OSAC 2011 Crime and Safety Report: Guadalajara
Overall Crime and Safety Situation
Guadalajara is the second largest city in Mexico, and following the multiple drug cartel assassinations and grenade attacks targeting the local police, the security environment has not improved over the past year. Although none of the drug cartel violence has directly targeted American citizens, several gun battles involving the use of AK-47 automatic rifles and grenades have been waged within close proximity of places that Americans frequent on a regular basis. Military units are playing an increasing role in supporting law enforcement operations against organized crime.
Guadalajara does have issues of serious concern, such as a large drug trade, police corruption (at the lower ranks), and a very slow rate of investigation, prosecution, and conviction once a complaint has been filed. Though we rely on government statistics to identify trends, it must be noted that under-reporting of crime is believed to be a significant problem in Guadalajara (as it is elsewhere in Mexico).
While there is growing concern that U.S. Government employees could potentially be targeted in possible retaliation for increased U.S. law enforcement cooperation with Mexico, Americans in Guadalajara currently do not face crime or safety concerns distinct from those of other residents or tourists.
Nothing currently indicates that criminals specifically target Americans. Anti-American sentiment is seldom expressed towards U.S. citizens, either official or non-official.
In 2010, overall crime increased in Guadalajara. The numbers of violent crimes including homicides, armed robberies (business and residential), and theft (cargo and personal vehicle) were all higher in comparison to the previous year. Although we emphasize that most crime in Mexico goes unreported, multiple sources including local statistics, press reports, and eye-witness accounts indicate that murders are up, and kidnappings have also increased significantly during the past 12 months within Guadalajara's consular district. Many local officials believe a large number of homicides are drug or gang-related intimidation or retaliation murders.
Lesser crimes, such as auto thefts, also increased significantly according to both local statistics and press reports. Auto theft is a lucrative business in Mexico. Related to this issue is theft of auto parts, such as mirrors, tires, lights, hubcaps, and wiper blades. Vehicles parked on streets are vulnerable to break-ins in just about any neighborhood, day or night. Nothing of value should be left in vehicles, and vehicles should be parked in well illuminated areas or in off-street parking whenever possible.
Americans living in the Guadalajara area need to be concerned about residential crime, though armed invasions with residents being held while burglarized is not common. Residential burglars usually rely on stealth and attempt their crimes when residents are away, avoiding confrontation and violence if possible. All Americans-- residents and tourists alike-- need to be concerned with general street crime (i.e., assault, armed robberies, carjackings, pickpockets, purse snatchings, ATM robberies, etc.). Areas of the greatest concern include the downtown district at night and areas east of downtown. Though the reported number of bank robberies remained relatively low in 2009, ATM robberies are always a concern, so ATMs should be chosen wisely.
Below are some precautions that can be taken to lessen the chances of becoming a victim of ATM or credit card fraud:
- Closely monitor anyone who handles your credit cards. To protect against skimming, closely watch anyone that you give your card to for processing, such as a waiter, clerk, attendant, etc. If at all possible, do not let them out of your sight. If a clerk makes a hard copy, retrieve the carbons.
- Keep a low limit on all credit cards to restrict the amount of money that thieves can steal. Although not exactly a prevention tactic, it will help if you fall victim.
- Sign all credit cards immediately upon your receipt of them. You can also write "Check ID" so that the clerk, if they actually read the back, will ask for ID for verification during a transaction.
- Cancel credit cards that you do not use and to monitor the ones that you do use.
- Be aware of your surroundings. The first step to prevent skimming is to understand what is going on around you. When at an ATM, cover the key pad when entering your pin. Prior to inserting your ATM card, check the ATM card reader to make sure that it looks appropriate and is not altered.
- Take your receipts. Do not leave receipts at ATMs, teller windows, gasoline pumps, or with a clerk.
- Protect your PIN. Some people make it easy for criminals by writing the PIN to their Credit or ATM card on something that they keep in their wallet, or even worse, writing the PIN on back of the card itself.
Transportation Safety and Road Conditions
If traveling by road, travelers should exercise caution at all times and avoid traveling at night whenever possible. Definitely avoid travel between cities after dark. Travelers are encouraged to use toll ("cuota") roads rather than the less secure "free" ("libre") roads where available. It is recommended to travel with at least half a tank of gasoline when traveling in more remote areas. In addition, travelers should not hitchhike or offer rides to strangers anywhere in Mexico.
Tourists should not hike alone in backcountry areas, nor walk alone on lightly frequented trails.
If stranded on the highway due to vehicle malfunction, dial 078 for roadside assistance. This service is provided free of charge by Mexico's Department of Tourism to all road travelers. More information on the services offered can be found on their website: http://www.sectur.gob.mx/wb2/sectur/sect_9453_angeles_verdes
American interests in Guadalajara are generally not targets of political violence, although there is growing concern that drug cartels may potentially target official U.S. Government buildings and/or employees as cooperation between the Mexican and U.S. Governments continues to grow. The recent attack against the U.S. Consulate in Monterrey is one example of such concern. Small, peaceful demonstrations in protest of various U.S. policies occur at the U.S. Consulate on occasion, usually related to U.S. immigration policy or U.S. policies regarding Cuba and/or Iraq. Other public protests and demonstrations do occur within the city for various economic and political reasons but are typically peaceful.
While there do not appear to be any Middle Eastern terrorist groups currently active in Mexico, lax immigration controls, the ease in which fake Mexican travel documents can be obtained and Mexico's geographic location make the country an attractive transit point for potential transnational terrorists.
Large scale public demonstrations or strikes are rare in Guadalajara. It is recommended that travelers avoid demonstrations and other activities that are deemed political by the Mexican government. The Mexican Constitution prohibits political activities by foreigners, and such actions may result in detention and/or deportation.
Earthquakes and Floods
Earthquakes are always a possibility in Guadalajara, although no major earthquake has occurred here in decades. Guadalajara is surrounded by 10 volcanoes (1 active and 9 inactive). It is common for streets in the older portions of Guadalajara to flood and become completely cut-off during periods of heavy rain. Avoid driving or walking in flooded areas. The coastal areas of the states of Colima, Jalisco, and Nayarit are especially prone to flash flooding during the rainy months.
Kidnapping for ransom has a long history in Mexico. Kidnap for ransom crimes are increasing in Guadalajara, and the threat is very real in all parts of Mexico. Most incidents go unreported to police and are handled directly by the victim's family or an intermediary. Guadalajara has not experienced the same level of "express" kidnappings common to other cities in the country. In an express kidnapping, victims are taken for a short period of time, typically less than 24 hours, and the kidnappers have the victims access their bank accounts via ATM for the maximum withdrawal amount possible. The term "express" is also used for kidnappings that last for a very brief amount of time and are usually settled for a few thousand dollars.
During the past year, "virtual" kidnappings have become increasingly common. Extortionists will call prospective victims on the telephone, posing as kidnappers, and demand payments in return for the release of an abducted family member, typically a child. Persons receiving such calls should be extremely skeptical and should not overreact to the initial claim as most are baseless. Persons receiving such calls should contact the local police immediately by dialing 066.
Drugs and Narco-terrorism
Guadalajara is beginning to see acts of violence normally associated with the border and near-border areas. There is a large presence of major narcotics traffickers in the city, state, and region. The current military campaign in the State of Michoacán (south of Jalisco) and internal battles between the Gulf and Sinaloa cartels continue to penetrate the states of Nayarit, Colima, Aguascalientes, and Jalisco, as well as the city of Guadalajara in the form of execution style murders.
For the most part, the police departments in Guadalajara and the surrounding metropolitan area are professional and adequately trained. Keep in mind that police departments in other areas may not be as efficient or responsive, and service can vary widely depending on the type of emergency and area.
Police corruption has long been considered a major problem and such concerns continue only in the lower ranks. Many Mexican citizens have little regard for or trust in the police. However, police support is generally good for Americans who are victims of crime. To ensure this support, American citizens in need of assistance due to crime or medical emergencies may call the U.S. Consulate in Guadalajara. American citizens who are detained or harassed by police may also seek assistance at the Consulate. The U.S. Consulate maintains very good relations with local police officials and can assist upon request.
Relevant Phone Numbers:
Mexico country code: 52
Guadalajara area code: 33
Police emergency: 066
Consulate main numbers: (33) 3268-2100 or (33) 3268-2200
American Citizen Services: (33) 3268-2173 or (33) 3268-2273
Consulate after hours: (33) 3268-2145
U.S. Embassy Mexico City: 01-55-5080-2000 (in Mexico) 011-52-55-5080-2000 (outside Mexico)
Guadalajara has very adequate medical facilities. Facilities outside of the metropolitan area are more limited. In an emergency, dial 066 for the police and ambulance service. Wait times can vary greatly. Permanent residents in Guadalajara are encouraged to contract a private ambulance service in order to ensure prompt response.
In a medical emergency in Guadalajara, contact any of the following hospitals:
Hospital San Javier
Avenida Pablo Casals 640
Telephone: 3669-0222 (also use this number for an ambulance)
Hospital del Carmen
Telephone: 3813-0128 or 3813-0025 or 3813-0442
Hospital Puerta de Hierro
Hospital de Especialidades Centro Medico Puerta de Hierro (in short Hospital Puerta de Hierro) Puerta de Hierro 5150, Puerta de Hierro
45116 Zapopan, Jalisco
Global Life Flight (plane located in Guadalajara)
Telephone: 01 800 305-9400 or 3615-2471
San Gonzalo 1859
Col. Santa Isabel
Zapopan, Jalisco 45110
01 800 024-8600 or 3688-5040 or 3688-6702
All American citizens need to visit the State Department’s website to read the updated Mexico Travel Warnings for Guadalajara’s consular district: http://mexico.usembassy.gov/eng/eacs_MexicoSecurityUpdate.html
Although Guadalajara is reported to have lower crime rates than some Mexican border cities, visitors are urged to remain vigilant and use common sense during their stay. Travelers should leave valuables and irreplaceable items in a safe place or at home.
All visitors are encouraged to make use of hotel safes where available, avoid wearing expensive jewelry, and carry only cash or credit cards that will be needed on each outing. Visitors are encouraged to make a photo copy of your U.S. passport biographical page and driver's license to have with you in case your originals are lost or stolen.
Visitors should be aware of their surroundings at all times, even when in areas generally considered safe. Women traveling alone are especially vulnerable and should exercise caution, particularly at night. Victims, who are almost always unaccompanied, have been raped, assaulted, and robbed of personal property, or abducted and then held while their credit cards are used at various businesses and ATMs. Visitors should be cautious when using ATMs in Mexico. If an ATM must be used, it should be accessed only during the business day at large protected/public facilities (preferable inside commercial establishments-malls, hotels, etc.), rather than at the small glass enclosed, highly visible ATMs on the street.
Although not as serious as Mexico City and the border area, travelers should still take certain precautions and avoid taxis not summoned by telephone or contacted in advance. It is recommended that a radio taxi or regulated taxi-stand taxi be used. These are referred to as "sitio" cabs and are clearly identifiable as they are yellow in color and should have a clearly visible registration number on the rear quarter panels. If possible, ask the hotel concierge or the establishment in which you are located to call a taxi for you and record the license plate of the cab you enter.
The following items are recommended for extended road trips:
- Cellular telephone with charger (although some areas between cities lack coverage);
- An extra spare tire;
- Portable gas can of gasoline with funnel;
- Potable water;
- Non-perishable food items;
- First Aid kit;
- Camping gear (sleeping bag, blanket, stove, etc);
- Fire extinguisher;
- Jumper cables;
- Collapsible shovel;
- Emergency tool kit with:
- Flashlight with additional batteries;
- Battery operated radio;
- Extra fan belt/drive belt;
- Extra fuses, spark plugs, and light bulbs;
- Duplicate ignition key;
- Screw driver (regular and Phillips head);
- Socket wrench set;
- Electrical tape.
Protecting Your Vehicle
- Headlights and tail lights: The headlights and tail lights are held in place by easily accessible screws. Install grilles around the lights, or simply tap out the heads of the screws holding the lights in place.
- Spare tire: If your tire is mounted on the outside of the vehicle, secure it in place with a chain and padlock, or similar device. If this is not possible, remove the spare tire and keep it at home, reinstalling it only for extended trips outside the city.
- Items inside the vehicle: Theft of the vehicle’s operating computer is a common crime, as is the theft of car sound systems. The installation of a car alarm is strongly recommended. Also, if you purchase a car radio, look for models that can be removed from the dash and locked in the trunk. Also, store anything that would entice a thief out of plain view.
- Locking hubs: Replace one lug nut on each wheel with a specially keyed bolt that locks or can only be removed with a special attachment to the tire iron.
- Emblems: Should be secured with rivets.
- Parking: Avoid leaving your vehicle on the street. Park inside a residential compound, in a parking lot with an attendant, or at least within view of the location of your visit. If this is not possible, leave your car at home and take a taxi. When parking within a shopping facility lot, be sure to park as close as possible to the store entrance, and away from dumpsters, bushes, or large vehicles. Be sure to lock your doors, close windows, and hide shopping bags and gifts in the trunk, out of sight.
- Car Alarm: Installation of a car alarm is a necessary precaution in deterring vehicle thefts and thefts of interior contents.
- Avoid wearing jewelry and carry a clutch purse or a neck purse instead of a shoulder bag. Carry a wallet in the front trouser pocket or front jacket pocket.
- Never leave shopping bags or merchandise unattended.
- When hiring domestic help, vet them to the greatest extent possible. Ensure that they are trained not to volunteer information to strangers or to allow access of workers without prior authorization.
Personal Security Practices
- Maintain a low profile: Do not advertise the fact that you are American. Dress casually, keep valuables out of sight, and do not draw attention to yourself with your actions.
- Vary your routine: Be unpredictable in your movements, vary your routes from home to the office as well as your departure and arrival times.
- Be alert to possible surveillance: Note any individual who appears out of place along your routes to regularly scheduled activities, such as going from home to the office.
- Avoid sitting outside at restaurants. Instead, try to find a seat in an area not clearly visible from the street.
- Be alert to your surroundings: Minimize valuables and do not carry large sums of money while in crowded, urban areas. Be aware of popular scams and robbery tactics used to distract your attention.
OSAC Country Council
There is an active Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) in Guadalajara. All U.S. private sector organizations operating in the area are welcome to attend. For further information on the OSAC Guadalajara Country Council please contact the Regional Security Office at the U.S. Consulate in Guadalajara at 52-33-3268-2100 or OSAC’s Country Council and Outreach Coordinator for the Western Hemisphere .