Costa Rica has one of the highest levels of economic and human development in Central America (ranking n° 62 in the Human Development Index according to UNDP), and its levels of crime and violence are much lower than other countries in the region. Despite this, a rising trend in homicide rates (6.6 per 100,000 in- habitants in 2004, to 11.8 in 2009 and 8.8 in 2012) has accompanied a rapid growth in drug related crimes and robberies, contributing to an increased sense of insecurity amongst the population. De- spite recent gains, with the sustained increase in the homicide rate reversing after 2009, this has not translated into an improved perception amongst the population and security concerns continue to represent an important challenge to the country.
Following the removal of the so-called “Army”, between 1948 and 1949 public security was the main responsibility of the Civil Guard and other decentralized bodies, some acting at the level of provincial governments. In 1994, with the issuance of the law that regulates all national police forces, progress was made in the professionalization and standardization of security criteria, although while continuing to implement a decentralized management model.
• Public Force and other security forces: the main security body is the Public Force, including an Air Surveillance Service and the National Coast Guard Service. Other police forces also provide security: Penitentiary, Border, Fiscal Control, Transit, and Migration, in addition to the Intelligence and National Security Directorate and Special Intervention Unit.
• Ministry of Interior, Police and Public Security: these are two ministries headed by a single minister since 1995, which are responsible for the Public Force, the Drug Control Police, the Coast Guard, Air Surveillance and the Professional Migration Police.
• Judicial Investigation Organism: also considered a security body, it is the organism that assists in judicial matters and since 1973 it carries out the functions of criminal investigation, besides having charge of the department of forensic science and legal medicine.
• Ministry of Justice and Peace: responsible for the administration of penitentiary centers and programs for the comprehensive prevention of violence and crime, conflict resolution and control of public spectacles. It also chairs the National Com- mission for the Prevention of Violence and Promotion of Social Peace, which was created in 2006.
• National Public Security Council: body that defines the general policies of the various security forces.
• Office of the Public Prosecutor: carries out criminal prosecution tasks and preliminary investigations in the crimes of a public nature.
• Human Rights Ombudsman: subsidiary body of the Assembly since 1993 in charge of protecting the population against the actions and omissions of the Public Sector.
• Costa Rican Drugs Institute: part of the Office of the President, it was created in 2002 as the entity responsible for carrying out prevention, rehabilitation and reintegration policies, as well as policies against drug trafficking and assets linked to drug trafficking and related activities.
Costa Rica stands out from other countries in the region due to the multitude of different specialized police bodies pertaining to different ministries that exist in a fundamentally decentralized system.
Following the abolition of the Army and its codification into the 1949 Constitution, the Civil Guard was created as a dedicated police body whose principal functions were public order and security. In the following decades it can be seen that a policy of generating bodies for different areas and in different jurisdictions was followed, with the objective of preventing that all enforcement power was concentrated in a single institution. The General Police Law, passed May 26th 1994, gave the country its first single legal body regulating all of the country’s police forces, in addition to professionalizing the service through the development of a police career.
Of these, the Public Force stands out as the largest police body, and that designated to the maintenance of public security, whilst a large dedicated body of judicial investigators located within the Judicial Investigation Organism also stands out.
Costa Rica in “The Public Security Index”
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