Police Force Expanded to Battle Rising Crime

December 21, 2007

The government responded to the growing crime problem by injecting the country’s police forces with new trainees and resources in 2007.

Still, private security guards out numbered Costa Rican cops by about three to one, and some sectors of the police force said they hadn’t received any extra help.

In the booming northwestern province of Guanacaste, Costa Rica’s leading tourism destination, newly assigned Police Chief Hugo Uba said in June that he wanted to work with the privately funded security forces that sprang up this year in rapidly developing beach communities where residents are fed up with rising crime and limited police presence.

Private security companies pay salaries that are 50% higher on average, according to National Police Academy Director Carlos Roverssi, which may help explain why there are some 30,000 private security guards in Costa Rica, compared to approximately 10,000 National Police officers.

President Oscar Arias, who touted citizen security as a top priority for his administration, this year continued to recruit new cadets as part of his goal to have 14,000 National Police officers by 2010, which would be a 40% increase in the police force during his term. The National Police also began recruiting indigenous police officers for the first time this year.

It was the first year on the job for the country’s newly created Tourist Police, who were stationed in airports, beach towns and other popular tourist areas to protect and assist the nearly 2 million tourists who visited Costa Rica this year.

Police received the help of some modern technology, including stun guns for San José Municipal Police in April. Plans were laid out in October to put up 3,000 surveillance cameras in public places across the country to help with criminal investigations.

The security boost didn’t come without some backlash. Residents of the southern Caribbean town of Cahuita complained of separate incidents of police brutality, while authorities in San José, the eastern suburb of San Pedro and the colonial capital Cartago had several skirmishes with students protesting against the Central American Free-Trade Agreement with the United States (CAFTA).

Though Arias tried to increase both training and resources for police here – Traffic Police in the western Central Valley city of San Ramón were offered English classes and all the country’s National Police officers received a raise in August – he pledged in May to stop sending Costa Rican trainees to a controversial U.S. Army school, the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC).

The school is the successor of the School of the Americas (SOA), which was closed in 2001 on the heels of reports that it taught torture techniques and graduated some of the region’s worst human rights abusers.

By year’s end, however, Security Minister Fernando Berrocal had visited the WHINSEC campus and two other U.S. training schools and recommended that President Arias send Costa Rican police there for training.

To the dismay of peace activists here and in the United States, President Arias said in November that he would consider sending trainees to WHINSEC to take classes in leadership, citizen security and fighting drug trafficking.

“If they are going to get training on how to handle drugs, I would be OK with it,” Arias told The Tico Times.

Not everyone felt the administration’s security boost this year. The director of the Judicial Investigation Police (OIJ), Jorge Rojas, in October publicly threatened to step down by the end of the year if the country’s most professional police force of 1,000 didn’t receive more resources to properly investigate the increase in organized crime the country saw this year.

Neither the additional resources nor Rojas’ resignation had become reality by year’s end, however.

 

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