San José, Costa Rica, since 1956
Crime Beat

National Police announce operation to combat crime wave in Costa Rica's Northern Zone

Responding to pressure from residents in Costa Rica’s Northern Zone, who say they increasingly have become targets for assaults and robberies, the Public Security Ministry announced Thursday that it had conducted the first of several sweeps of the area in an effort to catch the bad guys.

Police say they arrested seven suspects and confiscated two cars, three motorcycles, cocaine, marijuana and a firearm in the first sting.

The operation is part of a plan announced yesterday by Public Security Vice Minister Gustavo Mata to reduce crime in one of Costa Rica’s more popular tourist destinations. Mata met with San Carlos municipal officials, National Police, Judicial Investigation Police bosses and community leaders to discuss solutions to the public security problems that have worsened in the last three months.

Areas under surveillance also include the Guanacaste community of Nuevo Arenal, on the northern edge of Lake Arenal, due to its proximity to the San Carlos canton, Public Security Ministry spokesman Carlos Hidalgo told The Tico Times.

That community was the scene of one of the worst recent attacks on Aug. 23, when 10 armed suspects in several vehicles robbed a gas station and an appliance store. Earlier that month, a suspect robbed a local hotel employee at gunpoint and made off with ₡5 million ($9,300) in money for staff salaries.

Mata said the ministry would send six new patrol cars and 40 National Police officers to join the 300 cops already working in the canton.

“Burglaries of homes and businesses, as well as personal assaults and robberies are the crimes most affecting the area,” Mata said. “It requires more preventive policing.”

As of next Monday, police also will have air support from a helicopter patrol by the Public Security Ministry’s Air Surveillance Unit.

Still, residents are angry, criticizing a “lack of effort” recently by police and local prosecutors. Mata responded to those complaints by saying, “Any [police] officer who fails to do his job should be fired immediately.”

Ministry officials will return to San Carlos next Monday to continue coordinating the security plan with local government leaders.

Contact L. Arias at

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Don’t hold your breath…!!! Here in the Southern Zone, there is no lack of tourist attractions. This week is the Whale Festival in Costa Ballena (Uvita) and you can bet the thieves will have a field day, even more so than they usually do. They operate here with impunity, knowing there are few police, and even fewer police vehicles.

We have five police stations in our area that have been paid for by the citizens, mostly expat groups. Those stations are in Ojochal, Uvita, Dominical, Matapalo, and Hatillo. They are all either unstaffed or seriously understaffed. Often, we don’t have a single vehicle in operation. CAP on Crime, a local anti-crime organization, pays the majority of the police’s vehicle repairs, pays the rent for the Uvita Police Station and pays the utilities at the Baru checkpoint. Where is the government here???

In addition, there is a critical checkpoint at the Baru River, where there is a three way intersection. The road runs from Quepos to Palmar Norte, and intersects with the road heading up the mountain into San Isidro de General. An expat group, CAP On Crime, and the community built the checkpoint and signed a “Convenio” (agreement) with the Fuerza Publica that requires them to staff the checkpoint and protect the community’s investment. If you go by there now, it will be unstaffed for most of the day and all of the night. There is a sophisticated surveillance system there, that used to capture all license plates coming and going out of the zone. That investment is pointless now.

So no, I wouldn’t hold my breath on hoping that things change. This country is intent on killing the goose that laid the golden egg (tourists and expats). Your safety, my safety, the safety of the visitors and the Tico community- all meaningless.

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It is gratifying to see a response (finally) by the Police after many pleas from the local residents of Nuevo Arenal repeatedly asking that the Police Station in the town be reopened. It is sad to realize that that action was in response to a horrendous armed crime attack on the at-the-time defenseless town.

It is heartening also to the see that the Police have made significant arressts related to that incident. It is also encouraging that in addition to the new Police Station that a number of new Police Vehicles are being provided, as well.

Now the important thing is to watch and see whether the new Police Station, the newly provided vehicles -and fuel for them, as well as the newly assigned officers will be given an ongoing budget at a level allowing that everything can continue to operate effeciently. I hope so . . .

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