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

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Jamaica 2020 Crime & Safety Report

This is an annual report produced in conjunction with the Regional Security Office at the U.S. Embassy in Kingston. OSAC encourages travelers to use this report to gain baseline knowledge of security conditions in Jamaica. For more in-depth information, review OSAC’s Jamaica country page for original OSAC reporting, consular messages, and contact information, some of which may be available only to private-sector representatives with an OSAC password.

Travel Advisory

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 due to crime. Do not travel to Spanish Town, or to parts of Kingston and Montego Bay, due to crime. Review OSAC’s report, Understanding the Consular Travel Advisory System.

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

Crime Threats

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Kingston as being a CRITICAL-threat location for crime directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests. 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 2018, the homicide rate was 47/100,000 residents, and 2019 saw an increase of 3.4%. This is 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 tenth among 20 of the most dangerous places in the world. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) recently cited crime as the number one impediment to Jamaica’s 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 declared States of Emergency (SOEs) and Zones of Special Operations (ZOSOs) for several parishes (like U.S. counties) including the Kingston Metropolitan Area and St. James (Montego Bay). The U.S. Embassy warned visitors to avoid some areas of Kingston, Montego Bay, and Spanish Town due to violent crime. Under the 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. Throughout 2019, the government enacted various SOEs and ZOSOs for the same parishes. They remain in effect as of January 2020, with little long-term effect on the murder rate. Review OSAC’s report, Jamaica State of Emergency.

Crime

2019

2018

%

Murders

1326

1287

+3.4%

Shootings

1246

1156

+7.8%

Aggravated Assaults

361

379

-4.7%

Rapes

484

503

-3.8%

Robberies

1189

1088

+9.3%

Break-ins

1210

1174

+3.1%

Data from the Jamaican Constabulary Force Statistics and Information Management Unit

The U.S. Embassy in Kingston maintains several areas as off-limits to its personnel. The Embassy refers to its largest off-limits area in Kingston as the “Red-Zone,” which represents two-thirds of the city. The Embassy prohibits personnel from travel within this zone, between Mountain View Avenue and Hagley Park Road, and south of Half Way Tree and Old Hope Roads; this area includes Trench Town, Tivoli Gardens, and Arnett Gardens. The Regional Security Office must approve all official travel within the Red-Zone.

Travelers must pass through the Red-Zone to access Kingston’s Norman Manley International Airport (KIN). The approved primary route is South Camp Road to Normal Manley Boulevard. The approved secondary route is Mountain View to Deanery Road to South Camp Road to Norman Manley Boulevard. The Embassy does not require employees to submit a travel request to travel to KIN using either of these approved routes.

Also off limits in Kingston are Cassava Piece, Grants Pen, Stand‐Pipe, Duhaney Park, and Mountain View.

Avenue between Deanery Road and Windward Road, and all neighborhoods encompassed in a lower-level “M-Zone” include Olympic Gardens, Cockburn Gardens, Seaview Gardens, Trench Town, Tivoli Gardens, and Denham Town.

In St. Catherine Parish, off-limits areas include Spanish Town, Central Village, and certain areas within Portmore to include Old Braeton, Naggo Head, Newland, and Waterford.

All of Clarendon Parish is off‐limits. However, personnel may pass through Clarendon parish using the T1 and A2 highways. The Embassy does not require employees to submit a travel request to pass through Clarendon using these approved routes.

In St. James Parish, neighborhoods encompassed in the off-limits zone of Montego Bay include Flankers, Norwood, Glendevon, Paradise Heights, and parts of Mount Salem. The downtown “Hip Strip” of bars, clubs, and vendors in Montego Bay is an area where tourists should remain aware of pickpockets and theft. Review OSAC’s report, All That You Should Leave Behind.

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

Rape and sexual assault are serious problems throughout Jamaica, including at resorts and hotels. Review OSAC’s reports, Hotels: The Inns and Outs and Considerations for Hotel Security.

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 most violent crime nationwide. While there is no evidence to indicate criminals and gang-related activities specifically target 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. Review OSAC’s report, Criminal Gangs, Arms Trafficking, and Lottery Scams in Jamaica.

Review OSAC’s reports, The Overseas Traveler’s Guide to ATM Skimmers & Fraud and Taking Credit.

Cybersecurity Issues

Review OSAC’s reports, Cybersecurity Basics, Best Practices for Maximizing Security on Public Wi-Fi, Traveling with Mobile Devices: Trends & Best Practices, and Satellite Phones: Critical or Contraband?

Transportation-Safety Situation

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 2019, road fatalities increased to 435, from 389 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.

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 carry large trucks, buses, pedestrians, bicyclists, and open-range livestock. Most highways invite vehicles to travel at high speeds, but do not limit access. (Only North-South Highway and Highway 2000 prohibit 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.

Review OSAC’s reports, Road Safety Abroad, Driving Overseas: Best Practices, and Evasive Driving Techniques; and read the State Department’s webpage on driving and road safety abroad.

Public Transportation Conditions

Embassy employees may not use public transportation, except for the Jamaica Union of Travelers Association (JUTA) taxis and minibuses, 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 passengers 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.

Aviation/Airport Conditions

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the government of Jamaica’s Civil Aviation Authority as compliant with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of air carrier operations in Jamaica. Review OSAC’s report, Security In Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.

Terrorism Threat

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Kingston as being a LOW-threat location for terrorism directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests. 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 of obtaining fraudulent travel documents, along with the prevalence of U.S. and other Western tourists could make the country an attractive target for potential terrorists.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Kingston as being a LOW-threat location for political violence directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests. 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. Review OSAC’s report, Surviving a Protest.

Anti-U.S./Anti-Western Sentiment

Jamaicans are amenable to U.S. travelers, with little to no apparent anti-U.S. sentiment.

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, although hurricanes can occur outside that period.

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.

Economic Concerns

Corruption is a major concern in Jamaica. There is substantial money-laundering activity. Colombian narcotics traffickers favor Jamaica for illicit financial transactions.

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 penalties of up to 10 years in prison, though authorities rarely enforce this law. Several highly popular Jamaican music entertainers have featured song lyrics that contain homophobic messages and condone violence against the LGBTI+ population. 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 by hospital and prison staff, and blackmail. Pride events began in Jamaica in 2015, and have slowly increased in size and participation. The 2019 Montego Bay Pride event was canceled after the Mayor of Montego Bay blocked permission for a LGBTI+ group to use public venues. Review the State Department’s webpage on security for LGBTI+ travelers.

While some of the country’s resorts meet U.S. standards, most transportation, entertainment, and medical facilities cannot accommodate travelers with disabilities. Review the State Department’s webpage on security for travelers with disabilities.

Sexual assault is a major problem, including at hotels and resorts. See the Police Response section below, and review the State Department’s webpage on security for female travelers.

Rastafarians report that while prejudice against their religion is still a problem, there is increasing societal acceptance of and respect for their practices. Seventh-day Adventists report a limited ability to gain employment because of their observance of a Saturday Sabbath. Review OSAC’s report, Freedom to Practice, and the State Department’s webpage on security for faith-based travelers.

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 a 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 into 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

Although rare, 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 conduct 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 their accounts or to receive a small ransom. Sometimes they hold victims for extended periods if they have a large amount in a checking account and a small daily ATM withdrawal limit. While most of the world views this as “express kidnapping,” Jamaican law interprets this as robbery. Review OSAC’s report, Kidnapping: The Basics.

Other Issues

Review OSAC’s report, Picture This: Dos and Don’ts for Photography.

Jamaica strictly forbids importing or possessing firearms in Jamaica without prior authorization of the Firearms Licensing Authority of Jamaica. A U.S. concealed carry permit does not allow you to bring a firearm or ammunition into Jamaica. If you bring a firearm, firearm components, firearm parts, or ammunition (even a single bullet) to Jamaica, you will face arrest and prosecution. This will result in a large fine and/or incarceration for an unspecified amount of time. Bringing mace, pepper spray, or knives into Jamaica without authorization will also lead to arrest. Read the State Department’s webpage on customs and import restrictions for information on what you cannot take into or out of other countries.

Police Response

The police emergency line in Jamaica is 119. 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.

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.

Some 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. Download the State Department’s Crime Victims Assistance brochure.

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.

Victims of sexual assault should contact the police and the U.S. Embassy in Kingston as soon as possible. In a hotel, management should assist the victim 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.

Those involved in a traffic accident or victimized by crime may have to accompany the investigating police officer to the local police station to file a complaint or respond to questions. Should you require a police report for an insurance claim, police will charge a nominal fee.

Medical Emergencies

The medical emergency line in Jamaica is 110. 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. Ambulance availability and care provision is limited, especially in rural areas. Traffic congestion and road conditions may slow response times. Find contact information for available medical services and available air ambulance services on the Embassy’s Medical Assistance page.

Healthcare providers often require cash payment prior to providing services. Serious medical problems requiring hospitalization and/or medical evacuation (medevac) can cost thousands of dollars. The U.S. Department of State strongly recommends purchasing international health insurance before traveling internationally. Review the State Department’s webpage on insurance overseas.

The availability of prescription drugs is very limited in outlying parishes. EpiPens are not sold anywhere on the island.

Mosquito borne viruses (e.g. Dengue, Chikungunya, Zika) are prevalent in Jamaica, as is HIV/AIDS. Use insect repellant with DEET. Although Jamaica does not have any specific vaccination requirements, authorities require the Yellow Fever Vaccine for entry if the traveler has been in an area where Yellow Fever is active.

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

Review OSAC’s reports, The Healthy Way, Traveling with Medication, I’m Drinking What in My Water?, Shaken: The Don’ts of Alcohol Abroad, Health 101: How to Prepare for Travel, and Fire Safety Abroad.

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 or to join.

U.S. Embassy Contact Information

142 Old Hope Road, Kingston 6

Hours: Monday-Friday 0715-1600

Switchboard: +876-702-6000

Website: http://jm.usembassy.gov

Helpful Information

Before you travel, consider the following resources:

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