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Costa Rica registers decrease in homicides for second straight year

January 2, 2020

For the second time in a row, Costa Rica closed a calendar year with a decrease in the number of homicides.

The Judicial Investigation Police (OIJ) recorded 560 homicides in 2019, according to the organization’s leader, Walter Espinoza. That figure is significantly below the final homicide tally for 2018 (585), which itself marked a reduction from a record-breaking 2017 (603).

“This is very significant,” Espinoza said.

OIJ investigations found a significant decrease in violence between criminal groups and a decrease in deaths related to domestic violence in 2019. However, preliminary indications point to an increase in homicides that stemmed from other attempted crimes such as robberies, Espinoza said.

“Ultimately, there are 25 fewer victims,” Espinoza said.

The province with the most homicides was San José, though it saw a decrease compared to 2018. Guanacaste and Puntarenas suffered marked increases in homicides (from 22 to 38 and 57 to 74, respectively).

“The case of Puntarenas worries us,” Espinoza said. “We have reports that the social situation in the province isn’t the best — there are problems with unemployment, juvenile gangs, and social issues in general. These may be indicators of increasing homicides.”

Public Security Minister Michael Soto, who was appointed by President Carlos Alvarado last May, has been highlighted as instrumental on helping to curb the homicide rate. His “Megaoperativo” strategy coordinates all the nation’s police forces to target high-risk areas, and Espinoza said the increased police presence has led to a decrease in crime.

Despite the reduction in homicides, the 2019 data still works out to about 11.2 homicides per 100,000 occupants in Costa Rica — above the rate of 10 per 100,000 the World Health Organization considers as a baseline for an “epidemic.”

“We still have work to do, including non-police work, to make sure that the reduction of homicides is constant, permanent and sustainable,” Espinoza said.

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