SAN JOSE, Costa Rica – The Tourist Police Force of the Ministry of Public Security (MSP) is preparing its operations plan to increase tourist safety in all their locations during the coming high season, which will run from late November through late April next year.
The plan aims at ensuring greater safety for the large number of tourists that are expected to visit the different touristic regions of the country during the following months.
Operations will focus not only on preventing and fighting crimes in public areas, but also on providing tourists with information about safety measurements and offering them assistance during their visit.
Jorge Rodríguez, sub-director at the Tourist Police Department, indicates that during high season, operations reach up to a 100%, which requires strengthening efforts in all regions of the country, especially in Puntarenas, Guanacaste, and San José, which are the most visited zones. Surveillance will also be increased in Costa Rican harbors, since a large number of cruise ships will be arriving in the next months.
“Officers are being trained to cover bus terminals and provide preventive safety measures to tourists so they can avoid getting their belongings stolen during transportation. Also, officers will be in charge of distributing guidelines and recommendations on how to avoid document loss and theft,” Rodriguez said.
The most common complaints reported to the Tourist Police include theft of personal items and documents, as a result of tourists’ negligence and scams set up by thieves.
According to Rodriguez, “Informing tourists about the safety measurements they must follow during their visit is a key factor in keeping them from being exposed to risky situations”.
As of now, the Tourist Police has a total of 314 officers located in several towns and cities in all provinces of the country.
The number of officers is expected to increase in the following months, as the Tourist Police is currently recruiting new candidates.
This year, the Tourist Police Force has worked together with national and international institutions and organizations in order to improve touristic security in different parts of the country.
As part of the efforts to improve its service to tourists, last June, the Ministry of Public Security (MSP) and the Costa Rican Institute of Tourism (ICT) signed a 4-year agreement to strengthen the Tourist Police Department.
According to Mario Zamora, Minister of Public Security, through the agreement, the ICT decided to donate ¢300 million, which will help increase the number of police officers, provide supplies such as uniforms and implements (hats, belts, handcuffs, vests), and acquire more transportation units.
“We are committed to the improvement of the Tourist Police of our country and to double our efforts in ensuring a safe and secure environment for national and international tourists,” Zamora said.
In addition, both institutions have been working together to provide tourist police officers with training in a variety of topics such as in criminal analysis, fake ID detection, customer service, Costa Rican geography, sexual exploitation, human trafficking, and others. In addition, a lot of officers have taken English and French courses.
The Ministry of Public Security (MSP) also informed through a press release that last month, members of the Tourist Police met with representatives from the embassies of the United States, Canada, Switzerland, Israel, Great Britain, Belgium, Italy, Spain, Argentina, Mexico, as well as the Consulate of Austria, in order to create alliances with diplomatic organizations to improve the safety of tourists.
During the meeting, authorities discussed general guidelines on how to proceed in the case of passport theft, assault, or the disappearance of foreign citizens, according to MSP.
Xinia Velasquez, Director of the Tourist Police Department, said that “The idea was to work together on strategies that will improve the quality of foreigners’ visits to the country”.
Vásquez also traveled to the Dominican Republic in February to represent the Tourist Police of Costa Rica in the First International Conference of Touristic Security, where attendees discussed several topics regarding touristic security in Latin America, according to MSP.
Crimes reduced by 40%
According to reports by the Ministry of Public Security (MSP), the Tourist Police Force has managed to reduce crime rates in about 40% since its creation in 2006.
From 2007 to 2009, crime reports decreased in 1108 cases. For example, in 2007 the police reported 4834 crimes. In 2008, only 4139 crimes were reported. Meanwhile, in 2009, crimes were reduced to 3726 cases.
Sources of the MSP revealed that between January and May this year, they received more than 1,300 complaints from tourists for offenses such as property robbery, assault and auto theft.
Velasquez indicated that most robberies are committed at bus stations, especially in San José down town. Puntarenas and Guanacaste are also among the most affected zones.
However, for the ICT the number of crimes seems to be low if one takes into account the number of tourists that enter the country every year.
Data provided by the ICT in collaboration with the General Directorate of Immigration show that between January and March, there was an increase of 7,8 in the number of tourists that entered the country, in comparison with last year.
The ICT also expects an increase in the number of tourists during the coming high season months.