QCOSTARICA – Shootings, robberies in process, cases of domestic violence, attacks by quiebraventanas (car window breakers), and other crimes against life or property are part of what the rapid response teams, made up of two skilled policemen on the same motorcycle, attend to on a daily basis.
Getting to those situations in the quickest time makes a difference. María Fernanda Fallas, one of the 16 policewomen of the 155 officers that make up the specialized group Linces (Lynxes) that, due to the speed of the motorcycle and their skills, constitute the first response.
Since 2014, they have been trained so that, while one drives, another takes over the scene.
They can travel on dirt roads or gravel or pavement and also in areas with high vehicular traffic, where a traditional patrol unit could not and with the speed that many times the case warrants.
The director of the Fuerza Publica (National Police), Daniel Calderón, says that this elite group has given them excellent results in San José, Alajuela, Cartago, Limón, and Heredia and that is why they are gradually seeking to have them in all regions of the country.
He explained that they are vital in flagrante delicto cases (Latin: “in blazing offence”) and that they have participated in seizures of weapons, drugs, and in the monitoring and capture of fleeing subjects.
“The intention is to advance quickly in training, to bring a complete group to Puntarenas and others to the borders of Peñas Blancas and Paso Canoas,” said Calderón.
The police chief recalled a shooting alert against a house in Pavas, San José, in October 2016, which was attended by two pairs of Linces. That time, a drug dispute led four subjects to open fire on the house.
They then tried to flee in the vehicle at high speed, but the Linces managed to spot them. A chase began and the subjects fired at the policemen, who had to return fire until, in their flight, the antisocials collided with a commercial premise near La Sabana, and the four were arrested.
All were well-known drug dealers from Hatillo, who had conflicts with other drug traffickers from Lomas del Río in Pavas. This time the Linces recovered a 9mm caliber pistol and a mini Uzi submachine gun that the detainees fired while fleeing.
Another case occurred at the end of 2015 during patrols in a conflictive area of Sagrada Familia, known as the Callejón de la Puñalada. There two men fled when they were caught shooting at two people.
The action of the Linces allowed the fleeing subjects to be stopped, while the control of the scene was in charge of another couple of Linces. The rapid notification to the relief corps, allowed to save the life of one of the wounded, the other died.
The Panamanian induction
Although the Fuerza Publica has had police on motorcycles (motorizados in Spanish) for decades and there were groups trained in Chile. But it was in 2014 when, through an agreement with the Panamanian Police, officials from the neighboring country trained our motorizados and changed the tactic used until then.
With the teaching of new skills and functions by the Panamanians, the new elite group was formed, which currently helps in special operations to combat local crime in the riskiest areas.
Through the Curso Internacional de Operaciones Policiales Motorizadas, they were taught to zigzag, turn, travel back to back, and that one of the officers can shoot in full gear, if necessary.
The name was taken from a television series where the protagonist, who was called the Lynx, used a motorcycle and dressed in black. For this reason, in Panama, these policemen were related to the series and they began to be called the Lynxes.
“The results we have had are quite good. The work of the Lynx requires a greater availability of resources, since a couple of Lynx requires four officers, ”said Daniel Calderón.
The training is still carried out by a team of Panamanian instructors who come to the country when required.
The training lasts three months and has a strong component of police techniques and tactics and even medical emergencies, so that they can first attend to people injured in an incident.
They also learn basic mechanics, for the maintenance of the motorcycle and the change of tires according to the characteristics of the roads in the areas they serve.
The US Embassy in Costa Rica helps with the expenses for the training of the officers; However, the fact of having to send groups of 100 policemen for three months to train them, has prevented them from growing faster.
“We hope that the recent course, where 84 officers graduated, will be the last one taught by Panamanians. From now on we are able to develop our own training and we are working with the National Police Academy, in Pococí, to approve the study plan,” said Calderón.
The last support that will be requested from Panama will be to improve that curriculum and ensure that everything is in order.
The training they receive has made it possible to reduce traffic accidents by the 4 wheeled patrols. In the same way, the Linces have very few accidents and are called on only in insurmountable situations, given their driving skills.
The risk of doing police work on a motorcycle is very high due to weather and terrain conditions, as well as the danger when chasing other motorcycles or vehicles.
To prevent them from leaving the Fuerza Publica after receiving the training, the police officers sign a contract before starting the course, in which they undertake certain obligations, such as not retiring before a certain number of years.
“From an operational point of view, times are greatly reduced. In cities, the roads are saturated and this group empowers us to have greater coverage, greater reach, arrive faster and have a more preventive presence in high-risk areas,” said the police chief.
“Thanks to the motorcycle patrols and the support of the Linces, it has been possible to recover areas of high incidence and others reflect a containment of homicides or a significant drop in crimes against property,” said Calderón.
In recent days, the return of the quiebraventanas forced the reinforcement of some points on the Circunvalación. For this type of crime, the motorcycle is the most effective option.
The figures for this crime had dropped a lot, but in recent days the reports of attacks in Hatillo and places near this peripheral highway have risen again.
The new works being carried out in the Zapote roundabout generate traffic congestion at certain times, which has also led to attacks on drivers at that point, which was also reinforced.
Balaclava (ski masks) prohibited
Another situation that had to be remedied was the use of ski masks (balaclava) – pasamontañas in Spanish. The police chief said that currently no uniformed police officer is allowed to use it in Costa Rica.
Sometimes, due to weather conditions, those who ride a motorcycle use the balaclava as a protection measure, but it is mandatory that when they get off the motorcycle and remove the helmet, they have to take off the balaclava.
It is only allowed to be used in raids and in very exceptional cases in support of the anti-drug police, where their identity is protected for their own safety.
Her home is on the southern border
María Fernanda Fallas, 25, the mother of an eight-year-old daughter, says that at her home, in San Vito de Coto Brus, everyone is proud of the work she has done in the Linces for two years, when she finished the course with Panamanian instructors.
“I come from a humble family and when they see me in such an important group it makes them feel proud, because I show them that women are capable of everything,” she said.
She travels to San Vito every time her shift is over, to be with her daughter, her parents and brothers.
She affirms that the group’s motto: “Being a Lince is an honor that costs”, is fully fulfilled, since it says that in this job “you have to sweat your shirt”.
Fallas learned to drive a motorcycle in the Linces course. She claims that she is capable of leading or trailing as a tactical support unit, although she prefers the latter. Her goal is to continue working in the Ministry, finish her studies in Law and aspire to a higher rank.
With the Linces she has worked in San José, Cartago, Limón and even Jicaral, on the Nicoya peninsula.
Although the Ministry of Security sharpens the filters of the people it trains as Linces, there are cases that the Prosecutor’s Office has under investigation for alleged abuses of authority.
“In this there are always lessons learned and things to correct, because in the past some officers had to be relocated to other sections,” explained Daniel Calderón.
Five officers from the Linces and four from other sections of the Ministry were arrested on June 14, 2018. By order of the San José Criminal Court, nine were separated from the positions they held and transferred to other areas. Four people were also reportedly detained and suspected of assault.
Article was translated and adapted from La Nacion. Read the original (in Spanish) here.