Law enforcement to beef up security in tourist zones following weekend incidents
As the newest Executive Order establishing the conditions for Puerto Rico residents and visitors to manage the COVID-19 pandemic takes effect today, members of the government’s security team will hold an emergency meeting to craft a response to an escalating number of violent incidents mostly involving tourists in and around San Juan.
Puerto Rico Police Commissioner Antonio López-Figueroa, made a plea with locals to contact authorities the moment they see an incident occur, stating that sometimes police see videos of events involving tourists posted on social media when it is too late to intervene.
He added that there would be rigorous police presence throughout the island during Easter to enforce compliance.
López also confirmed that since the start of the pandemic, there have been more than 1,000 arrests and more than 3,600 citations for not following the Executive Orders. He did not specify how many of these arrests and citations were issued to locals versus how many were issued to tourists.
Meanwhile, San Juan Mayor Miguel Romero met Sunday with officials from the city’s police department to address increased incidents of fights, indecency, and violations of COVID-19 protocols among tourists, especially in the areas of Old San Juan, Condado, Miramar, and Santurce.
“Our instructions are clear — incompliance of the Executive Order adopted in virtue of the pandemic will not be tolerated,” said Romero during the meeting.
“Whoever doesn’t know how to behave themselves, it’s best that they don’t come [to San Juan], because our municipal police are going to be acting to the fullest extent,” he said, adding he will be contacting the courts to see how expedited citations can be issued to tourists during police interventions.
While announcing the latest changes to the island’s Executive Order late last week, Gov. Pedro Pierluisi reminded tourists that they are expected to follow local laws while visiting.
“We’re requiring the use of a mask in commercial establishments, and actually pretty much everywhere,” Pierluisi said.
He also stressed upon the islandwide curfew, saying “it applies from midnight until 5 a.m. During those hours tourists shouldn’t be circulating, they shouldn’t be outside…they need to be home within those hours.”
In an attempt to help relay the governor’s message, the Puerto Rico’s Tourism Company launched a prevention campaign, in English, over the weekend to inform tourists on current protocols.
The campaign features massive digital billboards and bus shelters in areas most frequented by tourists. These advertisements explain that not using a mask results in a $100 fine, while the consequence for being out during the curfew is a $5,000 fine or six months of jail time.
When asked if the police should punish tourists who don’t comply, Pierluisi said the police can and should warn, intervene, fine, or even arrest any person who violates the executive order, including those who aren’t residents.
“There are no exceptions here,” he said. “We cannot have distinctions between people who permanently reside in Puerto Rico and those who visit us. We should treat everyone equally…If they [the tourists] disobey and challenge authority the police can intervene.”
Education vs. enforcement
During the press conference to announce the changes, Pierluisi said that on Mar. 10 he met with the executive director of Puerto Rico’s Tourism Company as well as the executive director of the island’s destination marketing organization, Discover Puerto Rico.
He confirmed that the strategy they discussed was based on education, “making sure that tourists were adequately informed” about current restrictions and notifying them through disclaimers in booking platforms that they must follow said restrictions.
The Tourism Co. invested $230,000 to establish a new information center at the Luis Munoz Marin International Airport, and is running 10 additional information centers throughout the island. The company’s representatives are also distributing pamphlets with information about the executive order to all passengers arriving at the Carolina air hub.
“With this additional tourist orientation effort, we’re focused on harmonizing hospitality and the qualities that characterize us as excellent hosts, offering them the precise tools so that they are well informed about the rules and protocols that they should follow in Puerto Rico and enjoy a pleasant stay,” said Tourism Co. Executive Director Carlos Mercado.
When asked for a comment on the governor’s statements regarding tourism and its position on the matter, Discover Puerto Rico’s Public Affairs Director, Anamari Caratini, said “Discover Puerto Rico has been highlighting the pent-up demand that has been building, for those who have been unable to travel but are still dreaming of their next vacation, through our campaign ‘It’s Time to Plan’.”
“While we have seen that some tourists have shown unacceptable conduct, our focus has been inspiring responsible travelers by positioning Puerto Rico as a safe destination while keeping the brand top of mind and sharing the amazing experiences that await travelers when they are able to visit Puerto Rico. We continue to update our public facing messaging to inform and educate travelers about on-island measures,” she said.