Flooding downtown San José with Fuerza Pública officers appears to have done exactly what officials hoped. There is a renewed sense of security in the center city.
Store operators, parking attendants and others are quick to say that there are few robberies and fewer suspicious persons hanging around the downtown this year when compared to last. They credit the police presence and flagrancy tribunals that can cut through the red tape and put a crook in jail in just a few hours.
The turn for the better even has been praised in daily newspaper editorials.
However, a look at police activities and contact with informal sources shows that many of the downtown crooks are now plying their trade in the suburbs.
A 17 year old youth walking home with three friends Saturday about 10:30 p.m. was confronted by three robbers. The youth resisted and suffered a fatal bullet wound. The killing took place in San Francisco de Coronado.
Also in Coronado, the Judicial Investigating Organization reported a home invasion Friday night. No one was injured then.
Two women were confronted with a motorcycle robber during the early afternoon Monday immediately behind the Fuerza Pública headquarters in Moravia. Their screams drove off the crook, but they expressed surprise that such an incident should happen in Moravia, north of San José.
Police statistics may show a decline in crime, but statistics in Costa Rica are a little shaky. For example the two women who screamed down a robber Monday said they called police but no one came.
Fear is another reason crimes are not reported. A San Francisco de Dos Ríos woman steadfastly will not report the sacking of her home even though she lost everything right down to the food in the pantry. She fears revenge.
Judicial agents are trying to investigate kidnappings in Alajuela, but the victims will not cooperate. What began as a home invasion April 15 turned into the
double kidnaping of a mother and child when crooks were not satisfied with the loot they found in the home. The pair were held for several days, and agents think that a ransom was paid, but they are not sure.
San Pedro, just east of San Jose’s downtown is seeing more than its share of home invasions and store robberies in recent weeks. Armed men raided a computer store there at mid-afternoon Saturday and then stuck up an adjacent bookstore.
Several home invasions in San Pedro and also in Los Yoses have made the news in recent months.
Friday night there was a home invasion in Guadalupe, also north of San José.
That there are more crooks in the suburbs does not mean that traditional trouble spots are seeing less crime. Shootings are a regular event in León XIII, Hatillo, La Uruca and Pavas.
Several months ago, Central Valley crooks appeared to be taking advantage of better highways to prey on the central Pacific and quiet towns like San Ramón where not every home has bars on the windows and doors. In fact San Ramón was a battle ground where drug gangs fought for dominance. A man died there over the weekend in what is presumed to be a drug-generated murder.
Now it appears that Central Valley crooks prefer short trips to the suburbs instead of longer ones to the beach towns or places like San Ramón. They are less vulnerable because they are not using heavily patrolled highways. And they know the area better. Plus the preferred vehicle, a motorcycle, is better for quick, short trips instead of day-long excursions.
This apparent change in criminal behavior does not mean that local gangs do not terrorize neighborhoods. Agents have tried to jail members of several gangs since the beginning of the year, but because many of the criminals are juveniles most are free.
Coupled with changes in criminal activity, there also seems to be a reluctance of police officers to discuss local crimes with reporters.
That seems to be true in Escazú and Santa Ana where home invasions take place but frequently do not make the police reports available to reporters.