With no police station, Nuevo Arenal is a target for criminals, say residents

September 2, 2014
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Residents and business owners in Nuevo Arenal, a town in north-central Costa Rica near the Arenal Volcano, are demanding a greater police presence after a spike in crime in recent months.

In response, National Police officers have increased patrols in the area, and residents have stepped up community policing initiatives. The Public Security Ministry has promised to reopen a police station there.

The security situation in Nuevo Arenal, located on the northern edge of Lake Arenal, reached a boiling point following a brazen late-night attack on Aug. 23, in which 10 armed suspects in several vehicles robbed the Arenal gas station and the local Importadora Monge store, police in Tilarán told The Tico Times. The incident occurred at 3:30 a.m.

Police could not say how much cash and how many items were stolen. More than a week later, no arrests have been made.

During the assault, suspects injured a private security guard and stole his weapon and motorcycle. That guard had been hired by local business owners to conduct night patrols in the area.

According to National Police in Tilarán, Nuevo Arenal’s police station was closed five months ago after officials declared it inhospitable. Since then, residents, business owners and a community group called the Asociación de Desarrollo Comunal de Nuevo Arenal have begged authorities for help.

“Crime has been on the rise in the past six months in Nuevo Arenal, particularly robberies targeting businesses and foreign residences,” Alexandra Carvajal Mora, a member of the community association, told The Tico Times.

According to Carvajal, when the police station was closed, the association offered an alternative site for police officers, but the National Police rejected the help. After that, association members began writing officials in San José demanding action. That effort began before President Luis Guillermo Solís and a new administration took office in May.

Until the Aug. 23 incident, it seemed residents’ pleas had fallen on deaf ears. Only recently were they able to obtain a meeting with Rigoberto Rodríguez, regional director of the National Police for the northwestern province of Guanacaste. Following that meeting, and in light of the recent crime wave, things are now slowly changing. Three weeks ago, they had asked for more cops. Last week, they finally got them.

“Now that the community is better monitored, police have been making arrests for drug trafficking and assaults. Nevertheless, the community is still exposed,” Carvajal said.

Rodríguez told The Tico Times that reopening the local police station is one of several actions cops are taking to provide better security for the community.

“We’ve initiated a cycle of activities for better public security and to protect businesses. That plan includes a greater police presence,” he said.

Rodríguez did not say how many cops are now on the beat in Nuevo Arenal, but he promised the police presence would be “permanent.” The plan relies on a contingency budget from the Guanacaste regional directorate.

“We’re going to renovate the [Nuevo Arenal] police station, which temporarily will help significantly. But we’re also planning to build a new station to respond to the demographic growth in the area,” he said.

However, there is no timetable for that construction, and the land where it is slated to be built is registered to the Costa Rican Electricity Institute. The property first must be transferred to the National Police. Officials also need to secure the funds.

Carvajal said the association would help obtain building materials, labor or other donations from community members to speed up the process. In the meantime, police on Tuesday evening held an open meeting at the local gymnasium to train residents on community policing strategies.

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