Why Puerto Rico Should Look to Uganda in the Fight Against Police Corruption

In October 2010, 61 Puerto Rico Police Department (PRPD) officers were arrested on charges related to corruption.  Specifically, the police were failing “to police sex crimes and incidents of domestic violence” and participating in “discriminatory policing practices that target individuals of Dominican descent.”  They also abused their power in conducting crowd control.  When nonviolent demonstrators were protesting the rise in university fees and government layoffs, the police responded by attacking anyone in the area with batons, pepper spray, and other forms of physical violence.  Dozens more of incidents are written in the nine-page annex, illustrating the depth of the problems that are occurring in PRPD.  A report issued by the United States Justice Department recommends “a court-enforceable agreement will provide the structure, transparency, and accountability that will be necessary to achieve sustainable reform.”

As the report notes, public outcry has spurred reform efforts, but it has not resulted in sustained efforts to reform the police department.  Due largely to concerns of police brutality, a cohesive civil society group has not yet formed to confront the saturation of corruption in Puerto Rico.  The current citizen participation in this issue has included sending letters in protest of police abuses to Puerto Rico officials and writing reports on civil rights violations.  While these actions are a necessary first step in helping to reform the police department, it may be helpful to consider a unified and organized approach that addressed police corruption in southwestern Uganda.

The Uganda Police Force has recently been singled out as the most corrupt institution in East Africa. Transparency International  gives the Uganda Police a rating of 80.8 on their bribery index; where a  score of zero would indicate no evidence of corruption and 100 complete corruption.  Ugandans, like Puerto Ricans, are also concerned about policeretaliation against actions to fight corruption, with the two biggest reasons for not reporting corruption as a lack of faith that action could be taken and fear of intimidation.

The actions civil society organizations in Uganda have taken are similar to those in Puerto Rico, including publishing information and training volunteers to spread their message. However, some Ugandan anti-corruption strategies have moved beyond solely raising awareness.

The National Foundation for Democracy and Human Rights in Uganda (NAFODU)  is well known to the residents of the Southwestern district of Kabale. In fact, the organization’s office located on the main street of the dusty town often serves as a village hub for support and information on citizen rights. The National Foundation for Democracy and Human Rights in Uganda (NAFODU) had grown increasingly concerned with reports of local police officials engaging in corrupt activities, mainly soliciting bribes. In 2009, the organization set forth a proposal to PTF to tackle corruption in Kabale’s police force. NAFODU’s approach relied not only on a call for public attention to the matter, but to strategically engage both stakeholders. Using its favorable connections in the community, NAFODU reached out to senior level police officials, informing them of the situation. Officials were alarmed that such actions had been taking place on their watch and vowed action. Simultaneously, NAFODU sought to build public trust and confidence in the police and to create a partnership with them to create reforms.  NAFODU used meetings for top police commanders, a police monitoring program, police ethics training workshops, and radio programs as activities to work with police officials to fight corruption.

If civil society in Puerto Rico can find an entry point to discussion with champions of reform from within the police force or local government, they may be able to employ some of the tactics used by NAFODU to root out corruption.

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