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National Guard to Assist Puerto Rico Police

By Army Staff Sgt. Jim Greenhill
Special to American Forces Press Service

ARLINGTON, Va., Feb. 4, 2010 – About 1,000 National Guard members will assist Puerto Rico’s police for up to a year while new police recruits are trained.

Four classes of police recruits are expected to graduate this year.

“As we integrate these new police … the National Guard will help in the preventive patrol jointly with the police in high-crime areas and to update our fleet of police vehicles," Gov. Luis G. Fortuño said in his state of the commonwealth speech Feb. 1.

On the same day, the governor signed an executive order activating his National Guard.

“Once that large bulk of cadets are graduated, then the need for large-scale help from the National Guard will no longer be required,” said Army Capt. Paul Dahlen, the Puerto Rico National Guard’s public affairs officer.

After Hurricane Katrina, the Louisiana National Guard’s Joint Task Force Gator supported the New Orleans Police Department at the direction of the state’s governor. Army Maj. Michael Kazmierzak told American Forces Press Service that the support Task Force Gator provided was "precedent-setting," and he said it set a new standard for future National Guard support missions.

From June 2006 through February 2009, the Guardsmen helped the New Orleans police make more than 8,000 arrests. "They performed spectacularly," Kazmierzak said. "They demonstrated exactly what the National Guard is here for."

Dahlen said the Puerto Rico National Guard is well-trained and ready for its latest mission. Soldiers and airmen are scheduled to receive refresher training with territorial police starting this weekend. “The majority of our soldiers have taken it before,” he said.

About 100 National Guard mechanics will work on police vehicles, Dahlen said. That mission is similar to assistance provided to the Border Patrol during Operation Jump Start from 2006 to 2008. The Border Patrol credited Guard members who worked on their vehicles with freeing up Border Patrol agents to return to the border with Mexico.

Operation Jump Start was similar to the current situation in Puerto Rico in that the National Guard was called up to assist the Border Patrol while new agents were recruited and trained.

Puerto Rico’s police patrol in pairs. Dahlen said National Guard members will be paired with police officers on patrol, freeing other officers up for additional patrols. “The intent is to enlarge the scope of police [officers] throughout the island,” he said.

“The aim of this initiative is to give immediate safety to people in the street,” Fortuño said during a news conference.

The Puerto Rico National Guard has provided support to the territory’s police in the 1990s and again in 2004, Dahlen said. “We’re glad to help out our fellow agency in Puerto Rico,” he said. “We’re always ready for whatever mission our governor has for us.”

(Army Staff Sgt. Jim Greenhill serves at the National Guard Bureau.)

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