Costa Rica, U.S. Team Up to Implement SIMEP Security Program
By Dialogo December 26, 2012
SAN JOSÉ — In 1994, when Mayor Rudolph Giuliani took office in New York, he promised to clean up the city’s streets. “It’s about time law enforcement got as organized as organized crime,” the politician famously said during his campaign.
Giuliani’s resulting CompStat program led to a 66 percent reduction in murders and a 50 percent drop in major crimes by 2001, according to the FBI Uniform Crime Report’s 2001 Index of Crime.
The program’s success led to its adoption by other cities throughout the country including Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. Now, more than 12 years later, it’s spreading overseas — this time to Costa Rica.
“This change is historic for our country,” said Deputy Security Minister Walter Navarro. “This program is going to completely change the structure and effectiveness of the nation’s police force.”
Costa Rica’s new initiative has been dubbed the Integrated System for the Improvement of Police Strategy (SIMEP), and has been branded a complete new philosophy by the nation’s Ministry of Security.
SIMEP is rooted in community development through the integration and cooperation of regular citizens into police work. This, combined with a U.S. investment of nearly $500,000 worth of mapping technology, will help police pinpoint where and when crime occurs. “This technology is absolutely the best tool our police force could have in fighting crime,” said Navarro.
Costa Rica is not CompStat’s first appearance abroad. Panama has slowly been implementing the program over the past few years with U.S. assistance from the State Department. Panamanian officials have credited the program, at least in part, to a decrease in corruption within the police force in the capital city.
SIMEP’s three pillars
SIMEP, like CompStat, is based on three pillars: dividing community police into quadrants, the use of mapping technology and accountability.
In the first phase, sectoring the city, personnel are permanently assigned to a quadrant. This is designed to help the community familiarize itself with law enforcement in the area. The program relies heavily on the participation of civilians in reporting crime.
“This is designed to grow this relationship with the community,” said Navarro. “There are things citizens know that the police do not, and if they learn those things they will be able to fight crime much more effectively.”
Information collected from civilians and patrols is then aggregated and statistics are inputted into the new mapping software. This software, called R2Police, takes data from incident reports and forms digital maps of where and when crimes take place.
“With this new working philosophy we will have police that are closer to communities,” said Mario Zamora, Costa Rica’s minister of security. “We will have a new technological tool that will monitor crime incidents daily and enable us to prevent crime by taking preemptive, immediate action.”
The third and, according to Navarro, “key component” to the new management system is a series of mechanisms designed to analyze its effectiveness. In order to do this, the Security Ministry will hold frequent meetings with both the community and officers in order to develop future action plans.
This accountability is important not only for determining how well the program works but also for cutting down on corruption within the police force. During the four years following implementation of Panama’s version of CompStat, public approval of the police force grew nearly 10 percent, according to Panamanian government statistics.
The process is cyclical, and after each set of evaluations the patrols change to respond to each quadrant’s needs, and the statistics are collected again. The goal is an immediate reaction to changes in crime patterns.
Fighting international crime
CompStat’s main goal is to help every city is to fight crime locally, the same as with Costa Rica’s SIMEP. Through community involvement, the program seeks, first and foremost, to battle local crime.
“We are looking for the guy who always sells drugs on your street, the convenience store that consistently sells alcohol to underage children,” said Navarro.
Several years ago, local petty crime would have been Costa Rica’s only concern, but recently it has seen dramatic growth in the entry of drugs, and with it, increased drug-related violence.
In 2007, cocaine seizures were seven times as high as in 2005, according to the Costa Rican Institute of Drugs. The World Bank noted in a report last year that the number of crime victims in Costa Rica jumped 50 percent between 1997 and 2008, and that the country’s homicide rate is almost double what it was in 2004.
These problems are more complicated than local crime. In its latest annual report, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime found that nearly half of all drug-related arrests in Costa Rica were foreigners.
“We aren’t talking about crime that stops at the border,” said Zamora. “In order to operate through our country it is necessary that these organizations have some kind of local operation. This is what we hope this program can fight.”
After almost five years of technology development and training, SIMEP’s pilot program was launched in the small San José suburb of Tibás this past September. The little community received several cycles of the program and served as a training ground for newcomers to the technology.
Creating the mapping software proved to be a challenge for programmers in a country without addresses or street names. While a final version of the software has been released, U.S. consultants will maintain a hands-on training role until the police force is comfortable with the new system. Based on the success of the past few months, Tibás officials have given the program a tentative stamp of approval.
“We are not even scared to say good things about this program,” said Víctor Hugo Segura Carvajal, president of the San Rafael Security Committee in Tibás. “We can tell already, based on feedback, that this is working.”
Feeding off the pilot’s success, the Security Ministry has begun expanding the program to other parts of the country. Some of the nation’s largest cities — among them San José, Alajuela, Cartago, Heredia and Limón — are the first on the list for the police force makeover. The ministry hopes to finish Phase III the project by the end of 2013, bringing the new program to both the Pacific and Caribbean coasts along with more rural regions of the country.
This level of expansion is an unprecedented move for the program that has previously only been implemented at a city level.
“Our hope is to bring the project to the entire country very soon,” said Zamora. “Our goal is that through this type of concrete cooperation, between the police force and ordinary citizens, we can bring better service to each community.”
The strategy is fabulous and full of hope but none of this will be possible as long as there isn't an equal distribution of the mobile, logistic and human resources among the different police units that are part of our Ministry of Public Security.