San José, Costa Rica, since 1956
Crime watch

'Culture of violence’ behind Costa Rica’s jump in homicides, says OIJ chief

Costa Rica hit a record-breaking 558 homicides — more than one person a day — during 2015, according to the Judicial Investigation Police’s (OIJ) 2015 annual report released Monday. Costa Rica has seen double digit homicide growth the last two years, up 14.7 percent in 2014 and another 16.9 percent in 2015 after several years of declining figures.

Homicides weren’t the only dark spot in Monday’s report. Thefts have more than doubled across Costa Rica in the last five years and car thefts were also slightly up over 2014. OIJ Director Walter Espinoza cited a “culture of violence” in Costa Rica as one of the reasons behind the jumps in homicides and thefts during the last year.

The province of San José reported the most homicides in 2015, at 258. But the Caribbean province of Limón was the deadliest with a 22.4 homicide rate per 100,000 inhabitants, followed by San José at 16.2 per 100,000 inhabitants.

Homicides in Costa Rica 2015
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Stronger policing tactics might actually have played a role in the spike in homicides in recent years. Authorities pointed to the break up of several criminal organizations in places like the canton of Desamparados, just south of the capital, San José, as one of the causes of the spike in killings. Espinoza said that power vacuums created by arresting the leadership of criminal organizations can generate violence as other groups vie for control. The OIJ director said that studies suggest this violence tends to stabilize over time, but he did not specify when he believed that might happen. Costa Rica’s homicide rate climbed to 11.5 per 100,000 inhabitants in 2015.

Costa Rica’s homicide rate may be ticking up but it remains far below that of its northern neighbors in El Salvador (104) — the highest in the world — Honduras (57) and Guatemala (36).

Thefts have more than doubled across Costa Rica in the last five years. In 2011 5,144 reports of theft occurred. In 2015, that figure was 11,489. OIJ claims that more than 55 percent of thefts were due to negligence on the part of the victim, followed by pickpockets, who were responsible for more than 20 percent of thefts. The cantons of San José and Alajuela reported the largest number of thefts at 2,222 and 710, respectively. Nationally, there was a theft reported every 46 minutes.

Guns were the preferred weapon for criminals in homicides, robberies and car thefts, according to the report. Espinoza said OIJ supported more robust gun controls to help curb the use of deadly force during these crimes.

There were some areas of improvement last year. Home robberies were down 13.4 percent and non-residential burglary decreased 12.9 percent, according to the report. Assaults were also down in 2015 compared to 2014.

Espinoza said that police cooperation, robust investigations and successful prosecutions would be needed to address Costa Rica’s lack of public security.

“There’s something we need to realize. We live in the most violent region on earth where there exists a general culture of violence,” Espinoza said. “It’s not as worrying as in the Northern Triangle, but we police need to join forces to try and lower it.”

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There’s no doubt of a cultural shift in Costa Rica over the past decade. Fifteen to twenty years ago a Tico would not have elected a Pandering, Pantie wearing jack@ss of a Presidential representation of wich Solís exudes.

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Ken Morris

It’s always dangerous when anyone blames homicides on “a culture of violence,” especially anyone in law enforcement, since that phrase invariably means that they don’t have a clue what’s going on. That is, while cultures are real and powerful, they are at best composites of multiple components–values, norms, customs, even things like child-rearing practices–and this makes any generic explanation in terms of culture way too broad. If the problem really is in the culture, we need to know what specifically is afoul in the culture. Telling us that the problem is the culture tells us nothing (except that the person blaming the culture doesn’t have an explanation).

Fortunately, we know that the spike in homicide rates is not attributable to the culture, but rather to the gangs that have established themselves around the drug trade. There is also no reason not to believe that law enforcement destabilizing some of these gangs has led to more homicides as a result of the gangs fighting each other over market share.

The obvious solution, as others have commented, is legalizing the drugs that these gangs are fighting for control over.

However, the longer that solution is postponed, the less likely it is that it will succeed. Frankly, it may already be too late. Once organized crime gangs become established, after all, they branch out into other businesses. Already there are reports of some of them in Costa Rica extorting local businesses, and someone is running illegal guns into the country. At some point, even removing the allure of drug profits may not be enough to combat these gangs.

But realistically Ticos aren’t going to legalize drugs anytime soon. They are softening somewhat on pot, but still debating medical marijuana. Plus, I seriously doubt that Ticos will be willing to defy the US on the drug issue, and the US has too much interest in perpetuating the “war on drugs” to permit this. Mind, I no longer think that anyone in Washington believes that the “war on drugs” has anything to do with drugs. It’s rather Washington’s excuse to keep itself militarily and diplomatically involved in Latin America, an involvement it wants primarily as a counter to what it fears are the growing influences of Iran, Russia, and China in its own “backyard.” However, as long as the US persists in this contest over hegemony in Latin America, the “war on drugs” will continue and Costa Rica will continue to be caught up in it.

Costa Rica’s only real option now is to win its local version of the “war on drugs.” This is what Colombia has largely done. Of course, Colombia’s success has only moved the problem elsewhere–and everyone knows that this is all that success in the “war on drugs” entails–but it is a solution for individual countries. Costa Rica could theoretically prevail in its “war on drugs” and move the drug gangs somewhere else, but it all amounts to rearranging the checkers rather than really winning.

The alternative, of course, is to blame the culture.

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Legalizing drugs as suggested by Propeace will not solve the criminal enterprise. The need to sustain habits will still result in robberies of money and property that can be fenced for cash. There is also a huge cost to the Casa system for treatment of the inevitable overdoses as well has detoxification to those hopelessly dependent. Decriminalizing pot will help somewhat, but the current global increase of heroin usage along with cocaine and crack cocaine will mean that the criminal enterprise will not diminish in a significant way.

As for homicides, until swift and sure trials and death penalty sentencing occurs, there will be no meaningful disincentive from committing murder.

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I strongly disagree with your outdated and proven ineffectual stance. Legalization will slash prices because they won’t be sold in a unregulated black market. Education will greatly reduce habits, just as it has done in tobacco use over the last 50+ years. In 1950, 50% of the usa populace used tobacco related products, today under 18% do. High taxes on these commodities also contribute to lower use. Again, tobacco products are indicative of that. If you look at places like Vancouver, Canada– and what they have done in recent years by providing “legal heroin shoot up places”, you will find that they have had ZERO overdoses at their facilities, and they have actually saved dozens of lives by having nurses/doctors on staff to facilitate life saving procedures which stop heroin overdoses. As for your comments on the death penalty being an effective disincentive for people committing murder, while most studies show the exact opposite of that being true. I suggest you shut off the TV and really do some thorough studying on all the issues you cited above. Your uninformed rhetoric is what is holding society back. There are much better ways. Drug addiction can not be cured by criminalizing a commodity. Making it illegal only empowers the underworld, and that is what we were taught by Al Capone and the prohibition of alcohol. History always mirrors itself. Now the problem is breaking the addiction of $$$ away from organizations like the DEA and Military who are incessantly chewing up resources that can be better utilized by society.

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@SDPUS Right on, well put. The evidence of decriminalization / legalization shows a decrease in crime and related problems. The notion that “if drugs were legal, society would collapse” is just the brainwashed nonsense the governments have been spoon-feeding society since it convinced the people it was “right” to make certain substances illegal. In the end, the “War on drugs” is a cash cow for certain aspects of the government too, so follow the money and corruption and you’ll find truth.

Bottom line still remains: Government is meant to represent the people, but rarely does it do so. Everyone knows vast majority of politicians are corrupt, yet we still keep voting for the ‘lesser evil’. Government is the people – period. But its been hijacked by the criminals – period. Good people just want to live good life, so we try to ignore the fact that our world is run by these criminals, but we empower them with every vote and every tax dollar.

Having a central governing group of citizens is essential to society for our current evolutionary state. There can be a lot of good that comes from it. But they’ve been given too much power. And in our current evolutionary state, power corrupts. So its no surprise we find our governments utterly corrupted.

Consider that our whole election process hasn’t evolved in over 2000 years! Does anyone else realize how ridiculous stupid that is? We still elect “Representatives” to carry out our wishes in government, over 2000 years later!!!! It really didn’t work back then, what makes us think it’ll work now? We had no other choice 2000 years ago, but today we have the digital revolution. Today its possible for EVERY HUMAN BEING to have a SPECIFIC vote on EVERY LITTLE DECISION the Government makes. But do we recognize this? No – we just keep “electing” the same crooks over and over that never fulfill their promises and enrich their own agendas at the expense of the human race. Awesome. Good times. . .

Maybe its time we start ignoring Government, take responsibility, and start solving our own problems.

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@LANDHSARK We’re not talking about solving the criminal enterprise. We’re talking about A) government has not right to make them illegal anyway
B) illegal drugs are the #1 cash cow for criminal enterprise

Sure because of B they will move on to other cash cows, maybe even worse ones, but does that mean you should just continue to let them have illegal drugs as their economic force? We can deal with future problems as they arise, but lets deal with this problem now. A & B is enough said.

As far as CAJA paying for treatment of overdoses, thats a whole other CR problem that needs solved. CAJA is a mess and horrifically executed. Neither here nor there in this discussion though.

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I personally would like to see a more caring and understanding society– made up of more hospitals, doctors, nurses and with more effective teachers and schools.

Rather than continuing down this path of militarization, gestapo policing, growing private prisons– while the majorities continue to lose personal rights and liberties for a false sense of more “security”.

It is our choice on how we allocate resources, and now is time to demand effective change for everyone’s benefit, by the representatives who run our government.

Governments need to quit representing billionaires and their money driven interest to privatize the world and all its resources for their own greedy gains. Monetizing healthcare, banking, education, criminal justice, resources (water), utilities through privatization is a very dangerous path…these are domains that should be equally utilized by all inhabitants. Instead the billionaires and politicians are socializing the costs to all citizens and they are privatizing the gains to a select few to rule by Oligopoly. The caja can be fixed when $$$ is allocated correctly! Prisons bursting at their seems with drug addicts is not the right way to allocate finite resources….

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@SDPUS I really think this is our future if we don’t self-destruct first! Consciousness unites all humans across all boundaries & borders, and Consciousness is growing exponentially.

Personally I’m not “against” those self-serving humans who corrupt our ‘governments’ – I would just like to experience a new way of life as you mentioned. We simply can’t expect the “old world” to make it for us. We have to build it ourselves, each of us individually, then ultimately united as a whole.

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Donald Waltz

From a country that has extremely tight Gun control, why is it that guns are the preferred weapon to murder, rob? I thought that criminals will obey the gun laws, oops I guess only law abiding citizens do and they are easy prey to the criminals

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The solution is so simple, its maddening: DECRIMINALIZE DRUGS!

Its the laws against drugs that create the criminal chains. Its the LAWS that create CRIMINALS. Who cares if people ruin their lives with drug abuse? What right does a government have to declare its not ok for a person to use or abuse any substance?

Eliminate the drug laws and you eliminate the profitability of them… eliminate the profitability of drugs and your criminals will need a day job.

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And a drug addict would never commit a crime to gain access to his drugs? People are not being arrested in Costa Rica with much frequency to drug use. If you decriminalize drugs, crime spikes. Terrible idea.

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No more often than a drunk commits a crime to get alcohol. I guess you are fine with that double standard? Can you cite an area and real studies that have shown crime increases? Maybe you should use google and see how crime has actually diminished in places like Colorado after legalization. Or take a look at Portugal since decriminalization of all drugs. Empty rhetoric my friend. That is all your post was. Quit holding society back with your empty rhetoric. You can not cite one real example to support your fallacy. In fact, alcohol poses a much bigger danger around the world, and especially in Guanacaste than marijuana use ever has or ever will. I bet we won’t hear you calling for it to be made into a criminal commodity. Or how about rodeo’s? How many people get hurt or killed in rodeo’s? Should they quit serving alcohol there too? Think of all those damn criminals out there. Maybe we should just lock everybody up.

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The number of thefts is most likely grossly under-reported. I know Ticos who have been victimized by thefts who never reported the crimes because they have no faith in the criminal justice system.

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Ken Morris

Actually, as a trend, thefts may be being more frequently reported as a result of Costa Rica hiring more cops. Generally, increasing the number of cops increases the reported crime rate, since more cops tend to find more crimes.

It’s for this reason that criminologists prefer to use homicide rates. Although some murders can be overlooked, in general dead bodies make their way into reported crimes. Lesser crimes, like theft, are way more subject to reporting inaccuracies. It’s entirely possible that the underlying theft rate declines even as the reported theft rate increases as a consequence of hiring more cops, for example.

It’s just really hard to tell what the trends are with crimes like theft, although homicide trends are pretty convincing.

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