Costa Rica’s nascent Tourist Police force marked its first anniversary this week with the graduation of its second class of officers.
Decked out in white polo shirts emblazoned with POLICIA TURISTICA, and navy-blue baseball caps and trousers, the initial force of 113 men and nine women has patrolled popular tourist destinations since their graduation one year ago.
The entrance into the force of the Class of 2007’s 97 new members will allow establishment of two new delegations to beef up security on the central and southern Pacific coasts, director Kattia Chavarría said.
One will be based in the southern Pacific beach town of Dominical. The second will be the Tourist Police’s first fully mobile unit, based in the port city of Puntarenas.
“This new unit will have a lot of flexibility,” Chavarría said.
The adaptability will allow it to bulk up security in the nearby port of Caldera on days when cruise ships call, or to move more officers in place to any locale between Montezuma and Malpaís, on the tip of the Nicoya peninsula to the central Pacific beach communities of Quepos and Manuel Antonio. A permanent contingent of 14 officers has existed in the nearby town of Jacó since the force’s inception.
Other delegations of varying sizes presently operate in San José, the Central Valley cities of Alajuela and Cartago, Playa Panamá in northwestern Guanacaste, La Fortuna near the Arenal volcano, Los Chiles on the Nicaraguan border, Limón and Puerto Viejo on the Caribbean coast, and the Caribbean-slope communities.
While anecdotal evidence suggests the new police force has had an impact, The Tico Times could find no statistical evidence to support that assertion. Nor could the newspaper find any officers in San José during a two-day period last week.
“The officers are mobile,” Chavarría explained of the capital’s force of 16-member force, which patrols the bus terminals, Avenida Central and Calle 2 in front of the Post Office.
“They can be contacted quickly by the National Police,” she explained.
“The Tourist Police are most evident on cruise days,” Noel Ferguson, president of the Caribbean region’s Limón Chamber of Tourism, said. “They do instill a sense of security among the passengers we have talked to.”
Ferguson said he especially appreciates the added safety precautions in the light of robbery attempt of Carnival cruise passengers in February during which one of the bandits was killed (TT,Mar. 2).
“We do have this general sense that crime against visitors has dropped in areas where the Tourist Police operate,” Chavarría said.
Technically, no actual statistics are kept to demonstrate levels of crime committed against tourists, according to Franklin González of the Judicial Investigation Police’s (OIJ) statistics department.
“We do break numbers down by country of citizenship,” González explained, but cautioned that such numbers do not distinguish between crimes committed against foreign visitors and crimes against foreign residents.
Nor would they filter out numbers for crimes committed against so-called “perpetual tourists,” foreigners here under tourist status, but staying in Costa Rica indefinitely.
In a widely reported case, Tourist Police officers apprehended assailants who stole $10,000 from a U.S. couple vacationing at Playa Hermosa near Jacó in November.
But Chavarría sees the force as going beyond simply intervening after a crime.
“They are there to give practical advice to tourists.” That aid takes the form of giving directions, providing information on area attractions, or helping a victim of crime to file police reports.
Entrants into the program, nearly all of whom have no prior law-enforce ment experience, go through standard three-month training at the NationalPoliceAcademy.
Know Your Police Officer
In addition to the Tourist Police, many other law-enforcement officers keep order in army-less Costa Rica, with a distinct demarcation of duties and authority among the forces.
Fuerza Pública (National Police), responsible for order and security countrywide; Ministry of Public Security.
Policía de Tránsito (Traffic Police), responsible for order on Costa Rica’s roads and highways; Ministry of Transport.
Policía de Aduanas (Customs Police), responsible for policing goods that enter and leave Costa Rica; Ministry of Finance.
Policía de Migración (Immigration Police), responsible for policing official border and entry points; Ministry of Public Security.
Policía de Frontera (Border Police), responsible for policing border regions; Ministry of Public Security.
Policía Turística (Tourist Police), responsible for order, security and assistance in areas frequented by visitors; Ministry of Public Security.
Policía de Control de Drogas (Drug Control Police), responsible for drug interdiction; Ministry of Public Security.
Servicio de Guardacostas (Coast Guard), responsible for patrolling Costa Rican territorial waters; Ministry of Public Security.
Organismo de Investigación Judicial (OIJ) (Judicial Investigation Police), responsible for investigation of crimes; judicial branch.
Policía Municipal (Municipal Police), responsible for order and security in three of 81 cantons, presently San José, Alajuela and Belén, with proposals to establish municipal forces in San José suburbs of Aserrí and Curridabat; supplements work of National Police.