911 is the police emergency number, but response times may vary due to the lack of manpower and vehicles. There is some anecdotal evidence that it might take up to 4 hours for the police to arrive.
The largest police force in Costa Rica is operated by the Ministry of Public Safety and is called Fuerza Pública (Public Force). It has about 12,600 officers in the entire country.
Fuerza Pública officers wear a black uniform, and sometimes bulletproof vests with the word POLICIA in large lettering. On the standard uniform, the words FUERZA PUBLICA are embroidered in yellow on the pocket. Police cars are white and say POLICIA in large blue or black letters. Police motorcycles are white or blue, dirt bike type, and have a blue light on the back.
A crime in action should be reported to Fuerza Pública. To have a crime investigated and/or prosecuted, it must be reported to Organismo de Investigación (OIJ), Costa Rica’s investigative police.
OIJ is a special group operated by the judicial branch of the government. OIJ usually works undercover on the street. During search and seizure operations or warrant enforcement, their officers use bulletproof vests and black t-shirts with the words PODER JUDICIAL or O.I.J. in yellow lettering.
Where to turn to for assistance if you became a victim of crime
Police emergency – 911
Ambulance – 911
Fire – 911
OIJ – 911, 2295-3639, 2295-3640
Tourist Police – 2586-4620, 2586-4287, 2586-4287, 2586-4458
911 works from any phone, either landline or cellular. The operators speak English.
The police response depends on where you are and the situation. In the cities, it takes about 5-10 minutes for the first help to arrive.
In case of an accident you might get a regular police car that’ll help to put things in order, but the traffic police might take 30 minutes or more to get there. Policía de Transito files the official report, so you have to wait.
In case of robbery, you have to file a report separately, that’ll take you a few hours. The initial response from Fuerza Pública might be fast, but getting all the reports filed and stamped and what comes after, would become a lengthy procedure.
In rural areas, response time varies a whole lot more, and there might not even be a response. If it’s a “need someone here now” situation the police will show up, but if there’s no real threat you’ll get the usual “lot of things going on and everyone’s occupied” story and you would have to come in and fill out the report later on.
Police and Security Agencies
Fuerza Pública is a uniformed police agency that performs ground security, law enforcement, counternarcotics, and border patrol functions. It is operated by the Ministry of Public Safety
Organismo de Investigación (OIJ) is the investigative agency that investigates all crimes for prosecution. This agency is within the Poder Judicial (judicial branch).
Policía de Transito enforces traffic laws and responds to all traffic accidents. This agency is within the Ministry of Transportation and Public Works.
Directorate de Inteligencia y Seguridad (DIS) is the Costa Rica’s intelligence agency, within the Ministry of the President.
Unidad Especial de Intervención (UEI) (Special weapons and tactics police unit) specializes in explosives. UEI is the special unit within DIS.
Migración controls immigration at the borders, ports, and airports. It is operated by the Ministry of Governorship and Police.
How to handle incidents of police detention or harassment
U.S. citizens who are detained by the police will be given the opportunity to contact friends or family. Those detained by law enforcement should immediately contact the U.S. Embassy at 2519-2000. Harassment is not common with foreigners, but should it occur, report the incident to U.S. government authorities.
Source: the Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) Costa Rica Crime and Safety Report.
Published: August 2015. Last update: July 2019