When D.C. police officials went to Puerto Rico to recruit Spanish-speaking men and women for the department, Norman Perez jumped at the chance to become a police officer in the nation's capital.
Leaving his wife and two children more than 1,500 miles behind in San Juan, he moved to Washington in search of "the good life" with hopes his family could join him in about six months.
His prospects, however, started to turn for the worse as soon as he arrived here. Last week Perez, who spent six months at the D.C. police training academy, resigned because he was unable to make ends meet on the annual salary of $21,000 paid by the city.
"The department is great. My fellow officers have treated me well and we [the Puerto Rican recruits] really like our work," Perez said. "But we can't afford to live here. A lot more people are going to be leaving."
Many of the recruits -- faced with the city's residency requirement, the high cost of living, cultural and language gaps and other adjustment problems, have become disenchanted with their lives as D.C. police officers.
Many left behind family and friends to plant roots in an alien culture; they arrived with little cash, no credit rating and no place to live. And, they say, after being promised by police department recruiters that the city was ready to "receive" them, the department did little to help them adjust to their new society.
"They told us in Puerto Rico that they would help us establish ourselves, and they have done nothing for us," said a recruit who has been here less than two months. "They just dumped us at the Harrington [hotel at 11th and E streets NW] and forgot us."
Gary Hankins, labor committee chairman for the Fraternal Order of Police, contended that the Puerto Rican recruits "are the victims of modern day shanghai. But instead of being knocked on the head and dragged on board a ship like the British did, they were coaxed into coming on board and were brought to the District. Once they're up here, they are the equivalent of being 1,000 miles at sea."
Assistant Chief Carl V. Profater said through a police spokesman that "the department went above and beyond what was expected" in making arrangements for the Puerto Rican recruits.
Profater, the spokesman said, was "satisfied with the recruiting efforts that were made and feels as though they have been very fruitful."
Arlene Gillespie, director of the city's Office of Latino Affairs, said the recruits "were not forced to leave Puerto Rico. They left willingly . . . . If they feel misled, they have the option to resign."
Faced with a growing Hispanic community in the District and few officers who can speak Spanish, the city police department sent recruiters to Puerto Rico last summer to enlist people for the force.
The first 29 recruits arrived in December and were sworn in at the District Building amid much fanfare. An additional 14 recruits since have joined the force.
The first class of recruits will graduate from the police training academy on Friday. Two recruits have resigned because of the residency requirements, said police spokesman William White III.
Perez, one of the two who are resigning, said he hopes to be hired by a local police department that doesn't have a residency requirement, such as Prince George's County. The other Puerto Rican who is resigning, who did not want to be quoted by name, said he plans to return to the island because he can't afford to move his wife and three daughters here.
According to the FOP's Hankins, police departments throughout the Washington area need Spanish-speaking officers, and he expects they will try to hire away the city's new Puerto Rican officers who, after completing their training, will be "prime targets."
When police recruiters went to Puerto Rico last year, according to one recruit, they gave prospective applicants copies of the Apartment Shoppers Guide, which lists about 400 pages of available apartments in the Washington area, and said it was representative of the area's living accommodations. They were not told they had to live in the city, the officer said, a charge that was lodged by four other Puerto Rican recruits.
"In the first days of training, one of the first rules we go over is the residency requirement," said a source at the training academy who has worked with the Puerto Rican recruits.
"They were very surprised. They said, 'You mean we have to live in the District?' "
Profater said through his spokesman that the department sent each recruit a letter three weeks before their arrival in the District that informed them of the residency law.
More than half of 14 Puerto Rican recruits interviewed by The Post, who are in their probationary year on the force and did not want to be named, indicated that they were considering resigning, primarily because of the residency requirement.
The law requiring city government employes hired after Jan. 1, 1980, to live in the District has been controversial since its passage, with the police and firefighters unions fighting for its repeal or exemption for their members.
Other complaints by the recruits included the department's withholding of their first two weeks of pay. The recruits said they did not receive their first paychecks until four weeks after they were sworn in, which depleted what cash they had brought with them.
After paying for his plane fare to the District, Perez said he spent a week at the Hotel Harrington, paying $35 a day and eating at restaurants.
He finally moved into the Wingate House apartments, 4660 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. SW, where he lived with three other Puerto Rican recruits in a one-bedroom apartment. He said the police department gave him an air mattress and a sleeping bag.