In Puerto Rico, people usually refer to crime as a violation of criminal law from the juridical point of view. They define crime as criminal behavior in a determined time and space. Nevertheless, from a criminology point of view, focusing exclusively on the legal definition of crime creates many problems. One of them is that that particular concept of crime excludes other acts of violation, such as human rights, that are not categorized by law as offenses. These include discriminatory practices of exclusion in the public and private sectors, as well as crimes perpetuated by the State, like persecution for political reasons and the abuse and torture of prisoners, etc.
The Statistics of Crime
Generally, Puerto Rico`s crime rate is established according to statistic analysis of Group A Offenses. The Puerto Rico Police gathers data and organizes it in accordance with a system of classification of criminal categories used by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). In this system, crimes are classified in two main categories: Group A Offenses (murder and homicide, robbery, rape, aggravated assault, breaking and entering, illegal appropriation and motor vehicle theft) and Group 8 Offenses, which include all other violations. This means that the official reports on crime are limited to those seven mentioned above, failing to recognize the ones in Group B. This general practice has been in effect since the 1930s.
In the year 2000, however, a new system of classification and information was implemented: the National Incident Based Reporting System (NIBRS). Today, the Puerto Rico Police has an Office of Crime Statistics whose main function is to administer, gather, analyze, revise, register, and control the statistical data based on submitted incident reports. This new system includes 41 categories, 31 of them in Group A offenses and 10 in Group B offenses.
In 1960, Puerto Rico had a population of 2, 359,800 inhabitants and registered a crime rate of 33,272 Group A offenses. This reflected a rate of 1,410 criminal events for each 100,000 inhabitants. Of them, 19.4% were crimes of personal violence and 80.6% were crimes against property. At that time, one out of every 71 inhabitants on the Island was at risk of becoming a crime victim.
By 1970 the population had increased to 2, 712,033 inhabitants and the crime rate reached 66,470 Group A offenses, with a rate of 2,451 incidents for every 100,000 inhabitants. Crimes of personal violence increased to 21.3% and one of every 40 inhabitants was at risk of becoming a victim.
For 1980, statistics reflected a constant increase in crime. The population increased to 3, 196,520 Inhabitants and the crime rate showed a rise of about 50%, with 2,884 Group A offenses for every 100,000 inhabitants. The 1980”s were characterized by an increase in crimes related to drugs, firearms, murders and robberies.
In 1990, with a population of 3, 522,037 inhabitants, 124,371 Group A offenses, were reported, representing yet another increase of almost 50%. That year”s crime rate was of 3,531 Group A offenses for every 100,000 inhabitants, that is, an increase of almost 700 cases. The level of risk was one victim for every 29 inhabitants. In 1992, the incidence of reported offenses reached an unprecedented height: 128,874 incidents, with 3,600 Group A offenses for every 100,000 inhabitants. Starting in 1994, authorities began to inform a reduction in Group A offenses. However, such data has been questioned, especially due to overt manipulation of criminal statistics by the Puerto Rico Police; a procedure that became a common governmental practice after the mid 1990s.
Of all the social statistics, those relating to crime are the least reliable because, besides manipulation, there are hidden figures: those that authorities do not know about or are not officially registered. Many violations of criminal laws are not detected or are not reported. On other occasions, they are detected and reported but the authorities do not take any action. Moreover, official crime statistics usually inform only conventional crime and exclude non-conventional violations like white collar crimes, corporate crimes, and transnational crimes, among others
Beyond the reported statistics, criminologists point out that Puerto Rican society has become criminalized in a fast and alarming way. Crimes also tend to be more violent. There are more young criminals and victims every day.
For example, a study conducted by the Center for the Prevention of Young Hispanic Violence of the University of Puerto Rico revealed that homicide was the number one cause of death in Puerto Rico among young people between the ages of 15 and 29. The study, published in April 7, 2006 in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly
Report of the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC), began with the analysis of death certificates, and covered the period from 1999 to 2003. Of the 3,613 homicides 2,303, (64%) were of people under 30. Of these, 2,148 (939×7 of the victims were male.
The study concludes that between 1990 and 1999, the risk of death by homicide in Puerto Rico was one of the highest in the world, with a rate of 23.2% homicides for every 100,000 inhabitants, in contrast with the global rate of 10.7% for every 100,000 inhabitants.
In the United States, the rate of deaths by homicide for people 15 to 29 decreased from 21.6% for every 100,000 inhabitants, in 1993, to 13.4% in 2003. It is the second cause of death among young people in the U.S.; while in Puerto Rico it still constitutes the primary cause
Geographical distribution of crimes of violence
Traditionally, crime rates have been higher in the six municipalities that constitute the Metropolitan Area: San Juan, Bayamón, Carolina, Cataño, Guaynabo and Trujillo Alto. That tendency seems to be changing. In the beginning of the 1990s 60% of the murders took place in the Metropolitan Area. Although San Juan and Ponce are the municipalities with the highest number of murders per year, Loíza and Cataño have the highest crime rates.
The geographical distribution of violence in Puerto Rico seems very uneven, in comparison with other countries. While the municipality of Loíza presents homicide rates that are very superior to those in Colombia; Las Marías, Camuy, or Lajas present rates that are lower than the rates of Costa Rica and have rates similar to Portugal”s.
Real or apparent crime?
Although police authorities have pointed out that Puerto Rico”s crime rate has decreased in the last years, the veracity of official crime statistics should be questioned. Despite manipulation, the exclusion of white collar crimes and cases of political corruption, Puerto Rico”s crime rate continues to be one of the highest in the world.
Social Sciences Departament
University of Puerto Rico-Río Piedras
Autor: Proyectos FPH
Published: January 16, 2008.
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