Students at Costa Rica’s police academy will be riding in style this year with the acquisition of 17 new training vehicles. The U.S. Embassy donated six of the new automobiles along with protective suits, equipment belts and police batons.
“What we are doing today is not simply giving vehicles and new equipment and saying ‘well that’s it,’” Public Security Minister Mario Zamora said. “This is part of a strategy for mobilization and safety.”
The vehicles will be the first piece of equipment ever designated specifically for the training of new police officers, and they will be used to teach defensive driving techniques to students. Academy officials hope that this new training will help reduce the number of automobile accidents involving police officers.
The U.S. Embassy invested $153,000 in the vehicles and equipment, and an additional $97,500 came from the academy’s budget and the Central America Regional Security Initiative (CARSI).
The donation marks a continuation of U.S. Embassy investment in public security in Costa Rica. That policy included the launch of a $500,000, U.S.-funded community-safety program called SIMEP in December.
“The program has brought a change in policing,” said U.S. Embassy official Ron Perrin. “The ability to respond to certain increases in crime has already shown a good impact.”
The new equipment adds to other improvements to the country’s public security administration, including a complete overhaul of the police training system. According to Zamora, the new police academy manual bumped the training period for police from six months to 10 and made the school much more selective.
“In the past when someone said they wanted to enter the police force they encountered a social stigma,” Zamora said. “Today, out of every 100 people who want to enter the police force, only 40 actually make it. This says that it is an institution that is getting more selective, getting more support from the population and is becoming more recognized professionally for protecting the rights and liberties of the public.”
With better personnel and better training come better salaries for police. February will mark the initiation of a new base wage for all police officers, including raises to approximately 13,099 officers in 46 classifications. All trained officers will now make 260,200 ($520) per month, and the increase will depend on their current classification –with the highest possible raise being 485,400 ($970).
Costa Rica has seen a significant decrease in homicides and violent crime since 2010. Statistics released in a U.S. State Department crime report show that from 2010-2011, violent crime decreased by 12 percent. While official numbers from last year have not been released, Zamora said the number of homicides also decreased in 2012.
The overall perception of safety among Costa Ricans also has seen change. In 2010, 77 percent of Costa Ricans believed crime was increasing, according to a Gallup poll. The most recent poll taken in January showed this number had decreased to 55 percent.
“The investments that Costa Rica has made show a strategy that puts citizen safety in high regard,” Perrin said. “So far it is having positive results.”