They hoped to scare me, but comforted me instead. The half inch high headline in La Nacion, one of the Costa Rica's leading daily newspapers, shouted in alarm.
"Over 20% of Tico Police Over 50 Years Old"
In the subhead we learned that most cops suffer stress and the pains of the feet and column vertebral. I've got news for La Nacion, such suffering is not unique to aging gumshoes.
And somehow the venerable age of the force doesn't bother me. My inner geezer loves the idea that cooler more experienced officials are more numerous among lawmen here than you might expect in such a young country.
The editors of La Nacion were obviously distressed by the number of "ancianos" or geezers, on the force. They were deeply concerned that fleet-footed, youthful members of the "hampa," as the criminal underclass is known, would dance rings around elderly pursuers.
Characteristically, the papers refer to the hampa as though it were a trade union. The country is so deeply invested in carving up markets for special interests that you might expect card-carrying pickpockets and second story men to picket local police stations to keep elderly cops on the job. They probably won't have to. Costa Rican labor laws are such that private employees essentially own their jobs. Public employees? Forget about it. It would be easier to uproot oaks than remove aging policemen from the force. And probably just as bad an idea.
The age profile of the Costa Rican police force is more in line with the population of more developed countries. Where the median age of the country as a whole is a youthful twenty something, that of richer countries like the U.S. is closer to the age of men in their prime, mid-thirties or so. It could be argued that judicious law enforcement is better served by the maturity and sound judgment of an older force.
As to the question of chasing down the swift and strong members of the hampa, who cares? It doesn't happen often. And even if a cop caught a running thief, petty theft is hardly punished at all here. It's hardly worth the effort. If the crook is really violent or nasty all the geezers have guns. Even the appallingly decrepit preserve the ability to squeeze a trigger long past the years when they were running their best times in the 100 yard dash.
The article's author interviewed cops as old as 68. All were healthy and fit foot patrolmen. Most cops here walk rather than ride and doughnut shops are rare. All the interviewees said they felt fine, liked their work, and enjoyed serving their country and their community. I believe them.
And there are ways to keep old cops the equal of young crooks. Cops here carry a wild variety of weapons. You see everything from battered .22 target pistols to Uzi's in police holsters. My son had a few suggestions for special weapons for aging cops that would overcome any age related disadvantages.
The beanbag shotgun was at the top of his list for equipping doddering lawmen. Sprinting pickpockets would hear, "Outrun this, chico!" in Spanish right before being bowled over from behind by a couple hurtling beanbags.
His second idea was a special shotgun round modeled after the traditional throwing weapon of the Argentine gaucho, the Tres Marias, or boleadora. The round would feature three soft, heavy projectiles connected by strong cord. Aimed at the feet of a fleeing target, it would have no trouble tripping up the swiftest bad guy. The gauchos use such weapons to bring down animals as large as cattle.
The advantages of a mature, experienced force are worth the technological investment. I like to think that experience, cunning and technology are more than enough to allow the aging forces of good to prevail over youthful bad guys. Overcoming the disadvantages of Costa Rica older cops can is as easy as equipping the right geezers with the right guns.