San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

As Crime Rises, Ticos Invest in Guards, Alarms

Three years ago, thieves broke the bars on the window of Café de la Posada in downtown San José and stole the television.

The café had an alarm system, but by the time a response team arrived, the thieves were already gone.

Still, the café s manager, Juan Rey Magan, continues to invest in an alarm system. Petty theft is ubiquitous, he said, and there aren t enough police officers on the streets.

Magan is in good company. With crime on the rise, private security measures appear to be increasingly popular.

Compared to five years ago, our clients are now more willing to invest more in security, said Oscar Esquivel, head of client services at ADT Security.

Among its most popular services, ADT offers alarm systems for houses and companies.

When an ADT client leaves his property, he activates the alarm system using a code. When sensors placed strategically around the property detect motion, they send a signal to ADT through radio or telephone.

ADT then contacts the property s owner on his cell or work phone. If the client has bought the response service, ADT sends someone to visit the property. If it looks like a robber has entered, the ADT responder calls the police, Esquivel said.

The sensors can cost up to $160 for a medium-sized home with two stories. The response service is an additional $12 a month.

Esquivel said ADT has 40,000 clients using its alarm service. Annual market growth is fastest in the Pacific coast provinces of Puntarenas and Guanacaste, where construction is booming.

ADT s biggest challenge, Esquivel said, is to educate clients on how to use the system properly. Some 85 percent of alarms are false. Often, ADT sends a responder and nothing is wrong.

Four years ago, the San JoséMunicipality launched its own semiprivate alarm system to compete with companies such as ADT.

The municipality charges about $22 a month to equip properties with three sensors. If the alarm sounds, the municipality calls the property owner. If it seems something could be wrong, the local police arrive, said sales coordinator Carmen Edjell.

Closed-circuit television systems are also popular. The system, offered by ADT and other security firms, allows a client to set up video cameras throughout his house or company, then monitor the tapes either locally or remotely, via Internet. (Remote access is more expensive.) A package of nine to 16 cameras for a medium-sized company can cost between $5,000 and $10,000, said Ronald Dobles, head of marketing at ADT.

Private guards are another popular security measure. CSS International has 1,200 guards monitoring residences and companies throughout the country. The guards go through a 15-day training to learn how to use a gun, said Francisco Verdura, head of sales and technology at CSS. They receive permits from the Public Security Ministry, he added.

An unarmed guard from CSS costs about $2,600 a month, while an armed guard can cost $2,900 within the Central Valley and $3,200 outside. Cost also depends on the type of weapon a client wants the guard to carry. A pistol is more expensive than a rifle, Verdura said.

Jorge Rojas, director of the Judicial Investigation Police (OIJ), has decried the lack of control over firearms. In January raids against 96 private security posts, SWAT teams confiscated 54 illegal firearms (TT, Feb. 1).

To purchase a gun here, one must pass a written test, a shooting test, a psychological exam and a criminal background check.

Back at Café de la Posada, loiterers approach Magan to ask for food and coffee.

If he doesn t oblige, they throw trash onto his porch, he said.

Beyond the alarm system, he said, there s not much he can do to protect his business.

For me, it would be really expensive to pay for an armed guard, he said. Private security is pricey I feel safe, but I have to be really careful.


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