Story highlights

NEW: Amnesty International: Police often say those killed were suspected criminals

Report: Police were responsible for 260 of 2,472 homicides in the Dominican Republic last year

Amnesty International says police behavior contributes to rising violence

A police spokesman says officers protect the public, and killings are isolated incidents

Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic CNN  — 

Police in the Dominican Republic were responsible for an “alarming” 10.5% of the nation’s killings last year, Amnesty International said Tuesday, citing government statistics.

A report from the human rights organization sharply criticizes the Caribbean nation’s police, saying they have been behind “scores of cases of killings, torture and ill-treatment.”

“These abuses are committed by the same police who are supposed to protect the people in the country, which is going through a rising crime rate,” said Chiara Liguori, Caribbean researcher at Amnesty International.

Speaking to CNN before the organization released its report, National Police spokesman Col. Maximo Aybar said police in the Dominican Republic were committed to protecting the public.

“We are more than aware that we are here to defend members of society, not to assault them. And that is an institutional position. In those cases where excesses may have been committed, investigations have occurred and measures have been taken: members were suspended from their posts and placed at the disposition of the courts,” he said.

Police were responsible for at least 260 of the nation’s 2,472 homicides in 2010, Amnesty International said, citing statistics from the National Police and the prosecutor general. That figure marked a decrease from previous years. In 2008, for example, police were responsible for 19% of the killings in the nation. Details about the circumstances of those killings were unclear.

A spokeswoman for Amnesty International said the organization does not have comparable figures for other nations. In the United States, the killing of felons by law enforcement officers made up 3% of slayings in 2010, according to FBI homicide statistics.

In the Dominican Republic, the 977 people injured by police in 2010 accounted for 16.6% of violent injuries in the nation that year, according to Amnesty’s report.

Amnesty International said Dominican police interviewed by the organization denied torture allegations and argued that the number of deaths corresponds with police efforts to stop crime. Police also said those killed were convicted or suspected criminals, Liguori said.

“Deaths among the police and the criminals occur because the police carry out preventative patrols. If the police wouldn’t do that, there would be no deaths, but criminality would remain unchallenged,” said one police chief, according to Amnesty’s report.

Police also have been victims. So far this year, 97 officers have been killed, and 176 have been injured, police said.

Last month a United Nations report noted that homicide rates have soared in the Dominican Republic, citing rising organized crime as a cause.

Tough conditions for policing are no excuse for human rights abuses, said Amnesty International, which said the nation must reform its police force to increase accountability and stop human rights violations.

“Unlawful and unprofessional conduct by many police officers is contributing to the rise in crime and violence in the Dominican Republic,” Amnesty’s report said. “Widespread police corruption, aggressive policing and the involvement of law enforcement officers in criminal activities are undermining the capacity of the state to protect human rights and ensure public security.”

Diulka Perez reported from Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. Catherine E. Shoichet reported from Atlanta.