A classic scene: tourist wants to go to Casco Viejo and asks a taxi driver to take him. The taxi says, oh no, it is dangerous. Don´t go there. Actually, ask most Panamanians and you are crazy to even consider living here. But somehow a miracle happens: the visitor (now really curious about the place) gets to Casco Viejo… and has a blast. Interviews people living in the area, and everywhere they tell him is quite “tranquilo”. Notices that somehow, even where there are obvious economic differences among the population, the community as a whole seems to work very well and everyone mingles.
The reason isn´t really that there are more policemen than anywhere else in Panama, although I have to say we have a strong police force presence, but the small town scale that makes everyone behave better.
Now, if it makes you feel better, Casco Antiguo has 3 different types of police forces. Why? because this used to be Panama…. the entire city of Panama. So we ended up with the Presidential Police (or SPI), the National Police Station and now the Tourism Police. Although they all take their jobs very seriously, my own “town-like” view of the difference between station and station is the following:
The Presidential Police are tall guys standing in B Avenue by the Presidential Compound, mostly strong and good looking. They also like flirting a lot with the girls passing by, so don´t take it personally, they do it with everybody. It is part of the “latino thing” they have going on. Remember our last President was a woman, I´m sure she picked them personally. Good taste in most cases!
The Tourism Police are the “tropical nice guys” of the town. Wearing tight shorts, they run around in bicycles and they can give you a tour of Casco Viejo. Somehow the government thought it was useful (or fun?) to have policemen be tour guides. Well… but they are very helpful, basically they are the true neighborhood police. If you get lost or need to go anywhere, they´ll do their best to point you out in the right direction.
The National Police is more of a “normal” police in the sense that they direct traffic and handle crime cases. Most of them remind me of the classic police image of the guy with a belly and a donut, but they really want to help and do their work.
So there you go! the best part is to see them training. Of course, the SPI trains like hell, starting at 5 a.m. in the morning, running through the streets of Casco singing songs and doing some serious gymnastics. The tourism police (see picture below) does some exercise and participate in football leagues. The National Police… well, haven’t seen them doing much physical training at all!