Friday 29 September 2023

Costa Rica’s Special Police Force Cracks Down On Gang Violence

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Group runs day and night different districts of the capital
Specialized police unit works around the clock in different area of the greater metropolitan area of San Jose, focusing on gang violence

QCOSTARICA – A specialized police force launched in October has been focusing on an all-out effort against local drug-dealing organizations, which are responsible for much of the country’s gang violence and record year for killings.

The 500-member Fuerza Especial Operativa (FEO) – special operations force, which is made up of officers from the Policia Control de Drogas (PCD) – the drug enforcement unit of the Ministerio de Seguridad Publica, Drug Enforcement Police, the Grupo de Apoyo Operacional (GAO) – operational support group, and the Unidad de Intervención Policial (UIP) – similar to a SWAT.

The FEO took to the streets of San José and other cities nationwide to disrupt drug-trafficking groups, deploying officials in conflictive areas,  where gang members are dealing drugs and committing homicides as they battle over turf.

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Due to their high population density, areas Leon XIII, Pavas, Alajuelita and Desamparados are fertile ground for drug gangs to operate.

“We’re reaching exactly the places where they are with these sales, the so-called ‘bunkers,’” the Ministro de Seguridad Publica (MSP), Gustavo Mata explained.

“Bunkers are places they use for small-scale distribution of cocaine, crack… We’ve destroyed a big number of bunkers, we’ve arrested people in charge of those bunkers, and we’ve also intercepted a number of firearms … In a single event we’ve located more than 26,000 doses of crack and more than 3,000,000 colones (some $5,660),” said the Minister.

But the FEO’s impact has reached many levels of drug organizations. Through November 16, the unit had investigated 18,761 people, and conducted checks on 2,301 motor vehicles and 1,584 motorcycles. Officers arrested 46 suspects and confiscated 9,377 doses of crack and 43 firearms – mostly .9 mm pistols – as well as 1,030 rounds of ammunition and 10 clips.

According to the assistant Attorney General and former minister of the MSP , Celso Gamboa, the effort is part of law enforcement’s goal of reducing drug-related violence nationwide.

276279_18milinvestigadosThis year to day, more than 550 homicides, almost half drug-related, according to law enforcement authorities, have been recorded. Last year (2014) the number was 477, after 411 were recorded in 2013, 407 in 2012, and 474 in 2011.

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“This means that investigations against organized crime must be backed more to dismantle those networks,” Gamboa explained.

Much of the bloodshed is caused by local drug gangs fighting to control retail sales in densely populated, low-income neighborhoods in southern San José and in other cities. Most of the small-scale drug trade takes place in the greater metropolitan area (GAM), but it’s also spreading to nearby cities such as Alajuela, Cartago, and Heredia in the country’s Central Valley, as well as farther to the eastern Caribbean port city of Limón, and in northern San Carlos.

“It’s nationwide,” Mata stated. “It’s big business, and that’s exactly why those people are killing themselves – over the money it’s yielding.”

Drug gangs often hire enforcers to kill rivals, and conflicts between adversarial outlaw groups can spark flurries of violence.

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