Several demonstrations of off-duty police officers took place on Thursday in Costa Rica in protest against the reduction of rest hours imposed by the government to implement a special operation against organized crime.
Small groups of off-duty police officers gathered and blocked streets in different parts of the country. In San José they blocked traffic in a central plaza, and another group demonstrated at the accesses to the airport in the neighboring town of Alajuela.
They also momentarily blocked the main routes from the capital to the Pacific and Caribbean coasts.
In the evening, a demonstration of several dozens of off-duty agents remains outside the private house of the president of Costa Rica, Rodrigo Chaves, whom they accuse of having shortened his days off.
The president announced last Wednesday an increase of 700 new agents and a change in the schedules of the current uniformed officers, who used to enjoy 6 days of rest for 6 days of work and now must work 6 and rest 4.
“Policemen united, will never be defeated” or “no to the six for four” were the most repeated proclamations by the agents mobilized in front of the president’s house.
The government announced that 9,500 of the 12,000 police officers in the country will be on duty for six months.
“We are fighting for our rights,” said an agent demonstrating in front of Chaves’ house, who did not identify himself, to the Costa Rican channel Teletica. “It’s a very stressful job,” he stressed.
The agents stressed that the protests will continue on a daily basis until the Executive decides to retract the decision to reduce the uniformed officers’ days off.
The Minister of Public Security, Jorge Torres, addressed the protesting agents through a video sent to the press to tell them that “Costa Rica needs you today”.
“We must do our bit and unite to say ‘no more’ to criminals. Let’s put in first place the common benefit that this temporary decision represents”, said the minister.
Torres pointed out that the measure is “temporary” and “exceptional” and that although it “generated doubts” among police officers, “it was taken in order to have more police officers on the streets”.
The Minister invited the police union leaders for a meeting this Friday to discuss the situation. The National Association of Public and Private Employees (ANEP), official voice of the mobilized police officers, indicated in a brief press release: “we understand the uneasiness of the police union about the announcement made by the government”.
They emphasized that they are analyzing “various scenarios” and that “the demands made are just”.
The former president of Costa Rica Laura Chinchilla (2010-2014) said through her Twitter account that what the Chaves government has achieved is “unusual!”.
“A proposal that intended to get criminals off the streets, ended up with the streets blocked by protesting police. On what basis were the actions designed and proposed? Enough of occurrences! The security of the citizens is a serious matter”, affirmed the former president.
Congresswoman Kattia Cambronero, of the opposition Progressive Liberal Party, Costa Rica’s historic governing party, claimed that “a police demonstration is serious. It is the worst social outburst. Urgent actions by the Executive and immediate citizen concern”.
The government announced that in the first 24 hours of the operation against organized crime at least 100 people were arrested in the country.
Of the 100 people arrested on the first day of the operation, seven were fugitives from justice with outstanding arrest warrants. In addition, 87 are suspected of committing crimes against life, against property or for alleged violations of the law on weapons or drugs, said the Ministry of Public Security.
“This operation will continue indefinitely 24 hours a day,” said the deputy director general of the Public Security Forces, commissioner Raúl Rivera, to the press.
According to the Judicial Investigation Organism (OIJ), Costa Rica registered in 2022 the record number of homicides since records have been kept, with a total of 656, which increased the rate to 12.6 violent deaths per 100,000 inhabitants, when in 2021 it was 11.4.
Of those deaths, 63% were settling of scores between criminals. So far in 2023, 261 homicides were registered, according to the OIJ.