Sunday 19 September 2021

Costa Rica’s Traffic Cops Fight Back

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Pablo Agüero, oficial de tránsito en San José, utiliza una cámara de video en su casco desde hace dos años porque su papá se la regaló. El hombre asegura que el aparato es clave para su labor. | ALEJANDRO GAMBOA
In the photo, Pablo Aguero, one of the 15 Transitos (traffic officials) using a camera, bought with his own money, to do his job. Photo Alejandro Gamboa / La Nacion

(QCOSTARICA) Being a Transito (traffic cop) in Costa Rica is tough job. Daily they face aggression by drivers, some acting violently, while others opening their wallets to avoid a traffic ticket, then turning around to accuse the Transito of being corrupt.

The lack of manpower is another problem, with only 762 active Transitos having to patrol the entire country, around the clock.

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This has led a number of Transito to install video cameras, at their own expense, on the dash of the patrol vehicles or helmets.

A report by La Nacion says that 15 Transitos have each spent between US$300 and US$550 of their own money to buy mobile cameras, used as the main weapon to be used on appeals, to uncover attempts of bribery and to feel more secure in doing their jobs.

Some of the incidents captured on camera are a man taking his child to school on a motorcycle without a helmet; a mother offering money to let off her unlicensed son caught behind the wheel of a truck; or the man handing over ¢5,000 colones instead of his drivers licence after being stopped for a driving offence.

The cameras also demonstrate the violence of some taxi drivers towards the Transito officials.

“The most important thing is security because if someone thinks about attacking a Transito, they would have to take the camera to erase the record (…). Everyone (all the Transito) would like to have a camera, but not everyone can buy one,” said Pablo Agüero, one of the Transito using a camera while on the job.

For example, Aguero tells the story of last March when a minor sped off at speeds of more than 100 km/h on the Ruta 27 to avoided being stopped for noting wearing a helmet, reflective vest or having mirrors. After being stopped, the minor admitted not having a license and that the bike was borrowed.

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Aguero added that when drivers (being pulled over) see the camera they tone down their aggression and insults. “…They calm down, think more of what they are going to do because they know it is all being recorded,” said Aguero.

Marvin Ovares, with 22 years on the job, was the first to install a camera.

“It cost me a ‘quincena’ (two-week salary), but I made the investment. It was a simple camera, not like the one I have now with better resolution and internet. It cost me ¢250,000 colones and I paid it with my credit card,” said the Transito.

Ovares explains that his investment has been useful in contentious hearings as drivers and witnesses narrate facts, completely taken apart by the video.

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The decision by the group of Transitos has caught the attention of the superiors. Mario Calderon, chief of the Policia de Transito, says that in the coming months the police body will be receiving 30 cameras to be used in a pilot program.

According to the police chief, the cameras will be able to record the work of Transitos during an entire shift. The captured video will be stores on the police department’s servers.

Calderon says the plan is to have at least 100 cameras in the coming four years.

On the lack of manpower, Calderon, who has lobbied for additional officials during his two-year term, is the need for an additional 403 officials, bringing the traffic police force to an effective number of 1,165. A number that many feel is still too low.

The current 762 officials work in shifts around the clock throughout the country. The majority of the traffic police force is focused in the Central Valley, in particular the greater metropolitan area of San Jose.

The lack of manpower has in many cases only one Transito on duty during at night in many different traffic police stations across the country, whose duty is basically to respond to emergencies. Forget night patrols.

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"Rico" is the crazy mind behind the Q media websites, a series of online magazines where everything is Q! In these times of new normal, stay at home. Stay safe. Stay healthy.

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