For the last several months, Chiriqui has been experiencing a crime wave. This isn’t pickpocketing or even snatching a cellphone from an unaware person. It’s not even the breaking and entering that is fairly common. This has been violent with people getting beaten, shot and killed.
One of the major problems is that juveniles are not held accountable for horrendous crimes. Two mid-teens that shot and stabbed a woman during a robbery last week were released to their fathers just two days after their arrest. Older criminals use young kids to commit crimes knowing they have a “Get Out of Jail Free” card.
This is affecting both the gringo and the Panamanian community. Small stores have been held up with one owner killed. One bandit was only 8 years old and his gun was almost as big as him. None of the victims have used a gun. In most cases the ladrones were on them before they would have had time to reach a weapon anyway.
Our police department is woefully under manned and under funded. If they manage to arrest a criminal, they are likely to get released before the paperwork is complete.
Last night there was a meeting in Porterillos, where last week’s victim lives. She’s a widow who was shot twice and stabbed during an early morning attack in her home. Local officials spoke to a group of about 300 very upset residents. One elected official appeared bored. They had ideas that could be implemented now, like a curfew, and plans to ask the government to strengthen laws regarding minors. We signed a petition for Diputada Athenas Athanasiadis to take to Parliament in hopes of more stringent legislation. I was extremely impressed with this young woman (even if she did go to FSU).
So it is still up to us to protect ourselves as the first line of defense. We have a fence, bars on the windows and doors, motion detector lights and 3 dogs. We also know our neighbors. One told us a few weeks ago that he called the police because he saw a few young men just hanging out on the street.
A few people want the government to relax our fairly strict gun laws to make them more available, like in the US. I hope they don’t. In one robbery the criminals were only looking for guns he heard the man owned. He did not but the man was killed anyway. In none of the robberies would a gun have been useful but would have been stolen by the thieves.
In the meantime, we wait to see if the government will stand up to people who believe the human rights of juvenile felons have more rights than law abiding residents.