Crime in Costa Rica is a hot topic these days. It’s been heating up for the past few months. Then that 70-something-year-old ex-Marine cruise ship passenger killed an armed mugger with his bare hands on a bus in Limón. That made the news. Then Robyn in Jacó suffered mightily at the hands of thugs in her home. She is talking long and loud about this, hopefully some good will come of it. Tica Teri says Jacó is filled with cops this holiday week and she is feeling safer there for it.
It’s a sad fact that MOST local police forces don’t have money for GAS.
They don’t have cars that run. They don’t have guns – most of them use
their own. Coming from a big police-happy country, I have a hard time
wrapping my mind around this notion… Here in Escazú, filled as it is
with rich gringos, our police force is driving around in new trucks
and cars. So while my chances of being robbed are probably greater in an area more populated with gringos, it looks like the rich guys around here are taking steps to protect their stuff. Perhaps I will be a beneficiary of that pro-action.
There’s no question that petty theft is out of control here. Despite the incidents above, personal safety is not the primary concern. Yet. I don’t think we could live here if we were as worried for our personal safety as we are about our stuff. If things aren’t turned around, fear of personal violence might be next. That would be a tragedy. If any good can come out of Robyn’s experience, it would be that local courts start inflicting some serious punishment on the bad guys.
Today, when a ladrón [la-DRONE, thief] is caught and brought before a judge, he is told not to do that anymore and sent home. I kid you not. There is apparently corruption running up through the ranks here. Shades of Key West. I’ve heard stories of local police officers being paid to look the other way. I’ve heard this so often and so vocally, I believe it.
I also fervently hope – and must believe – this is due to change. Stories like Robyn’s MUST have some effect or Paradise here will stop being Paradise. I don’t want to live in fear of my personal safety and that of my kids. How we live is detailed in a letter I sent off to A.M. Costa Rica (copy below) which has been printing tons of letters from people about crime. So far, I can live like this.
And, so far, in response to the Limón and Jacó tragedies, the administration has promised to beef up wire-tapping on organized crime. Huh?
Hopefully, this administration will come to its senses and start making sure los matónes [ma-TONE-ace, tormentors] suffer a consequence so memorable they will think twice before repeating their performance. A chance the young man killed by his intended victim in Limón will never have.
My family – my husband, two teens and I – have now lived in Costa Rica a whopping fifteen months. We won’t be leaving anytime soon, crime or no.
We take every precaution against thieves. The house, though not in a gated compound, has secure metal doors, a heavy-duty garage door, gates and bars, a safe room, a safe and a monitored alarm system.
We have three dogs we would have even if they didn’t act like attack mutts when someone approaches. They stay in the house when we are gone and at night for their safety.
When we go out, we leave the TV and lights on. My mom will soon be living with us and, when we take overnight trips, at least one adult stays home. If we all have to leave, we either hire a house-sitter or kennel the dogs and take our chances. It’s only stuff.
Our alarm system cannot be disabled: if the phone or electric system is cut, it reverts to battery back-up and wirelessly signals HQ. Every time the alarm has gone off (by accident, so far), we get a call within 30 seconds. The conversations are friendly and the guy is obviously trained to look for anxiety in my voice. One time, he called again 30 minutes after a false alarm. Apparently he mistook my halting Spanish for someone holding a gun to my head. My Spanish is like that sometimes.
There are other, secret precautions we won’t print to avoid educating the very people from whom we are protecting ourselves.
We drive an older car (my husband calls it "protective coloring"). Tinted windows so you can’t see who or what is in the car.
We are getting one of those signs you see in less glamorous U.S. neighborhoods featuring a picture of a handgun and words like "Beware of Owner.” I’m thinking "Gringos armados, disparan bien.” Something catchy like that. I’ll have to ask a tico friend for the proper snappy Spanish. I’m looking for similar decals for the car doors, hoping smash and grabbers can read.
And, yes, we are armed, with weapons as well as self-defense items. We were in the states, though we never had to be. Not yet. Of course, you’d always prefer not to need one, but in the end, nothing evens a physical contest between a large, hostile man and a small, cheerful old woman like a pistol in granny’s apron.
This paints a pretty grim picture and I do hate all the fuss. Our lives here are anything but grim. I don’t fear for our lives, or even very much for our stuff. If anyone got past all our defenses and hurt one of my children I would be singing a different tune. But no place is 100% safe.
All things considered, we’ve made an excellent trade: life here for life there. We wouldn’t move back to the U.S. for all the coffee in Costa Rica. Our quality of life here is immeasurably better. If ladrones got in and stripped our house, we could replace everything for relatively small money. In the U.S., our medical insurance was as much as our rent is here. And our rent there was three times this. We worked all the time to afford that life. We wonder now how and why we did that for so long.
By the way, on Halloween night ’05, our last in our small former U.S. hometown, a gang of 20 kids, aged 8-15, was walking down our street carrying sticks, throwing eggs, threatening rivals and looking for trouble. The cops had to chase them off more than once. The U.S. has its own problems. When all is said and done, we much prefer Costa Rica’s. So far.