The absolute trust that the majority of Costa Ricans once had in the officers of the Public Force has been diminishing through the years, giving way to an increase in the perception of greater insecurity in the country, according to reports from the United Nations Development Program (PNUD).
The Public Force is aware of this change in perception and now dedicates part of its training to teaching “humanities,” in which officers learn about good manners, discipline, courtesy, respect and other ethical values.
Survey results from the report “Citizen (In)security in Costa Rica: balance of the situation” (PDF) show that 56% of Costa Ricans disagree that the police achieve efficient identification and detention of delinquents; additionally 46% don’t believe in the honesty of the officials and 45% don’t notice their presence.
For its part, the document “Citizen Insecurity and drugs: Realities and Perceptions” reveals that 78% of people consider Costa Rica an unsafe country. Regarding the possibility of solving the problem, a high level of lack of hope is noted, as the report highlights that two of every three people interviewed mentioned being able to do little or nothing.
Those who live in Samara and Nosara have conflicting opinions regarding the confidence generated by the police. Nevertheless many think that the presence of officials near businesses generates confidence in people, especially shoppers and tourists. In addition, many worry about problems such as inefficiency in identifying and detaining suspects, lack of transportation to attend an emergency and an insufficient number of officials for the area (see “Do you feel confidence with the police presence?” page 8 of above PDF).
Why Less Trust
Psychologist Eduardo Alvarez Garro explained that among the factors that people look for when deciding who to trust are “empathy such as interest the other person shows toward my needs, as well as ability to maintain a dialogue between both parties listening and interchanging opinions freely without feeling criticized or attacked, and conduct or actions that support my needs.”
Alvarez believes that among Costa Ricans some social stigmas exist toward the police. “Many see the job of the police as being for people that don’t have another employment option, that the salaries are low and therefore those who aspire to be police are people of limited resources or little education,” he indicated.
Alvarez explained “that the population perceives the police as an authority and protection figure but this initial trust is affected or diminished by actions such as when a criminal is not arrested or is set free quickly. Although we recognize them as an authority, in some cases we perceive them as powerless or inefficient,” he highlighted.
More and Better Trained Police
Adding to this situation is the fact that some police officials still have difficulty filling out written reports with bad spelling and low scholarship.
The Public Force recognizes that they are aware of these factors and the resulting problems; however they assure that they are eradicating these deficiencies by giving better training to the police.
Erick Lacayo, director of the National Police School, explained that currently they are providing better training to a larger quantity of police through the Basic Police Course.
“Currently the course has a duration of more than 2000 hours during one year and is divided in three areas, which are practical police theory, legal and humanities,” he explained.
In the case of police who joined the Public Force before 1994, the school trains them in the High Basic Course, which is similar to the Basic Police Course and has the objective of training and updating officials who have more than one year of service.
Nonetheless he recognized the limitations of some police when they have to communicate in another language, like English, the language most used to communicate with tourists, since the language is not currently taught to the officers. Regarding the physical condition of the officers, he pointed out that during the course it is imperative that they be in shape but afterward it is the responsibility of each official.
Lacayo indicated that currently the National Police School trains an average of 1000 police cadets, who earn a monthly salary of 350,000 colones ($700), and once they finish the course get an additional economic incentive.
For his part, Rafael Angel Araya, regional director of the Public Force in Guanacaste, highlighted the good results of preventive programs like Community Security and Pinta Seguro (Safe Look), which is imparted in education centers nationally and helps children to trust the police and see them as friends, “so they don’t feel scared to talk to or approach us,” he indicated.
In addition Lacayo showed optimism with the training that new officers receive. “We hope to recover the confidence and the main space that we have lost in society,” he concluded.
Source: Voice of Nosara