San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Beach Towns Turning More to Private Forces

SURFSIDE, Guanacaste – A property owner of this community on the northern Pacific coast couldn’t wait to tell his story Tuesday at an emergency meeting of the Surfside Residents Association.

“I was hit last night,” the resident said. “They broke into my bodega and stole my professional grade tools.”

In the midst of a local crime wave – including home invasions and car jackings – the people of the Surfside Residents development are looking to step up private security measures, a trend sweeping across Pacific beach communities.

Terry Anderson, owner of Guanacaste Security Services (GSS), estimates there were five home invasions last week in Tamarindo farther south and six incidents in a two-week period three months ago in the Palm Beach Estates residential community in Playa Grande.

“Crime is a historical problem here. It comes and goes in waves. But I think that this is the same organized group of people working different areas,” said Anderson.

Last May, his company launched an armed response security system for the Tamarindo area.

“In my estimation, this is the only answer to solving the problem,” said Anderson. GSS subscribers benefit from 24-houra-day, 365-day-a-year support. Would-be home intruders trip an electronic surveillance system that alerts a central monitoring station. An armed guard arrives to the scene in less than three minutes.

About 25 percent of the homeowners in Surfside pay FICO, another private security service, to protect their estates. Two security guards on motorcycles patrol the neighborhood daily from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m.

“Nighttime home invasions have gone way down,” said Janet Lammey, the head of the Security Committee for Surfside. “But daytime invasions have gone way up. This has really just been a Band-aid.”

“There has always been petty theft here,” said Pat Leonardi, a 12-year Surfside resident.

“But this is a different type of crime. They’re cleaning out houses. It’s more organized.”

Now, Lammey is pushing GSS’s integrated electronic security system.

“It can’t be bribed and it won’t fall asleep,” she said.

“People refer to me as the new sheriff in town,” said Anderson, a 30-year security industry veteran with expertise in electronic surveillance. Investigative Services of Puntarenas (SIP), Costa Rica’s third largest security firm, supplies GSS’s armed response team. Anderson said that the system is unmatched in Costa Rica. “The local police are there when needed, but they have a 15- to 30-minute response time,” he said.

Crime used to be highest in Limón, on the Caribbean coast, but now it’s highest in Guanacaste, said Chantal Willemse, who is organizing a march for next Friday in Santa Cruz to push police to take a tougher stance on crime.

“If everybody in Surfside would participate, we wouldn’t have these kinds of problems,” said Lammey.

Right now, 20 people subscribe to GSS in Tamarindo. Flamingo, another tourist town between Potrero and Tamarindo, is working on a preliminary proposal to contract GSS’s services.


Oh, Won’t You Stay?

Edgar Lara sips an espresso under the shadows cast by a setting sun on the terrace of Olga’s Coffee Shop. Across his white T-shirt is written “No Se Vende” (“Not For Sale”) in burgundy block letters.

Amid a global economic slowdown and a rise in a more audacious strain of local crime, the café’s owner, Olga Yuryeva, is using T-shirts with the catchy slogan to try to keep local businesses alive.

“I get sick of everything for sale. There are signs everywhere,” says Yuryeva. “So I wanted to make something that looks like a real estate sign but is actually the opposite.”

Yuryeva estimates that at least 12 local businesses have closed their doors in the last year.

A year ago, PacificPark, a seven-story luxury condo development, pushed Yuryeva out of her old location. Now, she pays 200 percent more for rent for her current spot, across the street from PacificPark’s growing, mammoth concrete structure.

“The tough times will come, and the tough people will stay,” she says.


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