San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Officials offer 10-year plan 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.

As a presidential candidate, Chinchilla promised in January 2010 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).

Chinchilla has made good on promises to train more police officers, and more than 1,000 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.

 “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.”

Some ideas discussed recently include 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, Góngora said.

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.

One step is the professionalization of the National Police force. To help, 13 members of Colombia’s National Police arrived Monday to train 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.  The first group of Colombian officers, here through Feb. 26, will focus on narcotics police training.

 “For us, the knowledge the Colombians have to offer on intelligence gathering is priceless and key to stopping drug trafficking,” Tijerino said. “If we are able to detect and track a cartel, that’s way better than chasing their operations.”

Also this week, the United States government donated $134,000 worth of security-related equipment to the Drug Control Police as part of the Central America Regional Security Initiative, a U.S. program to fight organized crime and drug smuggling in the region.

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