established for when drunk-driving offenders are caught but haven't caused injury to anyone. In such cases, cancellation of the person's driver's license for a specified time would make convictions much more likely.
There are many more such suggestions to help establish respect for law and order. But what about violent crime and illegal drug distribution? Well, to begin with, we need to impose and intensify teaching and training for those who would be involved in investigating violent crimes and pursuing dealers of illegal drugs. To begin with, although they can't be arrested without evidence, law enforcement agencies could put together a legally valid harassment plan to make drug dealing very uncomfortable at least, and that would induce dealers to make mistakes.
What is obvious is that controlling crime can't be done in a short time. It must be done, but to do it efficiently and meaningfully will take time, dedication, initiative and substantial resources. The question you must answer yourself is: Who would you trust to do the job—the New Progressive Party or the Popular Democratic Party?
Carlos Romero Barceló is a two-term former governor of Puerto Rico (1977-84), a two-term former resident commissioner (1993-2000) and a two-term former mayor of San Juan (1969-78). He was president of the New Progressive Party for 11 years. He is now a consultant involved in real estate, doing business as CRB Realty. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Comments on this article are welcome at caribbeanbusiness.pr. Go to Sign in link on the homepage to participate. Emails also may be sent to email@example.com.