Security info, self-help ideas and contacts for gringos
** Not intended for individual incidents **
please note this is a developing section of our site
Enhancing Your Home Security
At the risk of sounding trite, my golden rule regarding home security has always been: be certain that your home is the most secure in the neighborhood. Thus, convincing robbers it is going to be much easier to break into the house next door rather than yours. While perhaps, a bit humorous on its surface, there is more than a kernel of truth contained within that statement. And, it took a series of break ins and robberies in the middle of the night on our property, before that lesson finally took full and complete hold of our approach to home security.
The relative safety and security to you and your family while in your home, or to your home and property while away, depends on dealing with a number of risks; some of which you can control and others that can only be modestly addressed. Both of the following scenarios have actions that can be taken to increase your residential security:
A. It's easier if you own your residence and can make permanent modifications to your residential security condition, However, if you are a renter, many landlords do not want to lose good tenants and will work with you to increase the home security situation at your residence.
B. Living close to or being surrounded by other residences can be a real security benefit. Living in an isolated area off of the street, behind all of your neighbors or surrounded by or abutting a forest, vacant land or a farm has quality of life benefits, but comes with accompanying security risks and concerns.
C. Most residences already have some type of vehicle security gate and/or a secure pedestrian gate. Even if you don't have a security system, a locked or secure security gate across the driveway and/or pedestrian gate will make the ease of escape of a thief loaded down with your TV and electronic gear much more difficult, and perhaps, cause "him" to think twice about a robbery at your address.
Here's what I can pass along regarding a home security system:
1. Install a formal security system and have it designed and installed by a recommended expert. DO NOT: cut corners and buy the cheapest equipment; use the lowest bidder; or try to get by with the absolute minimum of security devices.
2. Make sure the security system you design is expandable and flexible. Most security systems start out with motion sensors, and/or motion-sensing lights and a sound alarm. Chances are that after your system is installed you will discover that you: a) left an area uncovered or unsecured; b) need better equipment, an augmented system or an enhancement or two; or c) need to pair it with a back up battery, cameras, a recording system or an alert sent to a third party (such as a friend, the local police or a security service).
3. Our security system was enhanced the hard way. First, we initially took the economy route. And, the old adage was true for us, "you get what you pay for." We realized fairly soon that we needed a professional installer, not the guy from the ferreteria that does installations after work. Second, after a series of thefts, even with our security alarm system in place, we needed to enhance the system and improve its deterrence against being at the losing end of robberies.
4. We started by just covering the area immediately outside of our house and the perimeter around the yard being a steep hillside and caña india. Hint: steep hillsides can be climbed and caña india doesn't fair well against a sharp machete. Then we added chain-link fencing topped by barbed wire. Hint: chain link fencing and barbed wire can be cut. Next, concrete walls were added around our perimeter. Hint: concrete walls can be scaled. Now, the concrete walls are topped with electric fencing and the required bright yellow signs that advertize the danger of the electric fencing surrounding our yard. Our other option would have been the much-harder-to-cut razor wire.
5. Sometimes compromises and adjustments to your security set up are required. The sight of razor wire or an electric fence sitting atop a wall surrounding your residence is, perhaps, not the most attractive or serene view. And, sometimes special alarm accommodations for pets moving about your premises are required.
Your security system installer and your local police will probably advise you to add a camera system. The conventional thinking is that thieves will see the camera surveillance and be deterred from picking your house to rob. Adding a camera and recording device to your security system can't hurt, but be aware the bad guys can easily disguise themselves so as to be unidentifiable when the video is played back.
While no security system is perfect, you can greatly increase your chances of not being victimized by adding one to your residence, and remembering to use it.
Home Invasions, Self Defense, and Owning Weapons in Costa Rica
Editor's Note: We wish to thank Michael Carbone, Outlier Legal Services, and representatives of the Grecia police for the following information. This overview has also been edited and augmented by Que Pasa Grecia.
A few very basic points: Costa Rica is a relatively young country as its judicial system. Costa Rican laws are not the same as those of United States or Canada. Costa Rica has moved from an accusatory criminal law to a criminal law in defense of the accused. This is because of a community movement toward human rights and the restorative rights of the victim instead of penalizing the accused. However while currently not the case, some feel that the judicial system here may evolve in the future to honor and defend the rights of the victim(s) as much as it currently does honor the rights of the defendant(s). Be aware that you have a responsibility in any defense: your response cannot exceed the threat. If you are deemed to have used excessive force, you are subject to be charged with a crime and could face both fines and imprisonment.
You are cautioned not react to threats in the same way you might in your state or province back home. Appropriate reactions to threats (within the jurisdiction of Costa Rica) in defense of your property and person (the relevant law of "legitimate defense" applies) can be seen below. (These are general guidelines and your specific situation may include criteria that may alter your circumstances and the appropriate response for the situation.):
1. If a person walks onto your property not making threats and/or with no weapons, it is not entirely true that you are not legally entitled to touch or assault them. It will depend on the specific scenario. i.e. If a trespasser breaks into my house violently (breaking a window) I am entitled to defend my property toward the threat and the imminent danger. Another example could be if it is late at night and someone breaks in, I am not required to ask if he is armed or not, I can defend myself property and family.
2. If you believe the "trespasser" is being aggressive or they are armed, use of "minimum force" is allowed. Stronger force may be permitted as is stated in the examples above. Here it has been mentioned that the use of pepper spray, a pellet gun, or even a shotgun loaded with salt shot or other non-lethal protective weapon would be legal as long as your force will not threaten permanent injury to a vital area (i.e. head or heart).
3. If an assailant is armed with a weapon such as a bat, a gun, rifle or a sharp-edged device or knife, any of which are being used in a threatening manner, defensive force (including lethal force) is permitted. However, use of force is governed by the principle of proportionality, which states that the method of defense has to be proportional to the method of attack. (This is explained later below.) However in defense of your person, other persons or property, you are NOT allowed to strike multiple blows or fire multiple shots beyond the effect of immediately negating the threat.
4. Attacks (from the rear) on a retreating assailant are not acceptable or legal.
5. Using an unregistered or illegal weapon is forbidden and also illegal. Legal weapons such as single-shot pepper spray, pellet guns, and we suspect even large knives (machetes) are able to be purchased without a permit or license and are available here in limited locations. Gun or rifle ownership requires an extensive legal process. (See below.)
We have been requested to add here some basic information regarding legitimate self-defense.
Article 28 of the criminal law code establishes the following key terms:
Imminent danger / Illegitimate aggression: there needs to be an imminent danger or aggression (crime) performed against a person or right, own or alien.
Repel or prevent: The main purpose of self-defense is to repel or prevent an attack before it happens. Excessive use of force will be punished
Proportionality or reasonableness: Much has been said about this principle, however, The Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice has established, that the proportionality does not mean that If I am being attack with a specific weapon, I must repel the attack with a weapon of same characteristics, i.e., if I am being threatened with a knife it does not mean I can only repel the attack with another knife. I can repel an attack with a gun if someone threatens me with a knife but a shot to a non-lethal part of the body to repeal the attack will be proportional, instead of just firing 5 shots straight to the heart or head.
Every case is different. One must take into consideration that every case is different and that the circumstances of the action will be investigated to determine if a person acted in self-defense or with an excess of force.
Requirements to own a gun, shotgun or rifle is a lengthy and convoluted process. The applicant must:
- be a Costa Rica citizen or Costa Rican Resident without limitations;
- have a "firma digital," which is an on-line digital signature (available for a fee at some branches of Banco National and Banco Popular, BAC San José, BCR, Coopenae, BCT and most other banks for different fees);
- be fingerprinted;
- take and pass a psychological test(s). (Specialists administer these tests);
- take and pass practical and theoretical tests administered by the Ministerio Publico, most shooting ranges will set up this for you
- purchase and register a legally permitted weapon; and
- regularly renew the permission to carry, as required.
- Note: Shotguns require registration but do not require permission to carry.
Your editor's personal recommendations:
1) if at all possible, always try to avoid confrontations with trespassers, burglars, robbers, assailants, etc. Have the local police department number close at hand. Dial it or "911," head for a neighbor's house or find a safe place and wait for police assistance to arrive. (The old adage here, "never bring a knife to a gunfight" should guide your actions;
2) the first responders to your crime will be the local "policia" (police) serving your immediate area;
3) if you have had a break in, robbery or burglary, always file a report. The local police will be on the scene first, take the report, or will help you file it with the O.I.J. or direct you as to how to contact them. Costa Rica's "F.B.I." is the O.I.J. They are in ultimately in charge of investigating the crime scene and the crime and solving it.