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Police Occupation in PR Housing Projects

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  • Police Occupation in PR Housing Projects

    Skepticism reigns among public housing residents

    Wednesday, October 23rd, 2002.

    By Proviana Colon Diaz of WOW News

    One day after police agents took over three public housing projects in Rio Piedras, residents were skeptical of a long-term commitment to ensure their safety.

    “Let’s see how long it lasts this time. . .let’s see if what they did yesterday [Monday] is not another show,” said a Monte Hatillo public housing resident.

    Several residents of the housing projects Monte Hatillo, Monte Park, and Los Flamboyanes, now strongly guarded by police, agreed to speak with WOW News on Tuesday provided they not be identified.

    After expressing their impressions of Monday’s action, which most described as “very organized,” the overall concern of those interviewed seemed to be how long the security measures will last.

    Acknowledging that this is not the first time agents have raided their public housing projects, residents argued that they are tired of unfulfilled promises of controlled access in and out of their homes.

    “If all entrances but one are closed, and vehicles of residents are identified properly, nothing would happen here because those who come to make trouble here are not residents. Those who live here, don’t bother us,” said a young mother of three.

    While there were some residents who defended Monday’s action, there were others who criticized it, describing it as a show because the agents now assigned to the project were “doing nothing but sitting around when not giving parking tickets.”

    WOW News witnessed the truth of this account, especially in Monte Park, where agents, sometimes as many as six, could be seen sitting in a gazebo chatting, while others were concentrating on giving traffic violation tickets to those entering and leaving the project.

    One such case occurred when a lady was asked to hand over her license and registration. Aware that her driver’s license was expired, authorities allowed her into Monte Park; passage, however, was denied when she tried to leave.

    Monday’s raid is the first of such operations to be conducted by Gov. Sila Calderon’s administration.

    Upon presenting her administration’s anti-crime plan in March, Calderon said she would not criminalize the humble people of the public housing projects. She also criticized Gov. Pedro Rossello’s “tough hand against crime” policy.

    However, Monday’s police raid on the three public housing projects of Rio Piedras was extremely similar to those executed by the previous administration.

    Helicopters flew over the area, hundreds of agents raided the places, and several arrest warrants were executed, just as was done during the previous administration. The obvious difference was the absence of the Puerto Rico National Guard.

    But La Fortaleza Chief of Staff Cesar Miranda did not see any similarities. On the contrary, he said the operations were “dramatically different.”

    “There is no military involved, nor did the takeover interfere in the lives of all the residents. What we have here is an action aimed at attacking crime,” Miranda told The Associated Press.

    Miranda added that the government now acts with “utmost respect and is aimed first at the safety and dignity of the people.”

    But La Fortaleza chief of staff’s impression seems to be radically different from that of San Juan Area Police Inspector Humberto De Leon, who is the operation supervisor during the day shift.

    A 30-year veteran of the force, De Leon said the only difference between Monday’s raid and those conducted during the previous administration was the “considerably smaller” number of agents taking part in the raid.

    “There are fewer resources, and they took more time to plan this,” said De Leon.

    Still the second phase of Monday’s raid, which began Tuesday, is very similar to the modus operandi of the operations carried out under the Rossello administration in that the government agencies go back to begin fixing existing problems.

    WOW News witnessed brigades of Puerto Rico Electrical Power Authority personnel replacing light bulbs in several Monte Park street lamps.

    Meanwhile, De Leon declined to specify how many agents were assigned to work in the takeover but said part of the second phase includes an evaluation of the number of agents in the projects.

    The veteran agent was also reluctant to predict how long the takeover of the projects would last.

    “This will work out for the good of the residents, but this is a long-term process,” De Leon said.