Despite constant prevention operations, theft of cell phones and pickpockets increased last year.  Photo Adrián Soto/La Nacion

Q COSTA RICA / If walking about downtown San Jose watch out for pickpockets, warns the head of the robberies section of the Organismo de Investigación Judicial (OIJ), Eddy Roda Abarca, who said there is a noted increase of robberies perpetrated in the center of the capital city.

The OIJ statistics for December 2016 reveals 430 reported cases of thefts, almost 100 more than the previous month. Also, for 2016 there were 587 more reports than in the previous year.

The OIJ chief said that in the midst of the Christmas shopping in downtown San Jose, thieves took advantage of the crowds in the streets and sidewalks to commit robberies.

Cellular phones, money and wallets are the most sought out by criminals, explained Roda.

Although not all thefts were a direct hit by thieves, in many cases carelessness led to thieves taking advantage of tablets, cell phones and shopping bags left unattended.

The official explained that the statistics for the central core of the capital (the districts of Carmen, Merced, Catedral and Hospital) had 4,240 reported cases of theft. In 2015, the number was 3.653. The key word here is “reported”, as many cases of thefts and pickpockets go unreported, many feel that it is not worth the time and effort to file complaint, a filing that involves a large amount of time and will not lead to the recovery of the lost item(s).

The areas of the Borbon and Coca Cola markets, as the Alajuelita, Hatillo and Desamparados bus stops, among others, are the favourite spots for the snatches.

These are areas with a large concentration of people, narrow streets made narrower by street vendors (both legal and illegal) and despite a police presence, where agile thieves take advantage of scurrying shoppers and passersby.

While some thieves act alone, others act in groups. Such as the person ahead of you pretending to stumble or fall, while his or her accomplice snatches your valuables as you come to help.

At the bus stops thieves keep a keen eye open for carelessness.

Erick Calderón,regional director of the Fuerza Publica (police) in San Jose, said that they have identified at least 100 thieves in the central core. He noted that in the group there are many women, as well as seniors dedicated to the thefts.

Calderón added that they are generally not aggressive people, but very skilled at their craft.

The police chief said that people when shopping or simply walking the streets of downtown San Jose adopt an attitude of “healthy distrust”.

Although the translation in Spanish is “desconfianza”, the common term used is “tener malicia”, translated in English “have malice”, which is the desire to see harm come to another, though in this case it is applied not with the intent to commit a crime, rather to ward being a victim of a crime.

Roda explained that it takes about five seconds for a skilled thief to open and snatch a cell phone from a ladies bag, less to lift the wallet from a man’s pant back pocket.

According to Roda, they have had reports of a group of women, some with babes in arms, working as a group to commit robberies of the unsuspecting.

Of concern to authorities is the approaching start of the school year (beginning of February), a time when many come from the rural areas to the big city to buy school supplies.

Authorities insist on people being careful not to make visible, while in the street, money, jewellery or cell phones, especially in the most thefts occurring hours of between noon and 9:00pm.

Of the possible explanations why this type of crime is on the increase, well other than economic necessity, is the penalty or lack of.

The Criminal Code (Código Penal) goes easy on theft under ¢212,000 – the equivalent of one half of the current salary of a “oficinista 1” (class 1 clerk) fo the Judiciary (Poder Judicial).

Added is the debate currently in the Legislature of removing the going to jail for thefts over the ¢212,000, where thieves would be issued a fine or some other sanction instead.

Source: La Nacion

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