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Overseas Security Advisory Council
Bureau of Diplomatic Security
U.S. Department of State

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Jamaica 2019 Crime & Safety Report

The current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication assesses Jamaica at Level 2, indicating travelers should exercise increased caution. Do not travel to Spanish Town, or to parts of Kingston and Montego Bay, due to crime.

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

The U.S. Embassy in Kingston 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 Jamaica-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.

Crime Threats

There is serious risk from crime in Kingston. Violent crime, including sexual assault, is a serious problem throughout Jamaica, particularly in Kingston and Montego Bay. Jamaica’s police force is understaffed and has limited resources. Gated resorts are not immune to violent crime.

In 2017, Jamaica’s homicide rate was 56 per 100,000; in 2018, the homicide rate dropped to 47 per 100,000, but remains three times higher than the average for Latin America and the Caribbean. Forbes Magazine listed Jamaica as the third most dangerous place for women travelers in 2017. In 2018, Business Insider ranked Jamaica 10th among 20 of the most dangerous places in the world. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) recently cited crime as the number one impediment to economic growth. The Jamaican government concluded that corruption and the transnational crime it facilitates presents a grave threat to national security. 

In January 2018, due to rampant violence and murders, the Government of Jamaica (GoJ) declared States of Emergency (SOE) and Zones of Special Operations (ZOSOs) for several parishes including the Kingston Metropolitan Area (KMA) and the parish of St. James. The Embassy warned visitors to avoid some areas of Kingston, Montego Bay (St. James), and Spanish Town due to violent crime. Under SOE, security forces deployed to address organized crime, including gang violence related to drug and gun trafficking and lottery scams. The Emergency Powers Act allows the security forces to detain and deport suspicious persons, to enter premises and seize property without a warrant, and declare curfews. The three SOEs and two ZOSOs lowered the murder rate by 22%, due largely to the steep decline in murders in St. James. However, the SOE lapsed the end of January 2019, after Jamaica’s Parliament did not approve its extension. For more information on the SOE, review OSAC’s report, Jamaica State of Emergency.

Crime

2018

2017

%

Murders

1287

1647

-21.9%

Shootings

1154

1485

-22.3%

Aggravated Assaults

369

423

-12.8%

Rapes

432

492

-12.2%

Robberies

1085

1276

-15.0%

Break-ins

1150

1197

-3.9%

Provided by the Jamaican Constabulary Force Statistics and Information Management Unit

The Embassy refers to its largest off-limits area in Kingston as the “M-Zone,” which represents two-thirds of the city. The Embassy prohibits personnel from travel within this zone. The Regional Security Office must approve all official travel within the M-Zone.

Embassy personnel may not travel into notoriously high-crime areas of Kingston including, but not limited to Mountain View, Trench Town, Tivoli Gardens, Standpipe, Cassava Piece, Grants Pen, and Arnett Gardens. In Montego Bay, Embassy employees must avoid Flankers, Canterbury, Norwood, Rose Heights, Clavers Street, and Hart Street.  The downtown “Hip Strip” of bars, clubs, and vendors in Montego Bay is an area where tourists should remain aware of pickpockets and theft.

In Kingston, Embassy personnel reside in several housing compounds that have 24/7 armed guards. Residences must adhere to rigid security standards for a high-crime crime environment; each must be equipped with locked window grilles, alarm systems, and a safe room. 

Rape and sexual assault are serious problems throughout Jamaica, including at resorts and hotels. The use of date rape drugs is possible even at private parties and resorts. For more information on date rape drugs, review OSAC’s report, Scopolamine Incidents on the Rise in Colombia.

Gangs are a major security issue across the country, and are the source of the majority of violent crime nationwide. While there is no evidence to indicate criminals and gang-related activities are specifically targeting U.S. citizens for violent crime, U.S. citizens are the prime targets for financial “lottery scams.” In 2018, the USPIS assisted Jamaican law enforcement with 109 cases involving lottery scamming, and have extradited six lotto scammers. Criminal elements pose as legitimate lottery companies, and convince unsuspecting U.S. citizens to send large amounts of money to obtain claimed lottery winnings.  The lottery fraud/scam operates predominantly from the north coast near the tourist areas. Those organizing scams may obtain personal information on tourists and use it to conduct their operations.

The most notorious Jamaican scam is the Lotto Scam, a kind of advance-fee fraud. The scammer leads the victim to believe that a Jamaican lottery prize is available to them after the payment of “fees.” If you receive a call, know that you did NOT win a lottery. The person on the telephone is lying, and you should hang up. Never send money to someone who calls to say you have won the lottery in Jamaica. Do not travel to Jamaica to collect a “prize.” Criminals have killed, kidnapped, extorted, or robbed victims. Be very cautious about sending money to help a traveler claiming to be in trouble. When in doubt, contact your local police department for advice and assistance. Be wary of promises to protect a loved one from harm or to help the loved one out of trouble, in exchange for money. That is extortion – contact your local police department. Scam artists often fake romantic interest to get money from a would-be lover, especially on the internet. When in doubt, contact your local police department. If you are the target of a financial scam, you will need to file a report with your local police department.

Transportation-Safety Situation

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

Road Safety and Road Conditions

Driving is on the left side of the road in Jamaica. The lack of pedestrian crosswalks requires special vigilance. In 2018, road fatalities increased to 389, from 322 the year before. Most roads are paved, but suffer from ill repair, inadequate signage, large potholes, limited lighting, and poor traffic control markings. Roads are often subject to poorly marked construction zones, pedestrians, bicyclists, and livestock. Driving habits range from aggressive speeding and disregard for others, to inexperience and overly cautious behaviors, creating uncertainty and hazards to pedestrians.

Drivers should maintain special care when entering poorly marked traffic circles; entering motorists must yield to those already inside. Exit points are exceptionally confusing, often making it difficult to determine which exit to take. There is no law prohibiting the use of mobile devices while driving; use vigilance, as drivers in Jamaica often allow their cell phones to distract them. (Legislation addressing this is forthcoming in the new Road Traffic Act.)

With the completion of the North-South Highway toll road in 2016, there is now a modern, expedient route between Kingston and the north coast area near Ocho Rios. The A1, A2, and A3 highways provide links between the country’s most important cities and tourist destinations. These roads are comparable to but do not quite meet the standard of U.S. highways; road conditions are hazardous due to poor repair, inadequate signage, and poor traffic control markings. Highways and rural roads are often very narrow and frequented by large trucks, buses, pedestrians, bicyclists, and open range livestock. Most highways are traveled at high speeds but do not limit access (Only North South Highway and Highway 2000 preclude bicyclists, pedestrians, and livestock). Breakdown assistance is limited in urban areas, and virtually unavailable in rural areas. Avoid nighttime driving; lighting is either poor or non-existent outside of larger cities, and nighttime driving is especially dangerous. Drivers and passengers in the front seat must wear seat belts, and motorcycle riders must wear helmets. Use extreme caution operating motor-driven cycles, as this is the leading category of deaths.

Public Transportation Conditions

Embassy employees may not use public transportation, with the exception of the Jamaica Union of Travelers Association (JUTA), the Knutsford Express, or pre-approved taxis. Public buses are often overcrowded and a venue for crime. Several serious and fatal accidents take place each year involving U.S. tourists riding in taxis without seatbelts.  There are reports of private buses, acting as public transport, driving erratically leading to injury and death for both riders and pedestrians.

Official public transportation vehicles have red license plates. Private vehicles, NOT licensed for public transportation, have white license plates with blue letters/numbers. Only use licensed taxicabs with red-and-white PP license plates or recommended transportation services.

Do not accept rides from strangers.

Terrorism Threat

There is moderate risk from terrorism in Jamaica. While there do not appear to be any extremist groups active in Jamaica, lax immigration controls, porous borders, availability of illegal weapons, and the ease with which fraudulent travel documents can be obtained make the country an attractive target for potential terrorists.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

There is moderate risk from political violence in Jamaica. Jamaica’s political system is stable, and the country has a history of peaceful transfers of power between the two political parties, the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) and the People’s National Party (PNP).  The country’s historic economic challenges and consistently high murder rate exacerbate social tensions and are the subject of intense political debate.

Civil Unrest

Protests and demonstrations can be unpredictable. Although protests and demonstrations are infrequent in Kingston, they do occur. Even those intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and escalate into violence.  Activities in protest include, but are not limited to roadblocks, throwing rocks, burning tires and vehicles, and some degree of physical violence between law enforcement and protesters. The U.S. Embassy and U.S. interests within the community are not immune to the effects of these protests, but are not direct targets.

Post-specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

Jamaica shares a major geographic fault line with Haiti; tremors are very common throughout the country. Jamaica also lies within the Atlantic hurricane belt; the hurricane season runs from June 1 through November 30.

Critical Infrastructure

Jamaica’s Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management has put measures in place in the event of an emergency or natural disaster.

Personal Identity Concerns

Despite the diverse ethnic and religious background of its population, Jamaica has the reputation for being one of the least accepting countries for the LGBTI community. Public displays of affection between same sex couples are uncommon, and the law still criminalizes consensual sex between males with up to 10 years in prison, though this law is rarely enforced. Several highly popular Jamaican music entertainers have featured song lyrics that contain anti-homosexual messages and condone violence against homosexuals. Negative attitudes towards LGBTI issues are widespread in Jamaica. There are continued reports of serious discrimination and abuse against LGBTI individuals, including assault, “Corrective rape” of women accused of being lesbians, arbitrary detention, mob attacks, stabbings, harassment of LGBTI patients by hospital and prison staff, and blackmail.

While some of the country’s resorts meet U.S. standards, most transportation, entertainment, and medical facilities cannot accommodate travelers with disabilities.

Drug-related Crimes

Jamaica is a transit point for South American cocaine destined to the United States, Canada, and Europe. It is also the largest Caribbean producer and exporter of cannabis (marijuana), adding to the vibrant drugs-for-guns trade with Haiti. The Government of Jamaica has a National Drug Control Strategy in place that covers supply and demand reduction. The Government has intensified and focused its law enforcement efforts on more effectively disrupting the trans-shipment of large amounts of cocaine. It also has fully cooperated in several major international narcotics law enforcement initiatives. It is ready and willing to extradite to the United States those responsible for the manufacture, trans-shipment, and distribution of vast amounts of cocaine throughout the central Caribbean region.

Foreign visitors to Jamaica may use marijuana for medicinal purposes with a prescription from a physician in the United States or from a local doctor. Any attempt to take marijuana in or out of the country may lead to a serious charge of drug trafficking. Possession of two ounces or less of marijuana may result in a fine. Possession of larger amounts of marijuana, or possession of other illegal drugs, may lead to arrest and prosecution.

Kidnapping Threat

Kidnappings can happen in any part of Jamaica; a wide range of criminals with varying levels of professionalism and differing motives can execute kidnappings. At one end of the spectrum are high-end kidnapping gangs that target high-profile/high-net-worth individuals. Such groups employ teams of operatives who carry out specialized tasks (e.g. collecting intelligence, conducting surveillance, snatching the target, negotiating with the victim’s family, and establishing/guarding safe houses). On the other end of the spectrum are gangs that roam the streets and randomly kidnap targets of opportunity.  These gangs are generally less professional, and often will hold a victim for a short period, just long enough to use the victim’s ATM card to drain his/her accounts or to receive a small ransom. Sometimes express kidnappers hold victims for a couple of days if the victim has a large amount in a checking account and a small daily ATM withdrawal limit. For more information, review OSAC’s report, Kidnapping: The Basics.

Police Response

Insufficient funding and resources hinder Jamaica’s Constabulary Force (JCF). Government officials have very low salaries. Despite the creation of the Independent Commission of Investigations in 2010, an entity that investigates police misconduct, police corruption and involvement in criminal activity still occur. Additionally, the majority of crime victims do not report crimes due to fear the report will get back to criminals, or the feeling that nothing would come from such reports. 

Most civilians fear that the authorities cannot protect them from organized criminal elements because they suspect authorities are colluding with criminals, leading them to avoid giving evidence or witness testimony. Those in some marginalized communities are often indifferent to police authority, adding to a perceived sense of lawlessness. Reporting crime can seem archaic and confusing, and can be a lengthy process that some see as frustratingly bureaucratic. 

Despite these setbacks, Jamaican police officers have received extensive training from the United States and other international trainers, including the United Kingdom, Russia, China, Canada, and South Korea.

Police:  119

Ambulance/Fire: 110

How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment

If an officer stops or questions U.S. citizens, they should cooperate. If you feel unjustly stopped, detained, or harassed, request that the officer contact the U.S. Embassy on your behalf.

Crime Victim Assistance

Local police assistance is available throughout the country. Police support for foreign victims of crimes varies between semi-responsive and responsive due to a shortage of labor, training, vehicles, and resources. Police do not usually mistreat victims of crime, but response times, investigation techniques, and the arrest/conviction rates of suspects are below the standards found in U.S. police departments. 

If a citizen is involved in a traffic accident or victimized by crime, that person may be required to accompany the investigating police officer to the local police station to file a complaint or respond to questions. Should you require a police for an insurance claim, they will charge a nominal fee.

If you are victim of a sexual assault, contact the police and the U.S. Embassy in Kingston as soon as possible. In a hotel, management should assist you with these communications. Victims of sexual assault in Jamaica should not expect the same assistance routinely offered in the United States. Rape kits are not always available, and victims must often ask for medication to avoid STD transmission and reduce the chances of pregnancy. An offer of counseling is unlikely. Law enforcement shortcomings exist in collection of evidence. Prosecution of rape cases moves very slowly. Victims may need to return to Jamaica during the legal process.

Medical Emergencies

Medical care is limited compared to the United States. Comprehensive emergency medical services are only available in Kingston and Montego Bay. The Embassy medical staff does not recommend using medical facilities outside of Kingston and Montego Bay.

Visitors in need of medical attention should make every effort to reach Kingston or Montego Bay.  An ambulance service is available in Kingston at (876) 978-2327, (876) 978-6021, or (876) 923-7415.

Contact Information for Available Medical Services

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

Available Air Ambulance Services

Visit the embassy website for information for medical evacuation providers.

Insurance Guidance

Doctors and hospitals often require cash payment prior to providing services. Serious medical problems requiring hospitalization and/or medical evacuation (medevac) can cost thousands of dollars.  Consider purchasing insurance that includes medevac assistance prior to travel.

Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance

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

OSAC Country Council Information

The Kingston Country Council meets quarterly. Interested private-sector security managers should contact OSAC’s Western Hemisphere team with any questions. 

U.S. Embassy Location and Contact Information

Embassy Address and Hours of Operation

142 Old Hope Road, Kingston 6. Hours: Monday-Friday 0715-1600

Embassy Contact Information

Switchboard: (876) 702-6000 (includes after-hour emergencies)

Website: http://jm.usembassy.gov

Embassy Guidance

U.S. travelers should register with the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP).

Additional Resource: Jamaica Country Information Sheet

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