By Molly O'Toole
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Puerto Rico Police Department has used excessive force for years, violating the U.S. constitution and federal law, the Justice Department announced on Thursday.
The department released the findings of a three-year, independent investigation into a "pattern and practice of misconduct that violates the Constitution and federal law" begun in July 2008.
"The Puerto Rico Police Department is broken in a number of critical ways," said Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Thomas Perez.
"The problems are wide ranging and deeply rooted, and have created a crisis of confidence that makes it extremely difficult to develop police-community partnerships that are a cornerstone of effective policing."
Department attorneys and investigators and the Special Litigation Section of the Civil Rights Division conducted an in-depth review of Puerto Rican police practices and asked the community about problems that had been "present for many years and will take time to fix," according to Perez.
They found that police use excessive and unreasonable force and "other misconduct" to suppress the exercising of First Amendment rights and conduct unconstitutional stops, searches and arrests.
But they also uncovered "other serious concerns;" troubling evidence that police often fail to adequately investigate and document sex crimes and incidents of domestic violence.
The department also found that police engaged in policing practices that discriminate against individuals of Dominican descent.
The root of the problems is a lack of guidance on lawful policing, tactical units spawning "violent subcultures" and a wide lack of accountability, according to the findings.
The federal government department said it would seek a court-enforceable agreement and work with the island's police, Governor Luis Fortuno and the government of Puerto Rico, and Police Superintendent Emilio Diaz Colon to develop and implement a reform plan to address the violations, according to the statement.
(Editing by Greg McCune)