More Guns, More Security?

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Of 72 companies that provide private security services in Guanacaste, only five are located in Nicoya and just one of those five is up to date with its obligations to the Costa Rican Social Security Fund (CCSS – Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social), according to the Ministry of Public Security’s web site.

Elbert Gonzalez Ramirez, director of Private Security Services at the Ministry of Public Security, explained that they are currently completing a survey and inspection of the entire country, using the Control Pas system to determine which companies are operating illegally. Control Pas is a database that publishes a list of companies and security agents throughout the country, which also allows for consultations, processes and requests.

The Voice was able to obtain information showing that only five Nicoyan companies are duly registered through the Ministry of Public Security, which are: Falcon Alarm Monitoring CR S.A., Protection Investigation and Training of Guanacaste S.A. (PROINCA – Protección Investigación Y Capacitación), Centinela Security AM Ltda., La Cananga Security S.A., and ZMG International Security S.A.

However, of those five companies, only PROINCA appears to be up to date with its employer social security payments, according to the employer delinquency site.

Gonzalez emphasized that those looking to hire a security company have the right to ask for documentation proving that it is operating legally.

“You should request that the company provide a copy of their authorization and operating permit, issued by the office of Private Security Services, where they have their offices, the street address and telephone numbers, as well as a written quote for the service and the resume of its agents,” explained Gonzalez.

Nicoyans Worried by Illegal Companies

The Voice consulted three of the security companies in Nicoya canton and found that all are concerned by the appearance of fake security companies that have begun to offer security services for Nicoya’s residents.

Abraham Matarrita, the owner of Centinela Security, a company that has been offering security services in Samara and Nosara for ten years, thinks that it is difficult to stay in business for long periods of time in their industry “because companies from San Jose come to sell cheaper services for a few months, take our clients and then leave, creating a bad reputation for the rest of private security companies,” he said.

Centinela Security has three officers that offer physical security, with surveillance by an officer costing between 600,000 and 700,000 colones ($1200-1400) per month.

Luis Fajardo Salazar, the owner of PROINCA, a company that opened for business in January of this year, stated that the company has a shooting range, a school to train police and a license to operate throughout the country. In addition, he stressed that his officers receive a salary whether or not they’re contracted by clients. “We have five officers employed by the company, and we are up to date with their social security obligations as well as the National Insurance Institute (INS – Instituto Nacional de Seguros).”

Currently PROINCA offers security services to the company in charge of building the Medical Tower at La Anexion Hospital in Nicoya. “Our officers use metal detectors, a standard issue nine-millimeter pistol and a flash light, among other things,” said Fajardo. He estimated that having an armed officer at a small office for a month costs 800,000 colones ($1600).

Cameras vs. Armed Officers

Fajardo believes that “physical security is better than electronic [security] because the latter doesn’t prevent [a crime], it only records the act. Our officers know how to immediately respond and react to dangerous situations.”

Contrary to what Fajardo said, Elbert Gonzalez believes that electronics are the future of private security and predicts that there will be few or even no officers watching over houses or public sites.

“I would prefer to not have firearms but technology instead. There are private security officers in countries in Asia and South America that guard without having to use guns. Instead they use technological devices to do so and protect [the client].”

Pierre Crespo, a manager at Falcon Alarm Monitoring CR S.A., pointed out that currently they are the only company in Nicoya offering armed response and 24-hour surveillance, as well as vehicle protection using GPS.They also set up communal security programs such as Safe Street, which involves organizing four or five residents on the same street and installing video cameras to record the movements in the surrounding neighborhood. The program allows residents to access the cameras on the internet or mobile devices.

“If the neighborhoods and businesses of Nicoya would take responsibility for the implementation of Safe Street, it would be feasible to have residents protect the town themselves at a reasonable cost,” mentioned Crespo. A security system for five residents would cost 10,000 colones ($20) per month per resident.

Johnny Gutierrez is currently a security agent at Falcon Security and previously was a Public Force officer. He spoke of the differences between private and public security, and clarified that they are the Public Force’s assistants and their obligation is to prevent crime.

“Our commitment to the clients is prevention. However, we have limits since even though we can apprehend a suspect, we cannot arrest them. That is something only the Public Force can do,” explained Gutierrez.

More Guns in the Country

Gonzalez Ramirez, Minister of Public Security, said that in the last ten years there has been almost a twofold increase in the number of guns carried throughout the country. In 2000, there were 2,989 guns for every 100,000 people. By March of 2014, the number had increased to 4,721 guns per 100,000 people. However, the gun ownership rates are higher among foreigners, as in 2000 some 115,751 were registered by foreigners; by 2014 the number had reached 225,348, representing a 94% increase in gun ownership.

“In some coastal hotels, we’ve seen that a lot of companies contract personnel that use shotguns to patrol. I would like to know if those personnel have the ability to carry and use that kind of weapon,” Gonzalez commented.

Omar Chavarria, chief of the Public Force in Nicoya, stated that in February of this year they confiscated a gun belonging to an officer from a security company that operates in the canton because the person did not have an up-to-date permit. Chavarria declined to give the name of the company.

Chavarria assured that they will continue to watch over private security companies in Nicoya and their officers to ensure they comply with legal regulations.


Who Can Use a Gun?

The Voice asked this question to Dr. Gabriela Campos Aguirre, who specializes in psychology. She said that carrying a gun is a delicate issue and that not everyone can handle one. A person’s psychological profile should be analyzed to determine whether or not they are capable of doing so.

Among other requirements for using a gun, one cannot be under 18, have a mental or physical handicap or have a recent conviction on their record that prohibits them from carrying a weapon. In addition, a security guard has to first pass a theoretical and practical exam and obtain a certification of their mental aptitude.

Regarding the certification, Campos Aguierre explained that in theory the test measures “the cognitive, emotional and behavioral capacity to make decisions while possessing and carrying guns, so as to not put the physical security or integrity of other people or themselves in unjustified danger.”

However, the doctor mentioned that the test has its limits, as a person’s impulsiveness can never be determined with certainty. In order to do that, a medical exam would need to be performed, such as an MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging,) to measure the person’s real-time response to dangerous situations.

“A person with anxiety problems, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or immaturity problems definitely could not carry a gun,” explained Campos, who added, “I believe that in addition to the test, security officials should have regular psychological checkups and diagnostics to determine their mental capacity and thus be safe.”