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Overseas Security Advisory Council
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Mexico 2019 Crime & Safety Report: Nogales

The current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication assesses Mexico at Level 2, indicating travelers should exercise increased caution due to crime. Reconsider travel to the State of Sonora due to crime.

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

The U.S. Consulate General in Nogales does not assume responsibility for the professional ability or integrity of the persons or firms appearing in this report. The American Citizens’ Services unit (ACS) cannot recommend a particular individual or location, and assumes no responsibility for the quality of service provided. Review OSAC’s Mexico-specific webpage for original OSAC reporting, consular messages, and contact information, some of which may be available only to private-sector representatives with an OSAC password.

The Nogales consular district is the northern part of the state of Sonora, extending 600 miles from Agua Prieta in eastern Sonora, to San Luis Rio Colorado in western Sonora, and about 60 miles south of the U.S.-Mexico border.

Crime Threats

There is serious risk from crime in Nogales. Although in 2018, the overall level of crime in Sonora increased, crime levels in all but one category in northern Sonora decreased. Drug cartel-related (narco-related) violence continues to dominate as the motive behind many of the homicides and violent crimes in the Nogales district. The majority of cartel-related violence has occurred in other cities, such as Caborca, Magdalena, Altar, and Sonoyta. Between 2012 and 2014, drug cartel infighting occurred throughout the consular district in areas like Agua Prieta and Caborca. In 2018, intense gun battles and assassinations took place in Magdalena and Caborca.

Non-drug cartel related street crime (e.g. armed robbery, assault, and burglary) continues in the Nogales Consular District, with some categories showing significant change. In 2018, petty theft and muggings not associated with Drug Trafficking Organization (DTOs) occurred with similar frequency as in past years, but with a slight decrease from 2017. Homicide, vehicle theft, home invasion, and rape all decreased in 2018. Reported incidents of kidnapping increased slightly.   

No area of Nogales is immune from violent crime. However, the area between El Periferico highway and Avenida Obregon is safer than the outlying suburban areas of the city. The violent crimes that do occur in this area generally happen after dark. Travel throughout the city only during daylight hours. Avoid walking after dark in Nogales. Most businesses close by 2200. Bars and nightclubs provide a dangerous mix of guns, drugs, and cartel personnel; avoid them. 

There is also no evidence that criminal elements specifically target U.S. citizens or other foreign visitors, unless they have some connection to drug trafficking. Anyone who projects the perception of wealth and is unfamiliar with the area can easily become a target of opportunity for crime.

Mexican laws prohibit ownership of personal firearms. The vast majority of firearms present in the consular district belong to Mexican law enforcement and military via legitimate means and narco-trafficking criminal elements via illegitimate means. The majority of narco-trafficking elements possess weapons of various size, including assault rifles, grenades, and belt-fed machine guns. However, the most common weapons used in narco-related crimes are 9mm pistols and 7.62-caliber assault rifles. During 2017-2018, the majority of gun violence in the consular district took place in more remote parts of town and/or in the late night hours.

Residential burglary in Nogales, to include in the more affluent neighborhoods, occurs often and is most common during the day and on weekends or holidays when houses are vacant. Thieves often gain entry through unsecured entryways, by tricking domestic employees, or using force to access homes that appear to be vacant. 

The theft of vehicles, carjacking, and theft of parts from parked vehicles are common crimes. Although vehicle theft has dropped since 2014, it remains the most prevalent crime in the consular district. In Nogales, there were 322 reported vehicle thefts in 2018, a significant drop from 626 in 2017. DTOs look to steal heavy-duty pick-up trucks and SUVs, which they prize for their ability to carry heavy loads at high speed across difficult terrain. 

Transportation-Safety Situation

For more information, review OSAC’s Report, Security in Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.

Road Safety and Road Conditions

Driving in Nogales requires vigilance, a defensive attitude, and Mexican insurance. Local drivers are generally not very experienced, and often have cars that are poorly maintained or in disrepair. Be alert for vehicles moving more slowly than the rest of the traffic, and for vehicles speeding through traffic signals at the last minute. Poor lighting, unclear road makings, and lack of signage contribute to hazardous driving conditions. Exercise caution around public buses, which often exhibit unsafe driving practices. Pedestrians, to include small children, jaywalk often with disregard for personal safety. 

Travel on highways can be dangerous, especially at night. Because many drivers may not have functioning headlights, and because the probability of crime increases after dark, avoid nighttime travel. Use inter-city toll highways (cuotas) whenever possible during daylight hours. For more information on self-driving, review OSAC’s Report Driving Overseas: Best Practices.

Driving while intoxicated is against the law in Mexico. In late 2018, the Municipal Police Department (Policia Municipal) began enforcing legitimate DUI checkpoints within city limits. These legitimate checkpoints have been well marked, located on major roads, and almost exclusively initiated in the evening hours.

During the rainy season (July-September), localized flash flooding may occur in all areas of the consular district. Flash floods leave many vehicles stalled in the middle of streets and intersections. Flooding may sweep cars into deeper water, one of the most common dangers of the rainy season. During heavy rainstorms, avoid driving and walking in flooded streets. In Nogales, Blvd. Tecnologico is notorious for flooding. It can experience rushing water up to three feet deep in places, making the street inaccessible. Due to the rapid onset of flash flooding, city emergency workers are rarely able to place road closure signs. During each rainy season, large sinkholes occur throughout the city, bridges wash out, and flash floods trap or injure individuals. Crews do not always repair resulting road damage quickly, leaving potholes that can damage your car, cause drivers to swerve into your lane, or brake unexpectedly. Be wary when traveling roadways during the rainy season, and pay attention to weather forecasts.

Public Transportation Conditions

Avoid public transportation in the Nogales Consular District, based on the lack of viable security vetting and the depth of narco-trafficking influence over taxis.

Taxi-like services such as Uber do exist in Nogales. However, the same security and safety concerns exist with those services as with the traditional taxis. For more information on ride sharing, review OSAC’s Annual Briefing Report Safety and Security in the Share Economy.

Terrorism Threat

Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns

There is minimal risk from terrorism in Nogales. While there does not appear to be any international terrorist group active in Mexico, lax immigration controls, the ease with which you can obtain fake Mexican travel documents, and Mexico's geographic location to the U.S. make Mexico an attractive transit point for potential transnational terrorists.   

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

Civil Unrest

There is considerable risk from civil unrest in Nogales. Over the past several years, there have been several peaceful demonstrations in the Nogales area, taking place at or near the DeConcini Port of Entry or the fiscal corridor heading to the Mariposa Port of Entry. These demonstrations are generally orderly and comply with the police.

In January 2017, there were several large-scale demonstrations, in some case with over 2,000 individuals, protesting the Government of Mexico’s policy on fuel prices. On several occasions, protestors interfered with the flow of traffic into Mexico, prompting authorities in the U.S. and Mexico to close the DeConcini Border crossing temporarily and redirect traffic to Mariposa. In one case, the protests at the DeConcini border crossing turned violent and clashed with police. Police regained control and restored order. There was no loss of life or serious injury.   

In November 2018, protests initiated in Nogales after the acquittal of a U.S. Border Patrol Officer in the 2012 wrongful death case of sixteen year-old Jose Rodriguez. Protestors marched to show disapproval of the verdict. There were no reports of violence or injury.

Due to recent controversy surrounding migration issues along the border of the United States and Mexico, the possibility of future protests and demonstrations remains a constant possibility. With an extremely unpredictable flashpoint, protests could border potentially affect operations and traveler passage through ports of entry with little to no warning. Make preparations and have a reaction plan developed before a border closure takes place.

Post-specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

During the rainy season (July-September), flooding of residential areas and city streets can occur in all areas of the consular district.

Critical Infrastructure

Given the large number of corporations and manufacturing plants in Nogales, mishandling of hazardous materials is a viable possibility. Although there have been no reported incidents in the last five years, it remains a potential that the local government and the private sector monitor closely. In 2018, the cities of Nogales, Arizona and Nogales, Sonora participated in a joint training exercise that included hazardous material identification, unified operating procedure development and a joint citywide hazardous material response drill. The drill involved a railroad emergency scenario and demonstrated that the region has adequate HAZMAT response capabilities. 

Personal Identity Concerns

Same-sex sexual relations are legal in Mexico. The law provides for protections against discrimination based on gender identity. Travelers will find more openness and acceptance in urban areas, and conservative stances in rural areas.

Drug-related Crimes

In 2007, military personnel began counter-drug cartel operations along the smuggling routes of both Mexican coasts. Accordingly, the routes out of Mexico and into the U.S. market have shifted to the land routes, including the two ports of entry in Nogales. As a result, drug cartel-related violence in Nogales increased exponentially in 2009 as the Sinaloa cartel and the remnants of the Beltran Leyva cartel fought for drug routes. While nearly all the violence has been between warring cartels, there have been innocent people caught in the crossfire.

  • According to media reports, in 2014, there was an increase in violence in Nogales and 74 murders.
  • However, 2015 saw a noted decrease of 51 media-reported homicides.
  • With the apprehension of ‘El Chapo” Guzman in 2016, a similar but less violent battle for control of the Nogales took place, resulting in 61 homicides for 2016.
  • In 2017, there were 71 homicides reported in Nogales.
  • In 2018, there were 82 homicides reported in Nogales

 

The Sinaloa Cartel remains the dominant cartel in the Nogales area.

Kidnapping Threat

Kidnapping for ransom is an established criminal activity in Mexico. Over the past few years, cartel-related kidnappings have occurred in Nogales and throughout the state of Sonora. Victims of these kidnappings include U.S. and Mexican citizens involved in the drug trade. Overall, the number of kidnapping in Nogales and Sonora is very small when compared to other cities in Mexico, but remains an issue.

  • In 2017, 62 kidnappings occurred in northern Sonora.
  • In 2018, there was an increase in kidnappings to 72 victims in the same area.

 

In Mexico, express kidnappings are a common type of abduction. Kidnappers generally hold the victim for 24-48 hours and force them to withdraw funds from a series of ATMs. The term "express kidnapping" also applies to the kidnapping for ransom of victims held for brief periods where kidnappers only demand small ransom amounts. A typical scenario may last for several hours and be settled for the peso-equivalent of a few thousand dollars. Although common in other parts of Mexico, there were no reports of express kidnappings in Nogales in 2018.

For more information, review OSAC’s Report, Kidnapping: The Basics.

Police Response

Police response to emergencies in Nogales is generally timely; however, in other cities in the consular district, the response time may not be as quick. A degree of narco-trafficking influence and complicity to criminal activity affects police force operations throughout Mexico. With the exclusion of several special units, Mexican law enforcement, especially at the local levels, is still developing professionally in comparison with U.S. standards. Many police are eager to serve, but do not have the training or equipment to carry out their duties effectively. In addition, many local police grew up and still live in the area with their families; they commonly acquiesce to threats of narco-trafficking violence. With low morale, poor pay, and narco-trafficking threats, local police typically have been more susceptible to corruption.

There has been a noticeable change in municipal police leadership and priorities throughout northern Sonora in the months since the MORENA party has taken office. In 2018, police leadership and its command were eager to engage with their U.S. law enforcement counterparts and to obtain training and support in order to manage border populous security more effectively, and to contain and eliminate corruption.

In 2015, Sonora initiated a major change to its criminal justice system. Mexican courts have switched from the written correspondence-based system to the much faster U.S.-style Oral Adversarial System (courtroom hearings). Sonora was the last state in Mexico to transition to this new judicial system.

Cooperate with police officials if they detain and/or question you.

How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment

Reports of police corruption in the form of grafting, or the “shake-down” of tourists for an illegal fee, are very uncommon. U.S. visitors to the Nogales Consular District may contact the Consular American Citizens Section (ACS) at U.S Consulate General Nogales if they encounter problems with police.

Crime Victim Assistance

Dial 911 to contact police anywhere in the Nogales Consular District. Nogales runs a 24-hour emergency dispatch center (called C5i) with good communications capability. The Nogales C5i station attempts to have at least one English speaker on duty at all times.

If involved in a crime, local police may require you to visit their facility with the investigating officer to file a complaint or for further information. Do not be surprised if they ask you to return the next day to receive a copy of an official police report. The review process for an official report can take a few days to complete.

Police/Security Agencies

Federal Police: Their primary function is highway patrolling and airport policing. Special units exist to investigate federal crimes and conduct counter narcotics activities.

Sonora State Police (Policia Estatal Investigadora, PEI): serves as the primary criminal investigative agency in the state. They have specialized groups that work with the FBI on kidnapping and other sensitive investigations.  

Municipal Police (Policia Municipal): They mainly patrol and conduct crime prevention. They are the primary responders when summoned through 911 in the Nogales area, to include traditional police calls like traffic violations and incidents in the residential communities.

The Sinaloa cartel has infiltrated many levels of society in Nogales. Conducting periodic personnel background checks on employees is a very good practice. However, given the size and population of Nogales and the state of Sonora as a whole, it would be difficult to hire a sizable workforce completely insulated from DTOs. Best practice calls for the use of periodic employee interviews and initial/periodic background checks.  

Medical Emergencies

Dial 911 for any medical emergency in the Nogales Consular District. Ambulance service in Nogales is reasonably reliable, although ambulance personnel do not receive the same training as those in the U.S. The Cruz Roja de Mexico (Red Cross) also provides ambulance service.

Contact Information for Available Medical Services

For medical assistance, refer to the Consulate’s Medical Assistance page.

Available Air Ambulance Services

In serious medical situations, drive across the border to Nogales, Arizona, and go to Holy Cross Hospital: 1171 W. Target Range Road, Nogales, AZ 85621

Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance

The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for Mexico.

OSAC Country Council Information

The Nogales Country Council is active and meets quarterly. Interested private-sector security managers should contact OSAC’s Western Hemisphere Team with any questions.

U.S. Consulate Location and Contact Information

Consulate Address and Hours of Operation

U.S. Consulate Nogales, Calle San Jose s/n, Fraccionamiento Los Alamos, Nogales, Sonora

0800 to 1700, Monday thru Friday

Consulate Contact Numbers

+52 631-311-8150 (within Mexico)

Nearby Posts: Embassy Mexico City, Consulate Guadalajara, Consulate Hermosillo, Consulate Matamoros, Consulate MéridaConsulate Monterrey, Consulate Nogales, Consulate Nuevo Laredo, Consulate Tijuana

Consulate Guidance

U.S. citizens traveling to Mexico should register with the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to ensure they receive pertinent security updates and notices.

Additional Resources

Mexico Country Information Sheet

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