Responding to pressure from residents in Costa Rica’s Northern Zone, who say they increasingly have become targets for assaults and robberies, the Public Security Ministry announced Thursday that it had conducted the first of several sweeps of the area in an effort to catch the bad guys.
Police say they arrested seven suspects and confiscated two cars, three motorcycles, cocaine, marijuana and a firearm in the first sting.
The operation is part of a plan announced yesterday by Public Security Vice Minister Gustavo Mata to reduce crime in one of Costa Rica’s more popular tourist destinations. Mata met with San Carlos municipal officials, National Police, Judicial Investigation Police bosses and community leaders to discuss solutions to the public security problems that have worsened in the last three months.
Areas under surveillance also include the Guanacaste community of Nuevo Arenal, on the northern edge of Lake Arenal, due to its proximity to the San Carlos canton, Public Security Ministry spokesman Carlos Hidalgo told The Tico Times.
That community was the scene of one of the worst recent attacks on Aug. 23, when 10 armed suspects in several vehicles robbed a gas station and an appliance store. Earlier that month, a suspect robbed a local hotel employee at gunpoint and made off with ₡5 million ($9,300) in money for staff salaries.
Mata said the ministry would send six new patrol cars and 40 National Police officers to join the 300 cops already working in the canton.
“Burglaries of homes and businesses, as well as personal assaults and robberies are the crimes most affecting the area,” Mata said. “It requires more preventive policing.”
As of next Monday, police also will have air support from a helicopter patrol by the Public Security Ministry’s Air Surveillance Unit.
Still, residents are angry, criticizing a “lack of effort” recently by police and local prosecutors. Mata responded to those complaints by saying, “Any [police] officer who fails to do his job should be fired immediately.”
Ministry officials will return to San Carlos next Monday to continue coordinating the security plan with local government leaders.