Puerto Rico’s Top Cop Resigns Amid Rising Drug Violence

By Dirk Hanson 07/05/11

Drug killings made June the island's deadliest month on record.

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The dismal list of Spanish-speaking countries being overrun by drug trafficking just keeps getting longer. This time it’s Puerto Rico, where Police Superintendent Jose Figueroa Sancha has resigned his command of the 17,000-man force on the island in the wake of the deadliest month of drug killings on record. Like Panama, Cuba, and Jamaica, Puerto Rico has often served as a transit point for illegal drugs headed for the U.S. Now, with continued pressure on Mexican cartels, Puerto Rico has the added advantage of being a U.S. commonwealth. Travelers and goods that have passed through customs in Puerto Rico do not have to go through another U.S. Customs checkpoint upon arrival in the states.

Killings have risen steadily in Puerto Rico since Sancha, a 25-year veteran of the FBI, took office at the beginning of 2009, says AP. The 101 murders just tallied in June may have been the final straw for Sancha. Unspecified health problems were listed as reason for Sancha’s resignation, but the director of the ACLU in Puerto Rico complained that Sancha’s police force frequently resorted to brutality with citizens. Last year, FBI agents arrested 77 Puerto Rican officers in a corruption roundup aimed at rooting out police who aided and abetted drug traffickers. The New York Times lists 525 murders in Puerto Rico so far this year. New York City itself had 536 murders in all of 2010. “Now plagued by a steadily worsening murder rate, more Puerto Ricans are second-guessing their evening plans, contemplating moving to the mainland and sending away for gun permits in larger numbers to protect themselves,” says the Times article.

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Dirk Hanson, MA, is a freelance science writer and the author of The Chemical Carousel: What Science Tells Us About Beating Addiction. He is also the author of The New Alchemists: Silicon Valley and the Microelectronics Revolution. He has worked as a business and science reporter for numerous magazines and trade publications including Wired, Scientific American, The Dana Foundation and more. He currently edits the Addiction Inbox blog. Email: [email protected]