The Costa Rican Public Security Ministry announced the implementation of a new security plan for cities throughout Costa Rica on Wednesday., The new program called the Integrated System for the Improvement of Police Strategy, (SIMEP, in Spanish), is a joint effort between the Costa Rican National Police and the U.S. Embassy.
“This is a historic change in our society,” Public Security Vice Minister Walter Navarro said. “This project is going to entirely change the structure and effectiveness of the police in this country.”
The program originally was developed in New York City in 1995 and has since been recreated in cities across the world including Los Angeles, Vancouver and Panama City. The U.S. Embassy started developing the project in Costa Rica two years ago and has invested nearly half a million dollars in technology to get it started.
Divided into three pillars, the new management system is designed with the idea of a coordinated effort between the community and the police. This concept is first put into practice by dividing the city into quadrants and assigning personnel to those areas, allowing the community to become familiar with the authorities in their area.
The next segment of the program is the development of a computer mapping system known as R2Police. This system takes crime statistics and information from police reports and creates digital maps of the area.
“The idea is that police measure incidents daily,” said Public Security Minister Mario Zamora. “It will tell them when to watch and what the hotspots are so they can act preemptively.”
Accountability is the third pillar of the program, which is carried out through reoccurring meetings with police and the community. The goal of the meetings is to evaluate the effectiveness of the rest of the system on every level and develop a plan for future actions. This third step marks the beginning of a new cycle, where the entire process is then repeated, ending again in an evaluation.
The Costa Rican Public Security Ministry has turned much of its attention to battling the rising threat of drug trafficking and organizing crime. While much of this type of crime comes from beyond Costa Rica’s borders, Zamora emphasized the importance of localized programs like SIMEP in fighting these offenses.
“We are seeing evidence that some of these drugs have landed in our cities,” Zamora said. “There are things that indicate that these transnational crime organizations are manifesting themselves at a local level.”
While large-scale international crime is certainly on the ministry’s watch list, SIMEP is primarily designed to combat local crime. It’s the local drug dealers, the people drinking liquor on the streets and the vandals constantly tagging the same block over and over that the SIMEP aims to prevent.
“Sadly many of the homicides that are occurring in this country are driven by organized crime,” Nelson said. “This program is designed more for localized crime, but we hope that it has larger implications.”
Since September, Tibás, a district north of San José, has been the site for the pilot SIMEP program. The small town served as a testing ground, for what is planned to be a nationwide police philosophy. Developing the program has been in the works for years.
“We started this program about two years ago when I arrived here,” Nelson said. “We have had to develop an entire mapping system in a country with no street numbers or addresses.”
The Public Security Ministry is planning on rolling out the program to San José, Alajuela, Cartago, Heredia and Limón in the next phase of the project. By the end of 2013, the ministry hopes to have implemented SIMEP along the Pacific and Caribbean coasts, as well as the regions of Chorotega, Brunca and Huetar.
“We hope that soon we can bring this project to the entire country,” Zamora said. “Our goal is that through concrete cooperation we can bring better service to each community.”