San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Costa Rican officials present 10-year strategy to fight crime

Accompanied by officials from all three branches of government, President Laura Chinchilla on Monday signed a joint declaration outlining a 10-year strategy to reduce crime in Costa Rica.

“We have a road map over the next few years so that all of us can look for a solution [to the crime problem],” Chinchilla said.

Chinchilla signed the declaration in a ceremony at San José’s Children’s Museum, along with Legislative Assembly President Luis Gerardo Villanueva and Judicial System President Luis Paulino Mora.

Along with the declaration, Chinchilla presented a 123-page policy report compiled after months of public surveys on crime in nearly every sector of Costa Rican society. Underwritten by Costa Rica’s representative of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), the policy brief, titled “Integral and Sustainable Policy for Citizen Security and Promotion of Social Peace,” or Polsepaz, is the result of broad public input on crime compiled since June of last year.

The declaration the three government-branch presidents signed Monday is a pledge to follow policy recommendations for creating safer communities.

Costa Rica’s UNDP representative Luiza Carvalho called the policy report an “ambitious initiative” that outlines an “integral vision of peace and security.”

Upon taking office last May, Chinchilla immediately outlined strategies to address growing public concerns over crime. Reducing national crime rates had been her campaign promise, and she had also worked on crime reduction policies as a former vice minister, public security minister, justice minister and lawmaker.

As a presidential candidate, in January 2010 Chinchilla promised to boost public security spending by 50 percent (TT, Jan. 29, 2010). Security Minister José María Tijerino has said that efforts to combat organized crime and drug trafficking between 2011 and 2014 could cost an estimated $250 million (TT, Sept. 23, 2010). A proposal by Chinchilla and Tijerino for a 15 percent casino tax to raise public security funds has so far failed to gain traction.

Chinchilla has made good on promises to train more police officers. A thousand new police officers have graduated from the academy since she took office. Some 3,000 more new police officers are expected to graduate in the next three years.

But the policy recommendations presented this week offer little in terms of concrete solutions and plans for action, and even less in terms of funding proposals. Instead, they serve more as a guide for unity and inter-agency cooperation for the three commissions charged with drafting anti-crime police: the Citizen Security Commission (presidential branch); Special Legislative Commission on Citizen Security (legislative branch); and the Commission on Penal Matters (judicial branch).

Also speaking Monday, José Manuel Arroyo, president of the Penal Branch of the Supreme Court (Sala III), acknowledged that, “important efforts have been made in recent years,” but that there is a need “to go further” and “to understand criminality beyond just criminal acts.”

“Every Costa Rican is worried about crime, and with reason,” said Carlos Góngora, a Libertarian Movement lawmaker from Cartago. “It’s because of the weak response by institutional agencies.”

The lawmaker said that many ideas on how to tackle crime were discussed in recent months, including reinstatement of the death penalty, more cops, using decommissioned goods from drug dealers to fund policing, better regulation of the illegal transport sector, electronic ankle bracelet technology, stiffer punishment for the misuse of funds, better prisons and crackdowns on police corruption, among others.

One of the most well-received of Chinchilla’s efforts to reduce crime is the professionalization of the National Police force, something she began promoting as Public Security minister in 1996. To help modernize Costa Rica’s police force, 13 members of Colombia’s National Police are here training Costa Rican officers on public security tactics, part of a joint Colombian-Costa Rican law enforcement exchange that could last two years.

Training includes intelligence gathering, fighting organized crime and tactics to combat drug trafficking.           

While little is new about the policy recommendations presented this week, Chinchilla reiterated that fighting crime is one of her “biggest commitments.”

“This isn’t just another proposal,” she said.

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