For the last decade people of all kinds have been hurrying to leave the islands of Puerto Rico for the United States mainland. It makes sense; the island is saturated with debt, has had a rising cost of living, and isn’t a great place to find a job. These have mostly been the reasons people have given when they talk about why they left Puerto Rico in the past couple years.More often than not however, I’ve also seen people write that they left Puerto Rico because it wasn’t safe.
Crime has definitely been a problem for the island in the past. According to published data from the FBI, back in 2011 violent crime in Puerto Rico was at its peak with an average of 284 violent crimes per 100,000 residents and a record 1,164 homicides in that year. Considering Puerto Rico’s size and population, that is extremely high; in fact the only other states with more than 1,000 homicides that year were Texas and California. The U.S. Justice Department also was obliged to file a report that found widespread corruption, civil rights violations, and plenty of illegal killings in the island’s police force. “The streets of Puerto Rico at the time, especially in the San Juan metropolitan area, were essentially no man’s land,” said Carlos Cases, the current FBI special agent in charge of the island. It was so bad that the FBI, Justice Department, and other federal agencies flew in a slew of extra personnel to bring the crime wave under control.
Puerto Rico has felt the effects of a huge underground economy in drug trafficking and other illicit trade, which fueled the increase in violent crime. Puerto Rico, like many places in the Caribbean, could be a dangerous island paradise. But since 2011, it hasn’t been the model setting for your gritty island themed crime drama. The FBI meant business, and the Puerto Rican community (that hasn’t left) was fed up. Due to a massively increased police presence, new policing systems, and some serious community involvement, crime in Puerto Rico has dramatically dropped since 2011. According to the FBI’s 2014 report, all violent crime dropped 17 percent and homicides dropped by 40% in the three year period.
Dropping violent crime by 17% doesn’t make Puerto Rico a perfectly safe place, but now in 2015 it seems undeserving of this aura of danger that people still seem to associate with it. In fact, the rate of violent crime in Puerto Rico today is much lower than many U.S. states and has been dropping significantly. Even so, there still seems to be a misconception that Puerto Rico is far more dangerous than it actually is. Travel websites warn you to avoid the dangers of large cities and many people cite crime as a key reason for leaving the island. In part this maybe because it’s simply logical to assume that crime rates will rise as the Puerto Rican economy continues to fail.
Besides the debt problem, unemployment is very high and only 40% of Puerto Rican adults are actively in the labor market. A bad economy, significant inequality, and lots of unemployed people is a good recipe for a lot of crime. While Puerto Rico’s rate of homicides is still very high, it isn’t like it was in 2011, and the territory as a whole has a much lower crime rate than many U.S. states.
Puerto Rico isn’t a perfectly safe place but it doesn’t deserve the dangerous reputation it sometimes has been given.