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Puerto Rico police unions call for ouster of public safety secretary

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San Juan, Puerto RicoAs Puerto Rico faces a wave of violent crime, law enforcement union leaders on the island are demanding that Gov. Ricardo Rosselló fire Public Safety Secretary Héctor Pesquera.

"If the governor does not take the decision that the people want, he will be completely responsible for the misfortunes, killings and bloodshed in our island," police union representative Sgt. Gregorio Matías told CBS News.

Matías and other Puerto Rican law enforcement union leaders traveled to the Capitol in San Juan on Wednesday to call for Pesquera's ouster. Matías called Pesquera an incompetent leader and accused him of demoralizing Puerto Rico's law enforcement agencies during an already trying time.

The Puerto Rico Department of Public Safety oversees the island's police departments, firefighters, forensics institute, medical corps, and emergency and disaster management units, as well as the local investigations bureau. Its secretary serves at the discretion of the governor. 

A spokesperson for the governor's office didn't respond to CBS News' requests for comment, and Pesquera canceled an interview with CBS News that was scheduled for Wednesday. 

Over the past weeks, mounting crime and gang violence — including murders captured on camera in broad daylight — have beset Puerto Rico, which is still recovering from the devastation of two powerful hurricanes and reeling from years of economic instability. 

Douglas Leff, the top FBI official in Puerto Rico, told CBS News the island is facing a "crisis of violence" fueled by drug trafficking and gang turf wars. 

One San Juan resident said he has noticed a change when it comes to crime.

"The pillos have no shame anymore," said José Pacheco, a car technician, referring to delinquents by a term used locally. "They know there aren't many police officers around now. They no longer wait until it's dark to kill someone."

Some residents have leveled heavy criticism against Gov. Rosselló's administration, saying it has not deployed enough police officers on the streets.

Matías, who is still an active-duty officer, said the Puerto Rican police force has been decimated in the last couple of months as many officers have left to the mainland with their families to look for work with better pay and benefits. 

"Because no one listens to their concerns, officers are resigning. Approximately 1,200 officers left the force last year and are now working in the (mainland) U.S.," Matías said. "There is no future for a police officer in Puerto Rico. They have no medical or retirement benefits."

The island's Resident Commissioner and non-voting member of Congress Jenniffer González asked the Homeland Security and Justice departments on Wednesday to increase their "law enforcement capabilities and personnel" in Puerto Rico to address a "sense of impunity and lawfulness" among the approximately 3.2 million U.S. citizens in the territory.  

"Safety should be the first priority," González told CBS News. "I mean, if you can't feel safe in your house, if you can't feel safe to go to work, I mean that puts a heavy burden on the economy of the island. That puts a heavy burden on the quality of life of all Puerto Ricans." 

David Begnaud contributed to this report. 

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