Security officials seek law to let police investigate

Top officials at the security ministry are drafting a bill for the legislature that will give Fuerza Pública officers the ability to investigate crimes.

If passed, a new law would mean that victims of petty crime could simply report the incident to the police that are constantly on patrol, such as a case of pick-pocketing on Avenida Central.

The current system requires that the victims of such crimes go to the offices of the Judicial Investigating Organization (also known by the Spanish acronym OIJ) hours or days after the crime and file a report.

“The law in Costa Rica doesn’t permit for the regular police, the Fuerza Pública, to conduct investigations,” said Vice Minister Celso Gamboa. “That’s the problem.”

Minister Mario Zamora Cordero said that this will allow the judicial police to follow up on more serious crimes like murder, kidnapping and drug trafficking.

“In order to make this change, we need a change in legislation that permits an increase in the investigative capabilities of the police to have the power to investigate small crimes,” said Zamora.

“That will make it so that the OIJ can specialize in the large crimes,” he added.

Both Gamboa and Zamora off-handedly announced the project at a press conference. The conference was focused on the successes of the Fuerza Pública and the ministry this year, and what plans they have for next year.

If passed, the law would make Fuerza Pública officers more like police officers in the United States, who can record testimonies from victims and witnesses minutes after the crime occurs.

Right now, this police force can only make arrests if they personally witnessed the crime despite them being on patrol where these crimes are occurring, according to Gamboa. For all other cases, the victims must go to the Judicial Investigating Organization offices and file a report, usually long after the trail has gone cold.

“The OIJ is the police that works for the judiciary, and they have to investigate other kinds of crime, organized crime, not the other kinds of crime that we can investigate, like some kinds of robberies,” said Gamboa.

Gamboa said that these crimes will be the small ones that are most frequently reported such as intellectual property, property thefts, cattle thefts and other common crimes that consume a lot of the organization’s time and manpower.

“We need to have the ability and the legal power to investigate minimum crimes to let the OIJ investigate the more serious crimes,” said Gamboa.

Gamboa and Zamora said that they plan to finish the legislation and have it ready to present to the legislative assembly in June of next year. However, it could take years for the legislature to vote on the bill.

The proposal is likely to draw opposition from the judicial, which is jealous of its investigative powers.

In 2005 the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública was forced to disband a special investigation unit specializing in the sex trade, car theft rings, copyright infringement and juvenile gangs.

The special investigative unit had 40 officers, including four involved in tracking down cybercrimes. The U.S. government supported the unit with an initial grant of $250,000, and the British government made donations for the purchase of computers and video cameras.

But Jorge Rojas, then the head of the Judicial Investigating Organization, found support from Francisco Dall’Anese, then the nation’s chief prosecutor.

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