By Natalia A. Bonilla-Berrios
SAN JUAN — One hundred and thirty-three arrest warrants were issued yesterday by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in what is being described as the “largest police corruption investigation in the history of the FBI.”
Dubbed “Operation Guard Shack,” the two-year investigation netted Puerto Rico Police Department officers, former police officers, corrections officers, civilians and U.S. military personnel for corruption, drug trafficking and homicide charges.
FBI agents line up those arrested as part of the largest police corruption investigation in FBI history.
During a teleconference from Washington D.C. , United States Attorney General Eric Holder said that the arrests were of those individuals who participated in or helped to facilitate illegal drug transactions.
Holder said that 125 audio and video recordings show how officers violated the law by offering protection to drug dealers in drug transactions that were conducted by undercover agents. The officers arrested were involved in providing firearm protection to suspected drug traffickers. They received from $500 to $4,000 for each transaction.
“We will not allow the corrupt actions of a few to destroy the good work of so many. The people of Puerto Rico deserve better,” said Holder in the teleconference.
Puerto Rico is known as a bridge point for cocaine trafficking coming from Colombia and Peru into the United States.
Waves of indignation across the country
Governor Luis FortuÃ±o applauded the FBI’s effort to “eradicate criminality” in the police department under the command of Chief Jose Figueroa Sancha.
“We see it clearly. Here, we have two teams. One composed by federal and state agents that watches out for public order, who protects it with honesty, decency and peace; and another team that wants to break social order,” he explained.
Over 750 FBI agents participated in the arrests of 61 police officers, 16 municipal police officers, 12 corrections officers, three Puerto Rico National Guard soldiers, two U.S. Army officers, seven ex-police officers and 30 civilians.
The investigation, which started on July 26, 2008, finished on September 21, 2010.
“Honor was sold for drug money,” said Rosa Emilia Rodriguez, Puerto Rico’s U.S. Attorney, at a press conference.
The accusations come at a time when public opinion is still frazzled after learning of two Puerto Ricans who were killed accidentally by state police officers.
Before this incident, the biggest corruption operation registered on the Island was in 2001 when 32 policemen were arrested in an operation called “Honor Lost” where police officers who were protecting and trafficking drug shipments were arrested.
Recommendations to strengthen the Police Department
The federal authorities have released a series of recommendations to the Puerto Rican police department to curb any further cases of corruption within their ranks. They are:
To drastically change recruiting protocols so it is mandatory to identify the candidate’s penal history.
To periodically administer polygraph tests to all state police officers instead of just limiting it to the recruiting phase.
To efficiently address citizens’ complaints about abuses conducted by police officers.
To periodically subject each police officer to a behavior and performance evaluation to ensure his/her ongoing commitment to law enforcement.
Natalia A. Bonilla-Berrios is a journalism student at the University of Puerto Rico and a regular contributor to Latina Lista.
Puerto Rico’s Finest Get Caught: “Honor was sold for drug money”
By Natalia A. Bonilla-Berrios