San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Messages promoting a coup d'état apparently came from Costa Rican police

Audio messages apparently recorded by members of Costa Rica’s National Police Force feature at least a few police officers toying with the idea of starting a coup d’état.

Why overthrow the government? Allegedly, the idea is rooted in opposition to a new work schedule.

Two audio recordings circulated on social media Tuesday. One features an unidentified female voice saying that the coup will occur this Friday and that no officers should go to work that day.

“A coup [golpe de Estado] is possible,” says a separate, unidentified male voice on another recording. “We’re the military. We’re the police. We’re everything.

“We’ll make the population see that without us, there’s no stronger force in this country… There’s no one who does what we do,” the voice continued. “It would be like moving the biggest piece in a domino set and seeing everything else fall with it.”

Officials from the Public Security Ministry responded to the recordings Tuesday, saying the messages came in response to officers’ frustration with a new schedule. Police Director Juan José Andrade said at a press conference that the recordings were made by disgruntled members of the police union intending to plan a strike to protest the newly instituted four-by-two schedule, which means officers work two nights and two days consecutively before taking two straight days off.

“This has stirred up a situation that affects us as an institution,” Andrade said. “It seems there is a group is making these threats, which have gotten out of hand and arise from a variation in police protocol that this group doesn’t agree with.”

According to a press release from the Public Security Ministry, union members prefer a six-by-six schedule that has officers working six days in a row before getting six consecutive days free.

That schedule has already been applied in certain delegations across Costa Rica as part of a month-long trial to help Ministry officials determine which of the two schedules was more practical. A study done by the Ministry’s Occupational Health Department concluded that the six-by-six schedule was not as efficient because it led to fewer officers on duty at certain times and a general uptick in crime.

Andrade and Ministry authorities called any potential strike “unnecessary” and said that punishments could be given to any officers involved.

According to the Costa Rican penal code, inciting a takeover of the government can lead to up to 10 years in prison for those found guilty.

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Charles House

The mix of days and nights will take its toll. It will take the first day off to bodily adjust to the effects of the switch.

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“A study done by the Ministry’s Occupational Health Department concluded that the six-by-six schedule was not as efficient because it led to fewer officers on duty at certain times and a general uptick in crime.”

Remember the 1960s TV sitcoms, where a company would bring in an “efficiency expert” who tried to convert the employees into maximally productive work-robots? It never worked. The workers didn’t “comply”. They rebelled, either overtly or covertly.

This is typical neoliberal thinking that puts “efficiency” before “people”. Police are people who have their own human interests. “Work” has to serve at least the minimal interests of the people who are doing the work, in addition to “society’s” interest in having the work get done.

In a free market, a “job” is supposed to be a negotiation between an employer’s interests and an employee’s interests. In the neoliberal mindset employees’ interests are moot — workers are “human capital”, the property of owners, to be “allocated” as the owners see fit — and employers enjoy monopoly power to impose whatever conditions they like on their employees.

I was a small business owner and employer for most of my working life. If you want productive and loyal employees, you have to pay them as fairly as you can and accommodate their human needs — which includes their work schedule.

If the new police schedule is so obnoxious to the people who are doing the police work that they are talking about overthrowing their employer in a coup d’etat, then maybe the employer shouldn’t try to impose those conditions on their employment. Maybe the work schedule should be negotiated, to accommodate the human needs of the people who are doing the work: the police.

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Ken Morris

All good points with which I agree, although I think there are a couple other points that nobody seems to be considering.

One is that if the police get the six-days-on/six-days-off schedule they want, my bet is that many will take second jobs, probably in security, during their six days “off.” Police pay is low enough to make taking this kind of second job appealing, and Ticos are accustomed to moonlighting when they can. If the police do take second jobs with any regularity during their days “off,” it may defeat the purpose of the time off by making them more rather than less tired when they are working.

The other seemingly overlooked point is that all the schedules contemplated appear to involve police working over 8 hours on the days they work. There’s evidence that the longer the shifts, the more mistakes in judgment that are made, and it doesn’t strike me as wise for police to be working long shifts.

Anyway, I don’t know what the solution is, and with you I favor treating workers well. However, we also have the public interest to consider, and simply because public employees want something doesn’t mean that’s in the public interest. The employees may well be going for their private interests (including the opportunity to work a second job) at the expense of the public interest.

And in the meantime, every cop who suggested a coup should be fired immediately. This is not anything to joke about, but gross misconduct.

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