San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Increased Security Promised

In his first two weeks in office, new Public Security Minister Fernando Berrocal promised to increase the size of the nation s police force by almost 50% during the next four years and create a specialized Tourism Police trained to assist visitors and combat sex tourism.

He also announced that he is investigating alleged missing weapons from the Public Security Ministry arsenal, as well as alleged networks within the General Immigration Administration that have facilitated illegal immigration.

In terms of security, Berrocal said the capital city of San José and the country s main airport, the Juan Santamaría International Airport northwest of the capital, are his top two priorities.

San José is a disaster and the airport too, Berrocal told The Tico Times last week following his first day as Minister.

San José has a serious crime problem. San José is a city where you cannot walk at night, Berrocal said. So I have to take drastic measures. The first measure it to make changes in command. The second measure is to add more police.

In San José, Berrocal put the downtown area, known as Delta 0, under the San José regional command, and sent the former director of the region to Alajuela. The new  director of the San José region, known as Delta 1, is Martín Arias, who was the director of the Puntarenas Coast Guard station.

Berrocal said in his first press conference held jointly with the outgoing Security Minister Rogelio Ramos May 4 that he planned to add 4,000 new police positions to the national police force, which currently numbers 10,000 officials. Berrocal admitted he is not yet sure how all these positions will be paid for, but in a press conference last week he said he expects to add the first 500 officers in the next six months, of which 400 are already funded.

The minister added that he would like to work on strategic alliances between the police force and the private security firms in Costa Rica, noting that he was shocked to discover there are 25,000 private security guards in Costa Rica more than double the size of the police force.

This week, legislators of the opposition Citizen Action Party (PAC) called on Berrocal to address their concerns about the growing number of private security firms in Costa Rica. PAC alleged in a statement released Monday that there is a lack of control over these firms.

It worries us that private security officials are working without workers compensation insurance policies and don t pay their Social Security (Caja) dues, in addition to using guns without the respective courses nor the basic requirements of the law, PAC legislator Elizabeth Fonseca said in the statement.

Adriana León, president of the Costa Rican Association of Security Businesses, told The Tico Times many private security companies do shirk their responsibilities, and this creates unfair competition.

There are controls, but the idea is to improve these controls, León said. She said more cooperation and strategic alliances between police and private security firms would help bring more order to private security companies. She added that such coordination would be beneficial to both the private and public sectors, because private security companies could assist with intelligence and in operations and the police could help private security companies with communications.

While Berrocal has yet to define the details of these alliances, he has begun meeting with representatives of the tourism industry with the goal of creating a new Tourism Police. Berrocal told The Tico Times Wednesday that the new administration hopes to have the force up and running within Oscar Arias first 100 days as President.

National Liberation Party legislator Ofelia Taitelbaum told The Tico Times she has already introduced a bill that would create the Tourism Police. The bill lays out the basics of what the force should be: a specialized group of police who speak at least some English, or another second language, and have more training than the average police officer. Many of the details, however, would be left up to the Public Security Ministry to decide.

Tourism police officers would be stationed near principal tourist destinations and routes, be adjusted depending on whether it is high or low season, and would number about 500, to be included in the 4,000 new positions, Taitelbaum explained.

In addition, she added that she hopes the new unit will tackle the problem of sex tourism in Costa Rica.

One of the most important things that the Tourism Police would take into account is sexual tourism, Taitelbaum said. It is very ugly that our country is known internationally as a sex-tourism destination.

Mauricio Céspedes, the Executive Director of the Guanacaste Chamber of Tourism, said that specially trained Tourism Police would provide a better image of Costa Rica to both foreign and national tourists.

Security is one of those factors that tourists take into account when it comes to choosing a destination, Céspedes said. It is something that we have been waiting to see happen for a long time.

In Berrocal s second press conference, held the day after he took office May 8, he said he encountered certain irregularities when he took over the ministry specifically a number of weapons and explosives from the arsenal that cannot be accounted for.

According to the minister, it appears that at least one civilian was given unmonitored access to the arsenal.

Berrocal would not specify how many weapons are unaccounted for but said they are sufficient, and authorities are conducting an audit of the arsenal.

The new minister announced at a third press conference this week that the Ministry is also investigating multiple networks within the General Immigration Administration that have facilitated illegal entry into Costa Rica for immigrants in particular, Chinese, Cubans and Colombians.

Other plans Berrocal mentioned include the reorganization again of the Directorate of Special Investigations.

Headed by Paul Chávez, the special unit was first reorganized in 2003 and refocused in October of 2005 toward the capture of sex crime fugitives (TT, Dec. 2, 2005). Under Chávez s leadership, the unit has dramatically increased the number of sex-crime fugitives arrested and brought public attention to a judicial flaw that allows many convicted sex offenders and criminals to walk free.

Chávez recently estimated that there were 350 suspected and convicted sex offenders free in Costa Rica, and said that his unit has captured 41 so far this year.

Despite these successes, Berrocal announced that he plans to reorganize the group in response to a request from General Prosecutor Francisco Dall Anese, because its functions overlap with those of the Judicial Investigation Police (OIJ).

Berrocal said the Public Security Ministry should focus more on prevention, because investigation is OIJ s job. How the DIE will be restructured and what will happen to Chávez and his team remained unclear at press time.

The new minister also told The Tico Times he plans to speak with Luis Paulino Mora, president of the Supreme Court, about the loophole that has allowed so many convicted criminals to walk free.

Berrocal is a former ambassador to the United Nations under the administration of José María Figueres (1994-98), was Minister of the Presidency during the administration of Luis Alberto Monge (1982-86) and was the consul before the Soviet Union in the 1970s. Most recently, he taught law at the University of Costa Rica.

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