Laura Chinchilla Miranda has been president for nine months but the expected security plan has turned out to be a call for more taxes. Absent has been any proposed legislation that would have an impact on crime, criminals or the penal code.
The administration’s plan is to flood the streets with many more policemen. But that plan has a downside, too. The more police that are added in the metro areas, the more criminals go elsewhere.
Robbers are more active in San Pedro, where one died from a police bullet late Friday night. There were no police around to save Fernando Alfaro Argüello when he stepped out of his tractor trailer Friday night near the Zurquí tunnel on Ruta 32 to urinate. Four robbers stuck him up and one shot him in the heart.
Clearly more police on the streets means more crime in the suburbs.
However, there may be some changes that the government can do cheaply. The purpose of this article it to outline some proposals and ask readers to come up with their ideas. Please send them for publication to firstname.lastname@example.org
Expats and others have shown they can make a difference. There are Web sites and community organizations that keep track of local crime and criminals. But more can be done.
A.M. Costa Rica suggestions:
1. Policemen leave their weapons at work when they go home. Other jurisdictions require policemen to carry weapons when they are off-duty. Would be criminals might think otherwise if there was a chance that the man buying ice cream at the pulpería was carrying a gun.
2. Court files are now closed to all but the parties and the lawyers involved, despite the country’s claim to transparency. If court files were open to the public, anyone could see how justice is being delivered. Newspapers can only do so much, but many great revelations have come from the interested citizen with an eye on a special case.
3. Obviously stiffer penalties are needed for robbery convictions. Even those few who are caught frequently get off with a sentence of eight years, which becomes about three years under the Costa Rican system. A recent robbery arrest was of a man who had been given conditional freedom after being convicted of an earlier robbery.
The president could submit proposals to the legislature to beef up the sentences.
4. Although Costa Rica would never enact the death sentence, there are some horrible crimes that warrant life without possibility of parol. Now the maximum sentence is 50 years. But no one does the full sentence. Some 30 or 40 years in prison is not long enough for some rape murderers.
5. How about random drug testing of legislators, judicial officials, including judges, and members of the executive branch? Private industry subscribes to random drug testing of employees, and these public officials work for the public.
6. Costa Rica suffers from a shortage of prisons. And a lot of prisoners hang around all day with nothing to do. Prisons need not be fancy. The country missed out on a chance for a U.S. firm to build a maximum security prison on a concession basis. Current prisoners could build minimum security lockups in rural areas where land is cheap and lumber is available.
7. Every year officials make a big scene in Plaza de la Cultura when they cut up firearms that have been confiscated from crooks and others. Meanwhile, policemen all over the country complain that the bad guys have better weaponry. The confiscated weapons should be turned over to the security ministry armory. Ditto with confiscated vehicles and motorcycles.
8. Law enforcement officials want the public to report crime and have set up special phone numbers to do so. For example, 1176 is to report drug crimes. But what is in it for the poor citizen? A rewards program fairly administered has proved to be successful elsewhere. The U.S. government has a Rewards for Justice program that mainly targets terrorists and big time drug dealers. Some cartel leaders have been snagged through such programs. And even street patrolmen could be cut in for some cash based on the quality of their tips.
So do readers have opinions? We would love to publish serious ideas that would help the country turn the corner on crime.