In Puerto Rico, it is common to hear the term crimen (crime) used as a synonym for delito (crime)-, that is, as an act or omission that, from the legal point of view, signifies the violation of a criminal law. Criminalidad (criminality) is understood to mean the set of criminal behaviors committed at given times and places. But from the criminological point of view, starting exclusively from the legal definition of crimen (delito) raises several difficulties. One is that both the concept of crime and the concept of criminality exclude other acts that involve violations of derechos humanos (human rights), and these are often not classified as crimes under the law.
To understand the crime rate, in general, in Puerto Rico one begins with an analysis of the statistical data on what are known as Type I crimes. This data is collected by the Policía de Puerto Rico (Puerto Rico Police) based on the crime classification system used in the uniform crime reports of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). In this system, crimes are classified in two main categories: Type I Crimes (certain crimes that must be reported) and Type II Crimes (arrests for crimes of other kinds). Type I crimes include murder and homicide, robbery, rape, aggravated assault, burglary, theft and auto theft. Type I crimes do not give a proper idea of the state of criminality, since they are limited to these seven types of crimes, which were selected in the 1930s as the ones most likely to be reported.
In the year 2000, a new system of reporting the crime rate in Puerto Rico began to be implemented: the Sistema Nacional de Información Basado en Incidentes (National Incident-Based Reporting System, NIBRS) for the Puerto Rico jurisdiction. There is an office within the Puerto Rico police, the Oficina de Estadísticas de la Criminalidad (Criminal Statistics Office), whose principal function is to administer, gather, analyze, review, register and oversee the statistical data based on the incident reports that are submitted. This system has 41 categories, 31 of them Class A and 10 of them Class B crimes, none of which were used as indicators of criminality in past decades. A study published by the Oficina de Asuntos de la Juventud (Office of Juvenile Affairs) in 2002 pointed out that “these changes have produced informational disconnects that are difficult to understand, as they do not agree with the public perception of crime.”
In 1960, Puerto Rico had a population of 2,359,800 inhabitants and an incidence of 33,272 Type I crimes was reported. [Tabla 1] This reflected a rate of 1,410 Type I crimes per 100,000 inhabitants. Of the 33,272 Type I crimes, 19.4 percent were personal violence crimes and 80 percent were crimes against property. At that historical moment, one of every 71 inhabitants in Puerto Rico was at risk of being the victim of a crime.
In 1970, the population had increased to 2,712,033 inhabitants, and the crime rate had doubled to 66,470 Type I crimes, with a rate of 2,451 Type I crimes for each 100,000 inhabitants. Personal violence crimes increased to 21.3 percent and, according to official statistics, by 1970, one in every 40 inhabitants was at risk of becoming a victim.
For 1980s, stadistics reflected a constant increase in crime. The population increased to 3,196,520 inhabitans and the crime rate showed a rise about 50%, with 2,884 Group A offenses for every 100,000 inhabitans. The 1980`s were characterized by an increase in crimes related to drugs, firearm, murders and robberies.
In 1990, with a population of 3,522,037 inhabitants, Puerto Rico had a crime rate of 124,371 Type I crimes [Tabla 1], which reflected an increase of almost 50 percent. The rate of criminality for that year was 3,531 Type I crimes for each 100,000 inhabitants, that is, an increase of almost 700 Type I crimes. The proportion of personal violence crimes increased to 24.1 percent and the level of risk reached one victim per 29 inhabitants. In 1992, the incidence of reported crimes reached an unprecedented level: 128,874, with a rate of 3,600 Type I crimes per 100,000 inhabitants. Beginning in 1994, a reduction in Type I crimes was reported. Even so, the data has been questioned, especially based on reports of manipulation of the crime statistics by the Puerto Rico Police, especially from the mid-1990s.
In 2000, a crime rate of 75,379 Type I crimes was reported, which would be about 40 percent lower than the numbers for 1990. That occurred despite evidence of an increase in the population of 8.1 percent. In 2002, there was an increase in the crime rate in comparison with the previous year: 90,790 Type I crimes. Beginning with the year 2003, the Puerto Rico Police reported a slight reduction in Type I crimes.
There is some doubt about the official statistics for crime in Puerto Rico. Of all the social statistics, the statistics on crime are the least reliable, as in addition to the possibility of manipulation, there is what is known as “the hidden crime numbers,” – the number of crimes that do not come to the attention of the authorities or which are not registered officially. Many violations of the criminal laws are not detected; sometimes they are detected but not reported, and others are detected and reported, but the authorities take no action. In addition, the official crime statistics usually report what is called conventional crime and exclude unconventional crime such as delitos de cuello blanco (white collar crime), corporate crime and criminalidad transnacional (transnational crime), and so forth.
Though criminality in Puerto Rico has shown a slight reduction in the last decade, criminological analysts inPuerto Rico point out that Puerto Rican society has been criminalizing faster and alarmingly. In addition, detected criminal acts are more and more violent and are involving more and more young people, both as criminals and as victims.
A study carried out by the Centro para la Prevención de la Violencia Juvenil Hispana de la Universidad de Puerto Rico (Hispanic Youth Violence Prevention Center of the University of Puerto Rico) revealed that homicide was the primary cause of death in Puerto Rico for young people between the ages of 15 and 29. The study, published on April 7, 2006, in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) began with the analysis of death certificates and covered the period of from 1999 to 2003. In the United States, the death rate for homicide for the group from 15 to 29 declined from 21.6 in 1993 to 13.4 in 2003 for every 100,000 inhabitants of this age group. This is the second most important cause of death in that age range in the US, while in Puerto Rico, it was the first cause of death for that sector of the population. 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 deaths by homicide for each 100,000 inhabitants, in contrast with the world rate of 10.7 per 100,000 inhabitants.
From 1999 to 2003, of the 3,613 homicides in Puerto Rico, 2,303 (64 percent) occurred among persons whose age was less than 30. Of those homicides, 2,148 (93 percent) of the victims were male. The increase among young people from 15 to 29 was 49.8 homicides in 1999 to 54.1 in 2003 for each 100,000 people in that group. Most of the homicides were committed with firearms. (See chart1)
Traditionally, the crime rate in Puerto Rico has been greater in the six municipalities that make up the San Juan Metropolitan Area: San Juan, Bayamón, Carolina, Cataño, Guaynabo and Trujillo Alto. This tendency seems to be changing in the present decade. At the beginning of the 1990s, 60 percent of the murders took place in the metropolitan area. Though San Juan and Ponce are the municipalities with the greatest number of murders per year, Loíza and Cataño are the ones with the highest murder rates. The municipalities with the highest such rates are in the Metropolitan Area, the East and the South. (see Table 3 and Table 4) [Tabla 3- Municipios].
The geographical distribution of violence in Puerto Rico seems very uneven, in comparison with other countries. While the municicpality of Loíza presents homicide rates that are much higher 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 criminality or apparent criminality?
Though police officials have indicated that there has been a reduction in criminal activity in Puerto Rico in recent years, the truth of the official crime statistics has been questioned. To the above it must be added that that there are types of criminal activity that are little reported or represented in the statistics: so-called institutional violence (which is effected by constituted authority through any of its agencies or representatives) and institutionalized violence (abuse of minors, the aged, and undocumented persons, among others). The crime statistics exclude these, as they do so-called white-collar crime and administrative corruption in the higher spheres of government and private enterprise. Even so, the crime rate in Puerto Rico continues to be among the highest in the world, as indicated in a report by INTERPOL published by COPREVI (Comisión para la Prevención de la Violencia, The Commission for the Prevention of Violence) and by the newspaper El Nuevo Día on Tuesday, July 11, 2006.
Author: Dra. Lina Torres
Published: September 16, 2014.
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