As a green young investigator, Jorge Rojas and fellow agents used to sit in the Judicial Investigation Police (OIJ) headquarters in San José, waiting by the phone for someone to call in a crime.
Fast-forward three decades. The 51-year-old is now threatening to step down as the director of what is designed to be the country’s most professional police force, which is running on empty despite a crime onslaught.
His 1,000 agents just aren’t cutting it. He wants 2,000.
He has two agents on 35 home burglary cases a month and eight agents on 450 armed assault cases a month just in San José.
The force hasn’t received an increase in its 300-vehicle fleet in a half decade. A pair of murder investigators is handling up to six cases at a time.
The OIJ, part of the Judicial Branch, wasn’t always expected to investigate every crime, Rojas explained. When it was founded in 1973, it was expected to crack murder cases, and only in San José. Now, the body has 25 regional offices around the country working 24 hours a day, and is investigating some 40 different types of crimes.
President Oscar Arias has promised to beef up the National Police, whose agents have a preventive role but aren’t crime investigators, with 4,000 recruits. Yet the force responsible for investigating murders, robberies, rapes, burglaries, armed assaults and every other crime hasn’t received an extra penny beyond its annual $40 million budget.
“If you don’t have cacao, you can’t make chocolate,” Rojas told The Tico Times.
After pleading with the Judicial Branch for years to allocate more resources to his force, he’s now gone straight to the Executive Branch to plead for support. Two weeks ago he called a press conference to announce that he would step down in December – three years early – if he doesn’t see immediate changes.
The Arias administration was shaken.
“He’s an incredibly efficient public official,” Presidency Minister Rodrigo Arias said last week. “We will check with the Finance Ministry to see what we can do. But it’s worrisome.
I’m the first to share don Jorge’s concerns.” In his sixth year as director, Rojas is now waiting to see if those in charge of the nation’s coffers put their money where their mouth is.
In the meantime, people are being killed, houses are being burglarized and drugs are being trafficked.
Rojas sat down with The Tico Times recently in his fifth-floor office of the OIJ building in downtown San José to talk about his ultimatum.
TT:Why are you threatening to resign?
JR: This organization has problems with a growing demand for work but there just aren’t enough resources. So we’re working more hours, shuffling around personnel, doing a lot of supervision, we’re trying to reach maximum efficiency. But it’s the old blanket problem: you pull it up over your head and you expose your feet.
It’s no longer neighborhood delinquency like it used to be. It’s organized crime, homicides, hit men, armed robbers who have fake documents. It’s gangs with rental cars. It’s getting very complicated, very violent. We still have a lower crime rate than the rest of the region: We have about 300 murders a year whereas Guatemala has about 5,000.
But I hope to take strong actions. It’s an extraordinary situation that requires extraordinary solutions. Let’s solve the problem now.
We haven’t invested in our resources in years … this country thinks it’s best to just leave things as they are. Organized crime and drug traffickers here have helicopters, boats and advanced communications. And you’re going to fight that showing up on a bicycle? What is the biggest concern in Costa Rica today? Ask people, and they’ll say crime. So the government’s energy should be spent to fight crime.
What are the resources you need the most?
We have a lot of homicides and armed assaults. There is a device that can automatically match bullet shells with the weapon. It would take our technicians no time. The machine costs about $1 million.
Those kinds of investigative tools are very necessary.
I don’t want to keep telling people we can’t investigate crimes against them. And we’re cheating them by telling them to keep filing police reports.
Many people aren’t even reporting petty crimes anymore.
Yes, and we’re giving them impunity. This police force has shown good results. It’s apolitical. It’s objective. It’s professional, well trained.We can’t let it fall apart.
You have 1,000 agents but want twice as many. What would you do with all those new agents?
We have 1,000 investigators but they’re all spread out in 25 regional offices, all of which are working around the clock. Not even half of the investigators actually investigate. Half of them end up just attending the scene of the crime while others investigate.
Are you jealous that President Arias is promising the National Police 4,000 more officials?
That makes me happy. But we’re part of the solution, too. Arias has said he is going to help. So now, I have new hope. We’ll see how the Executive Branch responds … I felt like they haven’t been paying attention to my problems.
Supreme Court President Luis Paulino Mora has said making threats like you did isn’t the best solution, and that the OIJ isn’t the only institution with a lack of resources.
Many public institutions have problems.
But the OIJ is behind the times. The issue of the police has been abandoned for years. It seems the Judicial Branch can’t give more money. Well, someone has to. I believe we need help from the Executive Branch. I hope to talk with Arias soon.
So far, I’ve been mainly asking for the Judicial Branch’s help, whose Superior Council and 22 magistrates approve allocations.
We can’t toss this institution overboard. This country’s police would lose its credibility.
Why is the OIJ building being remodeled, with a large pyramid statue out front, if there’s no cash?
OIJ isn’t doing that, that’s the Judicial Branch.
What would be the first change you would make if you had the resources to do so?
I would redistribute work responsibilities so agents are working fewer cases. We created a money-laundering section last year. It has four investigators. Four investigators when you have a country with a lot of laundering going on.We need a real team to investigate drug trafficking.We have only 20 investigators. That’s not a force that can work on national and international drug trafficking here.
You need teams to do follow-up, surveillance and intelligence.
What would you do with your time if you were to retire in December?
I haven’t thought about it. I surprised myself with this announcement. I’m a lawyer, but I still don’t know.
Who would take over?
The court decides that. But (Assistant OIJ Director) Francisco Segura has all qualifications.