* Police put more officers on the streets of Lima
* Rising crime rate a top concern among Peruvians
* U.S. couple missing, embassy helping in search
By Terry Wade and Mitra Taj
LIMA, Feb 25 The brazen killing of a journalist
in broad daylight and a deadly robbery in Peru's financial
district prompted President Ollanta Humala to put 1,000 more
police on the streets of the capital on Monday, to tackle a
rising sense of public insecurity.
Interior Minister Wilfredo Pedraza rushed to reassign
officers from desk jobs and put them in patrol cars as outraged
citizens demanded swift action after Luis Choy, a prominent
photojournalist for El Comercio, Peru's main newspaper, was
gunned down in front of his house in a middle-class district of
Lima on Saturday afternoon.
Investigators have said Choy, 34, was murdered by a hitman
but have not yet identified a motive. Police officials did not
say how many officers in total would now be on patrol.
"I lament that another Peruvian has fallen victim to crime.
Even more so because we got to know Luis Choy during the
campaign," Humala said in reference to his 2011 election bid.
His killing came days after a businessman was robbed and
shot in the head at a notary's office that sits half a block
away from a major police station in Lima's financial district.
The murders have further undermined faith in the national
police force. Though Humala has moved to improve wages and
training, corruption is widespread. Peruvians often share
stories of bribing their way out of traffic tickets for just a
Poor security could become a political sore spot for the
otherwise popular Humala administration, as safety regularly
ranks as a top priority for voters in Peru, especially in Lima
where about a third of Peruvians live. His approval rating is 54
percent, according to polling firm Ipsos.
Crime in metropolitan Lima doubled between 2000 and 2011,
with kidnappings and homicides about tripling, according to
government data. One theory is that crime has spiked because the
country's long economic boom has created more wealthy targets.
But despite the rising incidence of crime, Peru's murder
rate remains relatively low by regional standards. Peru's
homicide rate is about 10 per 100,000 people, according to U.N.
data. That is twice the rate of the United States but half the
rate for South America as a whole.
WORRIES ABOUT TOURISTS
There are also worries that tourists are vulnerable. The
U.S. Embassy said it is helping search for an American couple
who went missing while on a cycling trip in the Andean country.
Police told the state news agency Andina that they believed
the couple had left an ecological commune in Peru's jungle and
were bound for Ecuador, but their families have said on Facebook
that Garrett Hand and Jamie Neal were last heard from on Jan.
25. They were traveling from Cusco, in southeastern Peru, to
Lima and were expected to arrive in the capital on Jan. 26.
The Arcoiris ecological community in the Amazonian region of
Iquitos told Reuters the couple departed for an upriver journey
to Ecuador on Feb. 16.
The U.S. Embassy said there was no connection between their
disappearance and a security warning it issued earlier this
month about a potential kidnapping threat against foreign
tourists near the ancient Incan city of Machu Picchu.
That warning was widely interpreted as being linked to
efforts by a remnant band of Maoist Shining Path rebels to repel
the government's efforts to regain control of jungle valleys in
the Cusco region that are rife with coca growing and cocaine
Machu Picchu draws hundreds of thousands of visitors to the
Cusco region in Peru every year and locals fear fewer visitors
could hurt the tourist-based economy.
In late December, three U.S. citizens said they were beaten
by villagers near the highland province of the Ocongate
municipality of Cusco.
(Reporting By Terry Wade and Mitra Taj; Editing by Eric Beech)