The Dark Side of Pura Vida
Costa Rica works very hard to prevent crimes against tourists and for the most part does a very good job. Unfortunately the same cannot be said when it comes to protecting her own population.
There are many reasons Costa Ricans are tens if not hundreds of times more likely to be victims of crime. The main factor is probably that most Costa Ricans live in or around San José and like most major cities the capital has far higher crime rates than the rural areas where the National Parks, rafting rivers and beaches are located.
There is another important reason though and that’s the dark side of pura vida. The national attitude of relax, don’t worry be happy, it’s all good extends to a sort of hopeless resignation when it comes to accepting abuse, crime and violence. Most Costa Ricans basically see it as the way it is and the way it’s always been and don’t even try to do anything about it.
Tourists and expats on the other hand have been places where they expect safety and security so when they get mugged they get very angry and very loud about it. As they say “the squeaky wheel gets the grease.”
Costa Rica has a Theft Problem
One out of five Costa Rican families were victims of theft in a single year according to statistics released in 2012.
Nearly half were victims of muggings (assault and robbery in the street) and another third had their homes broken into.
Nearly three fourths of the crimes were committed in or around the capital San José.
The United Nations Development Program – Programa de las Naciones Unidas para el Desarrollo (PNUD) and National Institute of Statistics and Censuses – Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Censos (INEC) analyzed data for the 12 months prior to July 2010 for all 1.3 million families in Costa Rica.
Police department statistics are completely inaccurate and much lower because an amazing three-fourths of the victims did not file police reports. Victims don’t go to the police because they believe nothing will be done, the police actively discourage reporting crimes because it makes them look bad, and some victims are even worried about being victimized again by corrupt officers.
The theft statistics do not include other crimes like domestic violence, extortion by the police, or fraud which affected thousands more.
In a separate 2011 OIJ report there were 779 reported home invasions where armed criminals forced their way into luxury homes while the victims were present. The OIJ also stated that one in four Costa Rican women has been sexually assaulted or has been/is in a physically abusive relationship.
Of course statistics on crimes committed by the police are even more difficult to come by. It’s not clear what percentage of the force is corrupt, but when a new police commissioner was appointed early in 2012 one of his major complaints was that he was massively understaffed because so many officers were suspended pending trial for criminal activities.