San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Tourist Crime Reports Rise

NEWLY released indicators of crime againsttourists reveal that an average of two tourists per dayhave been the victims of theft, and one per day ofassault, during the past 16 months – with figures for thefirst four months of this year showing a slight increaseover those for the same period in 2004.However, tourism officials maintain that the incidenceof violence against tourists is very low when thetotal number of foreign visitors is taken into account: oflast year’s 1.45 million visitors, only 0.02% reported experiencing violence here.Tourists reported 599 assaults and 918thefts between January 2004 and April 27,2005, according to the Judicial InformationPolice (OIJ).Following a spate of violent crimes witnessedor experienced by Tico Times readersand staff members earlier this year, representativesof the OIJ, regional police headquartersand the Costa Rican Tourism Institute(ICT) told this newspaper that none ofthese agencies regularly maintain statisticsabout the number of crimes against tourists,compared to nationals (TT, April 15).Last week, however, the OIJ’sCriminal Analysis Unit released data compiledas part of a special study of touristcrime.THE results show tourists are the primarytarget for theft in Costa Rica, and theuse of public transportation and carelessnessare often factors involved.Of the 1,275 pedestrians, public-transportationpassengers, hotel clients andstore customers who reported being victimsof theft during the period in question,72% were foreigners, according to statisticsprovided to The Tico Times by theCriminal Analysis Unit.Thefts that took place on public transportationaccounted for 477, or 37.41%, ofthe total. Thefts of customers in stores followedat 24.94%, pedestrians at 24.70%and hotels guests at 12.94%.An average of 3.03 people per day –including foreign tourists and CostaRicans – reported being the victims of theftduring the first four months of this year, upfrom 2.63 per day during the same periodin 2004. Numbers for reported assaultsagainst tourists during these months are upto 1.4 per day from 1.29 per day in 2004.MOST of these crimes – 57.33% ofthe national total – occurred as the result ofcarelessness, according to the OIJ. Othercauses included distraction tactics, scams,thefts “with a key” (inside jobs) and theuse of narcotics.The San José area is by far the country’smost dangerous region, showing thehighest reported crime rates. Of the 599total reported assaults over the past 16months, 81% took place in the greater metropolitanarea.Perpetrators used firearms (41.07%),snatching (26.5%), knives (19.53%) – and,at less than 1% each, headlocks, beatings,immobilization, verbal intimidation and gas.ONE disgruntled tourist wrote a letterearlier this month to the Costa RicanConsulate in his hometown of Toronto,Ontario, complaining that Costa Rica isdoing a disservice to foreign visitors bydownplaying the dangers tourists face here.The tourist, Jeffrey Brown, said he wasa victim of theft in the Pacific beach townof Montezuma during his seventh visit toCosta Rica.“I appreciate that your economydepends on tourism, but you are not beinghonest,” Brown wrote in his letter, whichhe copied to The Tico Times. “Theftagainst tourists (is) a profound and constantproblem through the country, andtourists are at risk.”Brown proposed measures such as agovernment-operated tourist safety hotline,an additional hotline Costa Ricanscould call to report crimes anonymouslyand increased training in English and othercommon languages for police officers.The Tico Times has received severalletters like Brown’s from tourists in recentmonths. One man said he was shot at in hisrental car in the Pacific beach town ofJacó; another letter from an Australiancouple described having their car stolenand being pickpocketed, mugged at gunpointand robbed at an office, all in separateincidents over the span of two months.POLICE response to these events wasinadequate, according to the victims.Brown, like a previous letter-writer whosaid the police took notes on “whatappeared to be wrapping paper,” said thepolice who took his crime report inMontezuma wrote their notes on a piece ofscrap paper with no carbon copy forBrown to use for insurance purposes.This “seemingly small detail” forcestourists to visit a police station later for aphotocopy of the report, which “says a lotabout (the country’s) respect for tourists’precious vacation time,” Brown said.Vice-Minister of Public Security AnaHelena Chacón and OIJ director JorgeRojas told the daily Al Día last week thatthey are concerned about the possibleeffect of crime in Costa Rica on the country’sinternational reputation.Chacón said the situation “is very worrisome,especially taking into account thatCosta Rican depends on tourism. For everyunsatisfied tourist who leaves, others stopvisiting us.”“People (feel that they) can’t go out toSan José or to the beaches, because they’rerobbed (of items) from their glasses totheir car, or they spend half their vacationin the process of getting a new passport,”Rojas told the daily.CONTINUED concern about touristsafety here comes at a time when CostaRica’s northern neighbor, Nicaragua, isattempting to use its safety record as adraw for potential tourists.Nicaragua is “the safest country inCentral America and the second in theAmericas, after Canada,” NicaraguanTourism Minister Lucía Salazar told thewire service ACAN-EFE this week, citingstudies by the United Nations and theInternational Police (INTERPOL).William Rodríguez, president of theCosta Rican Tourism Chamber, said hedoes not consider Costa Rica’s reputationas a safe country to be in doubt, although“there is always room to improve.”Rodríguez emphasized the fact thatmore than 70% of tourists say they felt“very safe” in Costa Rica when asked torate their experience on airport exit surveys,and that most crimes against touristsare non-violent and result from carelessness.“Sometimes the tourists themselvesdon’t take into account some basic considerations,”he said. (See sidebar for safetytips.)Rodríguez added the chamber has anongoing crime prevention campaign,including a new video to be shown in theimmigration areas of the country’s airports.The video will provide safety tipsfor tourists and will debut in two weeks,Rodríguez said.Tourism officials have also taken preventivesteps such as providing speciallanguage and other training to police officersin areas with heavy tourist traffic andsuccessfully lobbying the Public SecurityMinistry to change the rules so tourists cannow carry copies of their passports withinthe country, rather than the originals (TT,Nov. 5).Staying Safe in Costa RicaOn April 15, The Tico Times publisheda description of the steps to take if you arethe victim of a crime. Here are tourism officials’recommendations to help preventsuch crimes from happening:Out and about:–Carry as little as possible with you andavoided carrying or wearing valuables,especially when going to the beach ordowntown San José.–Avoid carrying the original of your passportwith you – carry a photocopy.–If you must carry a purse, pack or shoulderbag, keep it in front of your body.–If someone confronts you, do not resist.Turn over your valuables.On the bus:–Do not put valuables on the racks abovethe seats. Keep your belongings with youin your seat when possible; if you placeitems on the racks, keep an eye on them.–Take extra care on the bus routes topopular tourist areas.In your car:–Keep your doors locked and windowsup when you are driving or when the caris parked.–If another car bumps yours, do not stopor pull over to the side. Drive to the nearestpublic area and call the police (911).If you have car trouble or are lost,attempt to drive to the closest gas stationor other public place before checkingyour car or the map.–If someone approaches your car in asuspicious manner at a red light or stopsign, honk your horn.At the airport:–Pay your $26-per-person exit tax only atthe authorized booth inside the airport.Sources: William Rodríguez, presidentof the Costa Rican Tourism Chamber,and the Web site of the Costa RicanTourism Institute (ICT),

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