With U.S. financial help, police will track crime with computers

Security officials and the Fuerza Pública announced Wednesday that police will operate under a new computerized-data system that will eventually cover the whole country.

The U. S. Embassy in San José is contributing nearly $500,000 in equipment and training staff as well as 280 hours per month of manpower in order to start the system, according to a press release from the ministry.

The U. S. government is lending a hand because the system was originally developed in New York City in 1995, officials said at a conference.

The Sistema Integral de Mejoramiento Estratégico Policial, or CompStat (Computer Statistics) in the United States, is a police system that compiles and categorizes crimes by the urban districts in which they occurred, explained Eric Nelson, chargé d’affairs at the embassy.

The system allows for police to map trends in crime in certain areas and respond with more police or different strategies where crime is higher. This system has been adopted by U.S. cities like Baltimore, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles as well as international cities like Vancouver in Canada, San Juan in Puerto Rico and Panama City.

Officials said that the system calls for breaking communities into separate reporting districts to track statistics there. They also said that this will also bring accountability to the officials in charge of those areas by showing how much or how little they are reducing crime.

Many cities in the United States have a similar online program that allows any interested person to track the frequency of specific or all kinds of crime in an urban area over a period of time.

However, security minister Mario Zamora could not say specifically what information would be available to the public
due to a law that prohibits officials from giving away certain information. This may limit how much accountability the system will actually bring.

Additionally, this system relies on people reporting when they are the victims of crimes. A.M. Costa Rica reported last month about a survey where barely half of robbery and theft victims said that they report the crimes.

Finally, it is not clear if the Fuerza Pública would begin filing crime reports. Under the current system, victims of crimes must go to the Judicial Investigating Organization to file a report.

While crime was reduced dramatically in New York City after the program was implemented, some critics say that numerous other factors contributed to that crime reduction, including a zero-tolerance policy towards petty crime taken by Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Other critics say that the system encourages police to not report crimes in order to make it appear like crime is decreasing.

The system has already been implemented in the community of Tibás north of San José, officials said. The ministry plans to gradually expand the program throughout the metropolitan area of San José, then to the other central provinces and downtown Limón and last to the more rural provinces.

Meanwhile, the Spanish-language newspaper La Nación announced its own system to track crime Wednesday. The newspaper said it would be publishing news articles today highlighting high-crime areas.

The newspaper appears to have done a typical computer-assisted reporting project using data from the Judicial Investigating Organization. The data runs through June and includes major crimes.

Previous reports from the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública have shown the obvious, that urban areas have higher crime. Tibás contained the section known as León XIII, perhaps the most densely populated part of Costa Rica. It also is a low-income area known for high crime rates.

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