Costa Rican Mayors Play Key Role in Fight Against Organized Crime: Police Chief

Costa Rican Mayors Play Key Role in Fight Against Organized Crime: Police Chief

By Dialogo
July 15, 2015

I find this to be very unfair I'm Chilean, I wonder if other countries use their armies to fight crime because they don't here. What is the reason against it? The origin of so many problems that affect Latin America is drug trafficking. Drugs seem to be the scourge that is putting an end to our societies. Money, sex and corruption come together like a death cocktail...

Local governments and their mayors can play a key role in the fight against organized crime, including drug trafficking and gang violence, according to Costa Rican Commissioner Juan José Andrade, director of the Public Police Force.

The leadership of local officials is instrumental in coordinating a cooperative effort against organized crime, the police director told Diálogo
. Costa Rica abolished its Armed Forces in 1948, and depends on civilian law enforcement officers to ensure public safety. Today, the Costa Rican police are working diligently to stop violence in the southern region of the country that is a consequence of an ongoing battle for control of drug sales between rival gangs.

“We’re realizing that since the citizen security issue is usually regarded as a multi-factor problem, the violence we've seen in the capital's south justifies that type of response,” Andrade said. “And this, I believe, is the major challenge we face: that the citizen security issue, the human security issue must be dealt with by taking into account multiple factors. The whole response capability of all actors – social, economic, community – has to be combined in a single action plan, according to the reality of each municipality.”

Andrade added that it's more than a Public Force issue. "It’s a challenge for the whole country,” he said. To maximize the effective use of law enforcement and social service resources against gangs, drug trafficking, and violence, mayors can “harmoniously bring all sectors together.”

Costa Rican mayors will be key participants in a series of public forums scheduled by security authorities in September to discuss the best ways to maintain public safety, Andrade told Diálogo
. The goals of the events, which will also involve international security analysts, includes stopping the spread of urban violence and drug dealing.

Addressing gang violence in southern Costa Rica

Both mayors and security officials in Costa Rica are paying particular attention to gang violence and drug dealing in urban areas.

As examples, Andrade referred to the densely populated, southern San José sectors of Desamparados, where the territorial gang war began in early 2014, and Alajuelita, one of the areas where the violence has since spread.

“This, I believe, is a challenge we all must face regarding the country’s future, because what’s happening in Desamparados and what’s happening in Alajuelita can happen at any moment in other cities. The only thing needed in this business is to have a market.”

That challenge intensified in early 2014 after law enforcement authorities arrested two local alleged drug gang leaders in Desamparados. The suspects, known as “The Indian” ("El Indio”) and “The Chicken” ("El Pollo”), controlled drug dealing in that region. Since their capture, deputies of the two organizations and the leaders of other groups have fought for control of drug dealing territory in Desamparados, which has about 230,000 residents. That battle sparked a series of homicides: in 2014, Desamparados had a homicide rate of 17 killings per 100,000 people, compared to the national homicide rate of 6 per 100,000 residents.

Working with local mayors, police have responded promptly to the increase in violence, deploying special law enforcement units, including the elite Operational Support Group (GAO). The GAO focuses on neighborhoods where drug gangs are active.

“This group goes in for full containment of these criminal gangs and these red zones, these hot zones. The entire regional GAO is deployed for containment in the area, with support from the Police Intervention Unit (UPI) establishing police cordons on zones with high homicide impact, and we have started to work on illegal possession of weapons.”

Police have extended these initiatives to other neighborhoods in the southern region of Costa Rica, and the police response has helped improve public safety, Andrade said.