Understanding the Police Forces in Costa Rica is crucial for both residents and visitors in the country. Known for its peaceful disposition and absence of a military, Costa Rica relies heavily on its police forces to maintain law and order. These forces, which include the Public Force, Transit Police, Tourist Police, Border Police, and several specialized units, play a vital role in ensuring the safety and security of the country. This article delves into the structure, roles, and responsibilities of the various police forces in Costa Rica, providing a comprehensive overview of the country’s unique approach to law enforcement.



Public Force

The Public Force is the primary law enforcement body in Costa Rica. It plays a crucial role in maintaining internal order, preventing and investigating crimes, and enforcing the law. The Public Force is structured into several departments, each with its specific responsibilities, such as the Drug Control Police and the Border Police. Despite facing challenges such as limited resources and complex crime dynamics, the Public Force has achieved notable successes in crime prevention and community policing.



Transit Police

The Transit Police is another vital component of Costa Rica’s law enforcement system. This body is responsible for enforcing traffic laws, investigating traffic accidents, and promoting road safety. The Transit Police plays a significant role in maintaining road safety and reducing traffic-related fatalities in Costa Rica.



Tourist Police

Costa Rica, being a popular tourist destination, has a dedicated Tourist Police force. This unit is tasked with ensuring the safety and security of tourists visiting the country. They patrol tourist hotspots, respond to incidents involving tourists, and work closely with the tourism industry to prevent crimes against visitors. The presence of the Tourist Police is a testament to Costa Rica’s commitment to providing a safe and enjoyable experience for its visitors.



Border Police

The Border Police is a specialized unit of the Public Force responsible for maintaining security along Costa Rica’s borders. Their duties include preventing illegal crossings, combating smuggling, and coordinating with international agencies like Interpol to address cross-border crime. The work of the Border Police is crucial in safeguarding Costa Rica’s sovereignty and ensuring the integrity of its borders.



Immigration Police

A division of the Public Force, the Immigration Police, reports directly to the DGME. According to the legislation, this police agency is tasked with keeping tabs on anybody entering or leaving the country and anyone who resides or works in the country illegally.




The Judicial Investigation Department (OIJ) is part of Costa Rica’s judicial system and reports to the Supreme Court of Justice. As a supporting organization in criminal investigations, its primary duties are tracking down and apprehending suspects, provided that they have a judge’s written order for them to do so.

The OIJ officers are responsible for gathering evidence in criminal investigations and reporting on such evidence. In the context of a criminal inquiry, it may take action in response to either allegations of wrongdoing or an order to do so from a competent authority.

Vests and black t-shirts with legends like “OIJ” or “Poder Judicial” in yellow lettering make up the OIJ police force’s outfit. However, they often engage in covert operations.



Specialized Units

Within the Public Force, there are several specialized units designed to handle specific types of crime and security issues:

  • Drug Control Police: This unit is tasked with combating drug trafficking and related crimes. They conduct investigations, carry out raids, and work closely with international partners to disrupt drug networks.
  • Special Intervention Unit: This is the equivalent of a SWAT team, trained to respond to high-risk situations such as hostage scenarios, armed confrontations, and terrorist threats.
  • Canine Unit: This unit employs trained dogs to assist in various police operations, including drug detection, search and rescue, and crowd control.



Community Involvement and Policing

Community involvement plays a crucial role in Costa Rica’s approach to policing. The Public Force actively encourages citizens to participate in community police programs, fostering a collaborative relationship between the police and the communities they serve. These programs aim to improve public safety, reduce crime, and enhance trust between the police and the public.



Training and Recruitment

The recruitment and training of police officers in Costa Rica is a rigorous process designed to ensure that only the most qualified individuals join the force. Prospective officers undergo extensive training programs that cover a wide range of topics, from law enforcement techniques to ethics and human rights. The Ministry of Public Security oversees the recruitment and training process, ensuring that it adheres to the highest standards.



Challenges and Reforms

Like any law enforcement system, Costa Rica’s police forces face a number of challenges. These include resource constraints, evolving crime trends, and the need to balance law enforcement with respect for civil liberties. In response to these challenges, recent reforms have been implemented to improve the effectiveness and accountability of the police forces.




The Police Forces in Costa Rica are vital in maintaining peace and order. Despite their challenges, these forces continue to evolve and adapt, demonstrating Costa Rica’s commitment to public safety and the rule of law. From the Public Force to the specialized units, each plays a unique role in the security framework of the country. Understanding their roles and responsibilities is crucial to appreciating the country’s unique approach to maintaining peace and security. As Costa Rica continues to grow and develop, so too will the capabilities and responsibilities of its police forces, ensuring a safe and secure environment for all.

-Written by Glenn Tellier (Founder of CRIE and Grupo Gap).

[email protected]



Frequently Asked Questions


How effective is the Costa Rican police system?

The effectiveness of Costa Rica’s police system can be seen in the country’s relatively low crime rates and its reputation as one of the safest countries in Central America. However, like any law enforcement system, it faces challenges, and there is always room for improvement.

What is the public perception of the police in Costa Rica?

Public perception of the police in Costa Rica varies, but generally, the police are seen as a necessary and important part of society. Efforts to improve community policing have helped to build trust and positive relationships between the police and the communities they serve.

How does Costa Rica’s police system compare to other countries?

Compared to other countries, Costa Rica’s police system is unique in its emphasis on community involvement and its lack of a military. The country’s approach to law enforcement reflects its commitment to peace, democracy, and human rights.

What kind of police are in Costa Rica?

Costa Rica has several types of police forces, including the Public Force, which is the primary law enforcement body. Other specialized units include the Transit Police, Tourist Police, Border Police, Drug Control Police, Special Intervention Unit, and Canine Unit.

What security forces are in Costa Rica?

Costa Rica’s security forces primarily consist of various police units under the Public Force. The country does not have a military, having abolished it in 1948. The Public Force is responsible for maintaining internal security and order.

What do police forces do?

Police forces in Costa Rica are responsible for maintaining law and order, preventing and investigating crimes, enforcing laws, and ensuring the safety and security of citizens and visitors. Each specialized unit within the Public Force has specific responsibilities, such as traffic law enforcement, tourist safety, border security, and drug control.

What is Costa Rica’s version of the FBI?

Costa Rica does not have a direct equivalent to the FBI. However, the Judicial Investigation Department (OIJ) performs many of the same functions, such as investigating serious crimes and conducting complex criminal investigations.

Where does Costa Rica rank in crime?

Costa Rica’s crime rate is relatively low compared to other countries in the region. However, like any country, it faces challenges related to crime and security. The government has implemented various measures to address these issues and improve public safety.

Does Costa Rica have an Army?

Costa Rica does not have an army. The country abolished its military in 1948 and declared itself a “peaceful nation.” The Public Force, under the Ministry of Public Security, is responsible for maintaining internal security and order.



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