2020 Crime Rates in Costa Rica
Costa Rica has long been perceived as a bastion of security and peace in Central America. The accuracy of this perception is confirmed by the Global Peace Index, a report that includes indicators such as
Costa Rica has long been perceived as a bastion of security and peace in Central America. The accuracy of this perception is confirmed by the Global Peace Index, a report that includes indicators such as continuous conflicts, security, and militarization and which ranked Costa Rica 32nd in the global ranking for 2020, one place higher than in 2019. The country also holds the first place in Latin America, its highest position in the last 5 years.
Despite the encouraging report, however, the country has experienced high levels of violence in recent years. Authorities have blamed Costa Rica’s growing role as a drug smuggling point. With a large unpatrolled coastline and numerous ports along the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean, geography enables organized crime groups to use land, aerial and maritime trafficking routes. International crime groups’ presence in Costa Rica dates back to the 80s when the country started serving as a bridge for drugs coming from South America and headed to the US.
Homicide, a cause for alert
Consequently, the homicide rate has been one of the worst indicators, registering a slight increase during 2020 after two years of being on the decline. The current rate is 11.1%: 570 homicides have been committed during the last year out of which 53% were related to organized crime and about 30% took place inside private homes, where the police cannot interfere. According to Michael Soto, Security Minister, domestic violence and revenge/organized crime homicides are the main reasons for the increase.
Some geographic areas are more keenly affected by the situation, particularly the main population centers. San Jose, Limon, Puntarenas, Alajuela, and Desamparados account for 206 of the homicides. While places like Mora, Naranjo, Oreamuno, Poas, and Upala, rest quietly at the bottom of the list, with only 1 crime each.
Even though the increase for 2020 is only 0.7% versus 2019, it serves as a wake-up call for the authorities and the citizenry alike to fight against systematic violence and the influx of international criminal organizations that are expanding their activities in the country through local gangs.
A thief is a thief…
Likewise, property crimes are one of the main issues faced by Costa Rica’s inhabitants since they represent one of the most common infractions. The Ministry of Security reported 39,859 total crimes in 2020 versus 57,680 during 2019, including theft, robbery, assault, and vehicle theft, which makes for a 30% overall decrease. Authorities attribute this dramatic change to the pandemic, since during several months people stayed home, avoiding crowds, social events, and even public transportation.
So, what are the numbers? Costa Rica registered a steady number of property crimes during the last 5 years for an average of 58,000 crimes per year. Theft is at the top of the list as the most common one, especially in highly populated and tourist areas. Kinds of theft include vehicle thefts, home robberies, pickpocketing, smash-and-grabs, muggings, and purse/wallet snatchings.
San Jose, Alajuela, Heredia, San Carlos, and Pococi have the highest number of crimes, accounting for about 10.000. Hojancha, Dota, Zarcero, Nandayure, and San Mateo registered the lowest number of crimes.
According to the OIJ, during 2019 the number of complaints related to home thefts was 7,316, of which the most frequent type was forcible entry with 3,670 cases. The province that registered the highest number of complaints was Alajuela with 1,694. The canton of San Carlos registered 415 cases, ranking as the one with the highest crime prevalence, followed by the canton of Alajuela with 368 and San Jose with 323. The Liberia district counted 161 complaints, followed by San Isidro de El General with 113 and Quesada with 108.
Imagination is not a barrier for criminals. Fraud is an example of this as it is one of the categories that has seen a constant increase during the last years. 2020 closed with 15.227 reports versus 14.316 during 2019, a 5% increase.
Most were frauds carried out through identity fraud and cyber scams which raises the alarm for the section of the population that could be most vulnerable in the digital world. Most of the scams are directed at internet banking and government sites. Walter Espinoza, managing director at the OIJ, pointed out that perpetrators have adopted new methods as a result of changes brought about by the pandemic in order to access people’s goods illegitimately.
As you can see Costa Rica is not exempt from crime. Understanding how criminals operate and the common places they do so may help you make informed decisions regarding your daily activities, rentals, and even future real estate purchases. Hence, many crimes can be avoided by using common sense. You can minimize your risk of serious crime by avoiding crowds, traveling with a companion, and paying close attention to your belongings.