Law enforcement struggles to stem rising crime

Law enforcement officials are struggling to find solutions for increasing murders, drug smuggling and other crimes that suggest failure of the country’s institutions.

The security minister said Sunday that he plans to present to the president of the Corte Suprema de Justicia and the head of the Judicial Investigating Organization a plan for an integrated task force to attack organized crime and the wave of murders believed linked to drugs.

The minister just returned from Tamarindo where he met with residents Saturday in the wake of a home invasion April 1 that took the life of a well-known tourism operator.

Also over the weekend the Ministerio de Seguridad reported an upswing in arrests when criminals were caught red-handed. The ministry said there were  7,263 persons detained that way in 2014, but the frequency has increased in the first months of this year, it said.

The murders continue. The Judicial Investigating Organization reported
the killing of a 21 year old named Rodríguez and the wounding of a 19 year old in Pavas Friday morning. Then the agency quickly reported that yet another body had been found.

Hardly any place appears to be safe. Sunday a 29-year-old woman with the last name of Crespi suffered three gunshot wounds as she was waiting in a vehicle outside the heavily guarded San Sebastián detention center. The gunman walked to the car window where he fired the shots. Then he fled on a motorcycle, said judicial agents.

The crime happened at 5 a.m. There was no explanation why the woman was there at that time, but she was identified as being a family member of individuals connected with a gang.

Even inside the prisons are not safe. Judicial police said a 21-year-old man with the last name of Juárez died in Hospital México early Sunday after being taken there from the La Reforma prison complex in Alajuela. He suffered stab wounds, agents said.

The Ministerio de Seguridad said that Gustavo Mata, the minister, would propose today the creation of an integrated strike force to crack down on organized crime and murders. Investigators say that many murders are the product of a continuing war for control by drug gangs.

Mata noted the relationship and said that he would propose an interdisciplinary team of prosecutors, investigators and judges. Under the Costa Rican law enforcement set up, Mata’s Fuerza Pública is supposed to be a preventative police force that does not investigate.

The only exception is the anti-drug police in tamarindo042015the ministry, which does carry out extensive investigations.

The Judicial Investigating Organization is an arm of the courts which has been protective in the past over its powers to conduct investigations. It also has an anti-drug section.

Mata will make his proposal to Zarella Villanueva, the president of the Corte Suprema de Justicia; Francisco Segura, director of the Judicial Investigating Organization, and Jorge Chavarría, the fiscal general or chief prosecutor.

Prevention is the policy that Mata organized in Tamarino. He met with concerned citizens. B&B owner Barry Lawson was the man who died as the result of a home invasion April 1. The crooks got $32,000 from a safe. The bulk of the money was for various local organizations that help children.

Mata again boosted the police presence that had been boosted last week. In addition to two quadracycles and two motorcycles, Tamarindo gets a patrol car, a police headquarters and 28 officers. An additional 18 officers are now stationed in Villarreal, also in the canton of Santa Cruz.

Over the weekend these officers swept Tamarindo, Brasilito and Flamingo, all areas with a thriving drug trade. They managed to confiscate small amounts of cocaine and marijuana, said the ministry. Police also checked vehicles and more than 30 motorists received tickets for various infractions.

Residents had complained that Tamarindo was without police after the local station closed.

The stabbing in the La Reforma complex is another indication that the populations there are not fully under the control of guards. Those who have been incarcerated report that inmates have their own system of governance and charge other prisoners for such necessities as mattresses, showers and even time on the toilet.  A mattress may range from 5,000 colons a week for a Costa Rican to 80,000 colons for an expat, ex-inmates have told reporters.

The prisons also have been the scene of severe beatings for years. A recent victim was a man who is accused of killing a 2 year old.  Prisoners took it upon themselves to administer a near fatal beating to the man, and there was a delay in the intervention of guards.

Others who have served time speak of self-styled kings of the various lockups who extort money, food and other items.

As part of its preventative efforts, the Fuerza Pública also deals in outreach.  An example was a march police set up in the Sagrada Familia section of San José Friday. School children with signs marched with police officers, mounted officers and dogs and their handlers.  The marchers called for an end to violence.

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