The COVID-19 pandemic provoked a series of measures aimed at avoiding contagion such as vehicle restrictions, teleworking, virtual schooling, limited capacity in commercial establishments, and the closing of parks and recreation sites, among others.
With fewer people on the streets, criminals saw their opportunities limited. According to statistics from the Judicial Investigation Police (OIJ), in 2020 there was a 23% decrease in criminal complaints.
According to Walter Espinoza, general director of the OIJ, Costa Rica projects to close the year with 80,000 complaints, a lower number than that registered in 2019, which accounted for more than 100,000.
“The offender realized that he no longer had the facility to commit traditional crimes that involve some contact or encounter, which generally affected passersby or people who left their property in a certain place and led to a situation of neglect that favored the criminal act,” Espinoza said.
Complaints for crimes against property fell approximately 34% throughout the national territory. Within this category are robberies, assaults and theft.
However, the underworld quickly adapted to the “new normal” imposed by the pandemic, which is reflected in the increase in fraud accusations. In 2020, the OIJ has registered a total of 15,227 complaints, thus surpassing previous years: 13,971 in 2019, 10,969 in 2018 and 9,121 in 2017.
By type of fraud, most of the complaints were due to deception (9,279), scams (4,031), computer scam (777) and identity theft (643).
“The offender realized that, in order to gain illegitimate access to people’s property, he had to go to a different place and, then, he turned to virtual environments and that caused an increase in the amount of fraud and other crimes that were forged through social networks, online platforms and telephone methods,” Espinoza said.
An example of this is the number of complaints filed for credit card scams (2,456). Also the increase in the use of the false identification — where the perpetrator poses as a member of a respected company or institution — which went from 2,280 cases in 2019 to 3,873 in 2020.
Costa Rica’s 2020 crime statistics
While crimes against property decreased, official data show 559 homicides reported so far this year, a three-person increase compared to the same period in 2019.
Regarding robberies, in 2020, 13,790 cases were registered. This is a figure lower than that reported in 2019 with 18,374 complaints, or 2018 with 19,348.
Assaults, a crime that involves violence due to contact between the victim and the perpetrator, also decreased in 2020, from 15,909 in 2019 to 9,303 this year.
Vehicle theft fell this year compared to 2019: it went from 4,537 complaints in 2019 to 2,879 in 2020. The majority were motorcycles (9,661), followed by cars (6,298), rural 4×4 vehicles (2,567) and light-duty trucks (1,421).
“Due to the pandemic, people used their vehicles less and there was also an important restriction in circulation. This circumstance limited criminals, who tend to take advantage of people’s carelessness,” Espinoza said.
Thefts fell, too: 19,219 complaints were registered in 2019 versus 11,240 reported in 2020.
“Starting in June, we began to notice an increase in bicycle theft. This is also a phenomenon that arises as a consequence of the pandemic, since this mobility alternative was made more popular,” Espinoza said.
A version of this story was originally published by Semanario Universidad on December 23, 2020. It was translated and republished with permission by The Tico Times. Read the original report at Semanario Universidad here.