How to recognize the different police forces in Costa Rica
When you move to Costa Rica, you should know how to recognize the different police forces, know what they do and recognize them. As you all know, Costa Rica has not had an army since Pepe Figueres abolished it on December 1st, 1948. The country needed a police force that came under the command of “El Ministerio de Gobernacion”. These police forces used to cover the regular police force. They were then called the “Guardia Civil” and the “Guardia Rural”, the transit police and also the border police.
Most of the police force changed every four years, with the change of the government. They were the people that helped the political party before and on Election Day and in turn they’d get a job as a policeman. Most were untrained and only the officers were sent to the US or countries like Venezuela and Mexico for training. They would go back to being farmers or office workers until the next turn in the government of their party.
In 1996, Figueres’s son Jose Maria who was President of Costa Rica from 1994 – 1998, got rid of the name Ministerio de Gobernacion and started the “Ministerio de Seguridad Publica” and this was the start of the professionalization of the police force in Costa Rica and there was no more changing of personnel every four years. From then on, the Guardia Civil is called “La Fuerza Publica”.
So now we have several police forces in Costa Rica, each with their own task and pretty well organized:
Policia de Transito
The Traffic police are called “Policia de Transito” has a combined job of traffic control and highway patrol and they belong to the Ministry of Public Works and Transit.
The traffic police can only write traffic tickets or make arrests that have to do with breaking the traffic laws.
Their transport is either by motorbike, a white sedan (similar to the one used by the Fuerza Publica but with “Policia de Transito” on the sides) or blue pick-up truck. Their uniform is a white shirt and black pants and they generally use a yellow vest over their shirt to be seen well.
The traffic policeman or woman is called “trafico” in Spanish and they only wear a handgun.
La Fuerza Publica
The regular Police Force, called “La Fuerza Publica”, belongs to the Ministry of National Security.
They dress in dark blue or olive green army uniform.
This police force is divided in “delegaciones”, like a platoon and located in the different parts of the cities under the name “Policia de Proximidad”.
They are now much better trained although they are still heavily underpaid, the reason for a lot of corruption, especially in drug enforcement.
They are generally armed with an M16. Their cars are white sedans.
Part of the regular Police Forces or Fuerza Publica are specialty forces like the
- Mounted Police,
- Border Police,
- Coast Guard,
- Aerial Surveillance
Also, there are special units that cover
- Canine units,
- Protection of important persons
Then there are police units that belong to other ministries like
- Jail police,
- Immigration police,
- Fiscal police,
- Bank security and others.
The Unidad de Intervención Policial (UIP) is part of the DIS (Dirección de Inteligencia y Seguridad) and both police departments report directly to the Minister of Public Security or Ministerio Seguridad Publica or MSP.
These police forces are used for intelligence services and national security as well as in charge of the security of the president of the country.
They are the best-trained police forces in Costa Rica and are trained as military in countries like Israel, the U.S., and Spain.
Organismo de Investigacion Judicial (OIJ)
The OIJ – Organismo de Investigacion Judicial, is like the detective department on a police force, but is organized nationwide.
The OIJ is a totally separate entity, belongs to the Supreme Court of Costa Rica and they investigate all crimes. If you have been robbed, you have to put the “denuncia” with the OIJ in the surroundings of San Jose, in the middle building of the three courthouses.
Each courthouse in each city has its own OIJ department.
The Municipal Police is kind of a mix between the regular police and the traffic police and you will only see them in San Jose and most larger cities/towns like Heredia, Alajuela, and Escazu. They belong to the municipality and keep order inside their own city.
I hope you never have to get involved with the police in Costa Rica. But if you do, you can at least now tell them apart.
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