People often ask me for examples of what’s different about life here in Costa Rica. Quite a lot is different of course, but somehow providing specifics seems to stump me every time.
During a recent trip to the States, we sat around the kitchen table with family and friends and conversation took a turn toward “things are just less convenient.” When peppered to go into more detail, my mind somehow landed on towels. Yes, I explained if you wanted to buy nice, thick, good quality bath towels; there’s no store in town, or anywhere nearby to do so.
We know people who own hotels who order towels from the States in fact, or drive to San Jose (about 4 hours away) to shop for them. This of course in the grand scheme of life however, was a lame example.
It doesn’t really drive the point home, and became the laughing stock of the rest of our trip, for good reason.
In the thick of day-to-day life in a new place, you’re learning new things and discovering all the time, yet it’s hard to pinpoint major differences unless you’re looking for them – be it cultural, resource driven, language, manners, etc. I’ve started to keep a more keen eye out for these things in the moment, because I do wish to be able to give people an answer that’s both meaningful and hopefully, educational.
Just last week in Costa Rica, 75 police officers from some of the more off-the-beaten path beach towns (including Tamarindo) were trained by the National Police Academy to take victim statements and file complaints via email to the nearest Judicial Investigation Police (OIJ) delegation. I’ll get to the significance of that in a moment.
Hypothetically (somewhere in the United States), your car has been broken into and some items stolen. What do you do? You call the police.
They arrive, take a statement and maybe some photos. They then launch an investigation to see if they can identify the person who committed the crime and potentially retrieve stolen items (however, let’s be honest, usually insurance just takes care of this.) Even if the culprit is never caught, the crime itself has been officially recorded and becomes a matter of public record. The fact that it’s been recorded helps in putting together annual statistics for any given city with regard to what the crime rate actually is – a matter of general interest for people who live there or are thinking about moving in.
Prior to this recent training of officers, it wouldn’t go quite like that here in Tamarindo. Calling the police and having them come to the scene of a “crime” would be considered more of a courtesy than anything. These officers had no authority to take an official report or initiate any kind of real action as a result of a crime. If you wanted an official report made, you had to drive (or take a bus) to Nicoya, which is about an hour and half away to file an official report with the OIJ.
Generally speaking police officers here have been tasked with preventing crime, while the OIJ is the entity with authority to investigate and press charges related to crimes that have already been committed.
The process doesn’t make a ton of sense, but this is a great example of a major cultural/resource difference you’ll experience in a country such as Costa Rica, that is still developing in many ways and lacks public resources, like training for its police force.
Petty crime, like breaking and entering, theft, etc. more than likely has gone unreported in Tamarindo – because by the time you arrange to make a trip to Nicoya to file an official report and it gets processed – your smartphone, or laptop, or purse, or wallet is long, lonnnggggg gone. It has historically been easier for people to just get over the frustration of being stolen from, make an effort to keep their belongings more secure and replace what was stolen….and just. move. on.
And when people ask about the crime rate in Tamarindo, it’s quite difficult to give a straight answer. I’m able to happily say, “well nothing has ever happened to us.” “We’ve never felt threatened, never had anything stolen,” etc. But to say for certain is impossible, given the fact that the vast majority of crimes have simply gone unreported.
Now perhaps that will start to change and improve; with the training of these officers being so new, it’s hard to say and will take time to analyze. It’s not something you think about every day, nor is it something that would affect most people on a day-to-day basis, but is it a difference from where we came from? Certainly.
Has this difference affected the way I view our new home? No. Has it affected my sense of safety or security. Not Really.
To be honest, I didn’t even know about the differences in authority between the police and the OIJ, until I read about the announcement of this new training program. It makes me happy and I assume it’ll end up being a positive change for the community. And regardless of what the process was like before vs. now, I hope I never have to experience it directly anyway.
And that, my friends, is just one example for you.