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Puerto Rico police chief to resign amid reform

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DANICA COTO | October 31, 2013 10:22 AM EST | AP

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — Puerto Rico's police chief has submitted his resignation as the U.S. territory prepares to reform an agency that federal prosecutors have accused of corruption, illegal killings and civil rights violations.

Hector Pesquera said he would step down Nov. 15, more than a year after he was appointed to lead the second-largest force in the U.S. with roughly 17,000 officers. Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla accepted the resignation late Wednesday and said he would announce a new police chief in the upcoming days.

Pesquera was the former director of the FBI office based in Puerto Rico, and he was appointed police chief just months after the department reported a record 1,136 killings on an island of 3.7 million people.

It is unclear what prompted the resignation, which comes one day after a U.S. marshal was named to oversee a federally mandated reform of the island's police department that Pesquera has said he supported.

Pesquera did not return messages for comment.

He told radio station WKAQ that he's leaving for personal reasons, but did not elaborate.

"It was time to go," he said during the interview. "For the past 19 months, I have given it my all and I go with my head held high."

During his tenure, the number of killings subsided somewhat, with 749 killings reported so far this year compared to 794 in the same period last year.

Rep. Jose Aponte, former speaker of the island's House of Representatives and a member of the main opposition party, said in a phone interview that Pesquera helped instill trust again in Puerto Rico's police officers.

"His departure at this time goes against the best interests of Puerto Rico," he said. "The job he did was good, it was effective."

Pesquera is leaving as Puerto Rico prepares to fight an increase in drug trafficking, with federal authorities noting an uptick in the number of cocaine seizures and other drugs. Police have said at least 75 percent of killings in the U.S. territory are tied to drug trafficking.

The police department also faces a multimillion dollar, 10-year federal reform that will see numerous changes, including the creation of new disciplinary procedures, a use-of-force policy and additional training for officers before they're assigned to the streets.