Lithuania 2011 OSAC Crime and Safety Report
Overall Crime and Safety Situation
Lithuania is a relatively safe country with little anti-American sentiment. Americans visiting Lithuania should maintain the same personal security awareness that they would in any metropolitan U.S. city. Criminal elements exploit soft targets, especially in areas with a high volume of tourist traffic, with petty crimes such as pick pocketing. Additional crime threats in Lithuania include thefts from vehicles, personal robberies, and residential thefts. As with any major city, crimes against persons occur mainly in congested areas such as malls, seaports, tourist areas, on public transportation (and in stations), bars/nightclubs, and restaurants. Theft from vehicles and vandalism of vehicles can occur almost anywhere, but these crimes are mostly concentrated in poorly-illuminated parking areas, unsecured parking areas, and port areas.
In Lithuania, most successful criminal acts occur against people who are unaware of their surroundings or who are not exercising the proper level of alertness. The majority of incidents reported to the Regional Security Office (RSO) involved individuals who were alone or overly-intoxicated and occurred between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. Visitors who plan on consuming alcohol while in Lithuania should exercise moderation and designate a member of the group to be in charge of security awareness. Large amounts of cash and expensive jewelry should be secured in a hotel safe or left at home. For those residing in Lithuania, it is advisable to ensure that leased residences have adequate security equipment to include (but not limited to) security lighting, high quality locks, and an alarm system with 24-hour monitoring service. Those who take normal security precautions will most likely enjoy a safe stay in Lithuania.
Road conditions are generally good and up to Western European standards. They are, however, poorly lit, and motorists should exercise care when driving after dark outside of city centers. Lithuania often receives an above-average amount of snow during the colder months. Road conditions can deteriorate quickly with a heavy accumulation of snow with little warning. Additionally, there are less than 6 hours of daylight per day in the winter months which impacts visibility, further exacerbating the poor driving conditions.
Visitors to Lithuania should take note of the fact that Lithuania law enforcement authorities have a zero-tolerance approach to drinking and driving and that national penalties are severe. In pursuit of the zero-tolerance approach, police are increasing the use of random roadblocks, speed traps, and breathalyzer tests. Drivers in vehicles departing the ferry terminal are often subjected to breathalyzer tests. American citizens who do not possess an International Driving Permit in addition to a valid U.S. driver’s license must have certified translation of the license in to the Lithuanian language; it allows driving in Lithuania for 185 calendar days. After 185 days, travelers should pass a driving theory exam. Lithuania police have been levying hefty fines on individuals not documentarily qualified to operate a motor vehicle in Lithuania. Lithuania drivers can be aggressive; driving defensively is recommended. Visitors should also take note of the fact that Lithuania leads the EU in accidents caused by drunk drivers.
Demonstrations and acts of civil disobedience are generally limited and peaceful in Lithuania. Demonstrations over the past year were identified in advance via the government’s permit process and were closely monitored by Lithuanian law enforcement authorities. Public protests are also rare, as permits are required for public demonstrations involving more than 9 persons. There were no demonstrations at the U.S. Embassy in 2010.
There are no known indigenous terrorist organizations in Lithuania, and Lithuania is not a known base of support/sympathy for terrorists. Lithuania faces the same threat of international terrorism as other European countries.
A possible future development that could lead to a greater terrorist threat in Lithuania relates to the inclusion of Lithuania into the Schengen zone as of December 21, 2007. Consequently, Lithuania’s inclusion has lead to the elimination of border controls in the Baltic region which could allow for the easier movement of terrorist cells in the region and increase its vulnerability as a target of international terrorism.
In terms of natural disasters, earthquakes and floods are not major concerns in Lithuania. Due to its geographic location on the Baltic Sea and its location between Belarus and Kaliningrad, both significant sources of criminal activity, Lithuania can be considered a potential transit state for smuggling activity. The State Border Guard Service has registered an increase in smuggling activity on the Kaliningrad-Lithuania border, though these goods generally consist of materials such as cigarettes, alcohol, and petrol. Lithuania is focusing on tightening the border with Kaliningrad due to EU concerns about cross-border crime and smuggling. Although Belarus has decreased the flow of human traffic across its border, illegal migration does still occur. Securing Lithuania’s borders with Kaliningrad and Belarus is a primary foreign policy goal since they became external EU borders.
Combating drug-related crimes is a priority for the Lithuania police agencies. Cross-border smuggling of drugs is a major problem for the Baltic region. The rate of illegal drug use in Lithuania has increased in recent years and has resulted in an increasing number of high-risk crimes.
Fire is also a concern in Lithuania because despite the fact that Lithuania’s infrastructure continues to develop quickly, many of the existing Soviet-era buildings still contain antiquated electrical and structural components. Visitors who are considering leasing or buying residential and/or commercial property should conduct a thorough investigation of the property to ensure that the structural integrity is sound, the electrical system meets current safety standards, and that emergency egress routes are designed/retrofitted with features that facilitate quick and safe evacuation. When viewing multi-tenant buildings, potential renters/buyers should not only evaluate the dwelling itself, but should also consider the overall safety of the entire building. Many multi-tenant units have been renovated to appear new, however, the building’s common areas still contain outdated electrical infrastructure and other conditions that pose safety and/or security concerns.
Racially motivated incidents continue to be a concern in Lithuania despite the fact that the number of racially-motivated incidents reported to the Regional Security Office remain below what it has been in years past. Even though statistics indicate that this concern is decreasing, the U.S Embassy continues to monitor this issue closely. All racially-motivated incidents, as well as any other incidents experienced by visitors, should be reported immediately to the U.S. Embassy.
A limited number of small organized crime groups operate in Lithuania. Lithuania organized crime groups are typically involved in the traditional businesses of gambling, trafficking, and nightclubs/bars. Several law enforcement agencies are investigating transnational credit card fraud cases that have either originated in Lithuania or transited through Lithuanian institutions. The bulk of these crimes did not occur in Lithuania, rather criminal elements use the technically savvy Lithuanian criminals to commit crimes elsewhere. Cyber-crime (internet fraud) does not represent a major threat to foreign businesses operating in Lithuania, though it continues to be a major issue in neighboring countries.
Police response times in Lithuania can vary from several minutes to an hour depending on the nature of the call, time of day, call volume, and resource constraints of the respective police station. That being said, the variable response times should not be misinterpreted as a lack of professionalism or competence on the part of local authorities. Police have become more respected and better trained in recent years, but they continue to suffer from a lack of resources. In order to respond to the needs of visitors, police concentrate most of their patrols (vehicular and foot) to tourist and highly populated areas.
It should also be noted that in Lithuania incidents of police harassment and unjust detention are rare, but solicitation of bribes by authorities and highway police continues to be a concern. Drivers stopped by highway police for speeding infractions are reminded that such infractions are subject to official adjudication, with final payment (if necessary) to be made through the bank. Under no circumstances should money be paid directly to the police officer.
Visitors detained by Lithuanian police should comply with police instructions. Lithuanian police agencies are professionally trained and competent. Incidents of police abuse of power/position are very rare in Lithuania. Foreigners detained by police who experience a language barrier should request the presence of an interpreter and should not sign any documents or reports until they are confident that the document’s contents are consistent with the details of the incident or the victim’s statement. Police officers who speak English are very common. Visitors requiring further assistance should contact their respective embassies. Visitors who become victims of crime should report it immediately to the local police station. The police emergency number throughout Lithuania is 112. After reporting the incident to the police, victims should contact their respective embassies to report the crime and request assistance.
If you need to report a crime and are unable to communicate with authorities because of the language barrier, the U.S Embassy can assist by translating your concerns. The embassy local guard force operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and all guards speak English. The 24-hour number of the embassy is +370 5 266-5666. If you experience a fire emergency in Lithuania, the number to contact the fire department is also 112.
In the event of a medical or any other emergency, you can dial 112 for an ambulance. There are also private ambulance services that are highly qualified and offer quick response. A private ambulance can be contacted at +370 5 237-5757 or +370 699 43963. Most medical services are usually available in larger cities including Vilnius, Klaipeda, and Kaunas, but the quality of these services may not be up to Western standards. U.S citizens should take note of the fact that in all other towns and villages throughout Lithuania, medical aid is of a much lower level or may not available at all. One good source for medical assistance for visitors is the Baltic American Clinic in Vilnius. The Clinic can be reached at + 370 5 234 2020 or + 370 698 52655 and is located at Nemencines road 54a, LT-10103 Vilnius, Lithuania. U.S citizens should consider purchasing travelers health insurance prior to visiting Lithuania to cover any health related expenses. This is important because without insurance, you will have to pay for all services in cash. Visitors unable to demonstrate proof of medical insurance must purchase short-term insurance at the border from a Lithuanian provider.
How to Avoid Becoming a Victim
The crime rate in Lithuania is low. Pick-pocketing and theft continue to be the most common problems encountered by foreigners. In order to avoid these forms of petty theft, personal belongings should be well protected at all times. Visitors are also advised not to leave valuables in plain sight in parked vehicles, as there have been an increasing number of reports of car windows being smashed and items being stolen from vehicles. To avoid vehicle-related incidents, such as theft and vandalism, vehicles should be parked in guarded, well-illuminated parking lots, and an alarm or anti-theft device are recommended.
When visiting Lithuania one should take normal precautions such as avoiding unlit alleyways and parks during late hours. Visitors should also avoid ATM’s late in the evening and should only carry the amount of cash necessary for the day’s purchases. If visitor’s credit cards are lost or stolen they should report it immediately to their credit card companies.
The U.S. Embassy is located at Akmenu Gatve 6, tel. +370 5 266-5500 or +370 5 266-5600; fax +370 5 266-5590. The Regional Security Office number is +370 5 266-5621 and the embassy medical unit can be reached at +370 5 266-5549. Consular information can also be found on the Embassy Vilnius web site at http://vilnius.usembassy.gov/
Americans living in or visiting Lithuania are encouraged to register with the Consular Affairs Section of the U.S. Embassy in the Lithuania and obtain updated information on travel and security in the Lithuania by visiting the U.S Embassy website at http://vilnius.usembassy.gov
OSAC Country Council
The OSAC Country Council in Vilnius can be reached through the RSO at +370 5 266-5621