Jamaica 2012 Crime and Safety Report
Transportation Security; Travel Health and Safety; Threats; Surveillance; Stolen items; Earthquakes; Hurricanes; Information Security; Financial Security; Murder; Rape/Sexual Violence; Burglary; Fraud; Theft; Assault; Kidnapping; Extortion; Carjacking; Drug Trafficking; Bribery
Western Hemisphere > Jamaica > Kingston
Overall Crime and Safety Situation
Kingston has witnessed a decreased level of violent crimes reported in the last year. However, the decrease may be attributed to numerous factors including: a State of Emergency that was effected May 23, 2010 and lasted approximately three months; police road blocks; prominently placing photographs/posters of wanted criminals in the news media; information provided to crime stoppers; and an increase in police patrols.
For calendar year 2011, there were murders (nearly 1,124), shootings (1,322), carnal abuse (637), rape, (738), robberies (3,033), break-ins (3,409), larceny (372), and fraud (121). With a population of approximately 2.7 million people, the number of murders and other violence causes Jamaica to have one of the highest per capita homicide rates in the world. Most violent crimes, especially murder, involve firearms. Violent crime is a serious problem, particularly in Kingston.
There is no evidence to indicate criminals and gang-related activities are specifically targeting U.S. citizens. Crime can be attributed to several factors: poverty, retribution, drugs, gangs, and politics. Providing an environment conducive to crime and hard to police enables criminal elements and gangs to infiltrate wealthier areas. Most violent crimes take place in these types of areas. Jamaican employees at Embassy Kingston are victims of crime far more frequently than their American employee colleagues, a fact attributable to the differing demographics between upscale expatriate neighborhoods and the rest of Kingston. Police are unable to patrol and protect most neighborhoods adequately, and as a result, burglaries are quite common. Most wealthy residents hire private armed guard forces to deter criminals.
Skimming is predominantly a tactic used to perpetuate credit card fraud--but is also a tactic that is gaining in popularity amongst identity thieves. Skimming is a problem, not just in the U.S, but globally (Jamaica as well). Many skimming rings have employed restaurant serving staff to capture credit card information. Most skimming incidents occur at a restaurant where a server is carrying a skimming device in their apron or somewhere close by. Your card is scanned twice, once for the transaction that you expected and another in the skimming device to capture your credit card information for further use. Also, it is not uncommon for a thief to tamper with an ATM machine. Typically, a "card trapping" device is inserted into the ATM card slot. This trap scans the card and stores its associated information or just traps the card and does not return it to the owner. There is no cash dispensed in either case, and the crooks retrieve the cards and information later. ATM skimming has been a problem worldwide, with estimates, that 1 in every 28 ATM machines had been equipped with skimmers from thieves. Another common form of skimming involves store clerks skimming your credit card when you make a purchase. There have also been reports of clerks skimming driver’s licenses when customers are writing checks and supply the license for verification. Skimming is becoming more sophisticated where thieves are rigging card payment terminals with electronic equipment to capture the card information.
While Jamaica suffers from increased numbers of violent crimes, these occurrences do occasionally impact international visitors. Some of the major tourist areas continue to be sites for pick pocketing and petty theft. In several cases, armed robberies turned violent when the victims resisted handing over valuables. Over the past year, there were seven U.S. citizens murdered; 12 reports of rape and/or sexual assault; nine reported aggravated assaults; 37 reported robberies; one reported kidnapping; five reports of domestic violence and three reports of child abuse. The sexual assaults include one allegedly perpetrated on a mentally handicapped U.S. female citizen in her mid-20s. These numbers are not inclusive, and the numbers for rape and/or sexual assaults are believed to be under-reported. Robberies are often only reported if they result in the loss of a U.S. passport.
Home break-ins occur in Kingston, even in the gated and affluent neighborhoods. It is important for occupants to use all security features (the entire residential security system) to ensure the highest degree of protection. Past incidents have shown that when occupants neglected to use one or more of the security features provided, it afforded criminals successful opportunities to gain entry into their residences. Burglary is a crime of opportunity. A burglar will select a target because it offers the best opportunity to carry out the crime undetected and with the fewest number of obstacles. A home that presents itself as unoccupied and insecure is far more likely to be targeted than one properly secured. Most burglars want to spend the least amount of time possible trying to gain access to your residence. Criminals want to get in, steal valuable portable items, and get out undetected. Burglars can also commit rape, robbery, and assault if they are surprised by someone coming home or if they enter a home that is occupied.
Most criminal activity is “Jamaican on Jamaican” violence, often involving organized criminal elements/gangs. Criminal gangs target civilians in a number of ways, including robbery, burglary, carjacking, extortion, fraud and counterfeiting. Although this critical crime threat environment can be a threat to visitors and residents alike, simple precautions--not wearing expensive jewelry or watches; not displaying large amounts of cash; driving with the doors locked and windows up; not walking after dark; and staying out of particularly high crime areas--may help to mitigate the numbers of crimes committed against Americans. Visitors should take all necessary precautions and always be aware of their surroundings.
A special concern continues to be the number of sexual assaults perpetrated by hotel employees at resort hotels on the north coast of Jamaica and the need for forceful investigation and follow-up by the hotels and by police and other security officials.
Carjacking refers to the robbery of a motorist in which their vehicle is stolen. Motorists are most vulnerable to this type of crime when they stop at traffic control devices, when entering or exiting their vehicles, and when they stop their vehicle. One tactic is the “bump-and-rob.” A car carrying a driver and at least one passenger will “innocently” bump their intended victim from the rear. When the victim jumps out of their car to inspect the damage, the extra person jumps into the victim’s vehicle and drives away. The victim is usually submissive at this point, as they are usually looking at some sort of weapon.
Drivers and pedestrians should remember that driving is on the left side of the road. Breakdown assistance is limited in urban areas and virtually unavailable in rural areas. Nighttime driving is especially dangerous and should be avoided whenever possible. Most roads are paved but suffer from ill repair, inadequate signage, large pot holes, and poor traffic control markings. Roads are often subject to poorly marked construction zones, pedestrians, bicyclists, and, occasionally, livestock. The lack of pedestrian crosswalks requires special vigilance for all pedestrians. Driving habits range from aggressive speeding and disregard for others to inexperience and over-polite behaviors creating uncertainty and hazards to pedestrians.
Drivers should maintain special care when entering traffic circles (“roundabouts”), which are often marked poorly and require traffic to move in a clockwise direction. Motorists entering a roundabout must yield to those already in it. Labeling of roundabout exit points is exceptionally confusing, often making it difficult to determine which exit to take. Failure to turn into the correct flow of traffic can result in a head-on collision.
The A1, A2, and A3 highways are the primary links between the most important cities and tourist destinations. These roads are not comparable to American highways, and road conditions are hazardous due to poor repair, inadequate signage, and poor traffic control markings. The B highways and rural roads are often very narrow and frequented by large trucks, buses, pedestrians, bicyclists, and open range livestock. Highways are traveled at high speeds but are not limited-access.
Drivers and passengers in the front seat are required to wear seat belts. Several serious and fatal accidents take place each year involving American tourists riding in taxis without seat belts. We urge all passengers to use vehicles equipped with seat belts.
Motorcycle riders are required to wear helmets. Extreme caution should be used in operating motor driven cycles.
We recommend that no one use public transport other than JUTA or local hotel taxis. Public buses are often overcrowded and a venue for crime.
Prior to any road travel, ensure that your vehicle is in good operating condition, paying particular attention to the engine, brakes, tires, head and tail lights, spare tire and jack, horn and fluid levels, and always carry a first aid kit and advise someone of your travel plans, including anticipated arrival, departure times, and contact information. The following items are recommended for extended road trips:
cell phone with charger
non-perishable food items
tools (screwdriver, wrench, pliers, etc.)
When 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. 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 you doors, close windows, and hide shopping bags and valuables in the trunk, out of sight.
Jamaica's political system is stable. However, the country's serious economic problems have exacerbated social problems and have become the subject of political debate. High unemployment--averaging 12.5 percent--rampant underemployment, growing debt, and high interest rates are the most serious economic problems.
The two major political parties have historical links with the two largest trade unions--the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP)--Bustamante Industrial Trade Union (BITU) and the People's National Party (PNP)--National Workers Union (NWU). The center-right National Democratic Movement (NDM) was established in 1995 and the populist United Peoples Party (UPP) in 2001; neither has links with any particular trade union, and both are marginal movements.
Regional Terrorism and Organized Crime
Organized crime and other criminal elements are prevalent and extremely active. Most of the criminal activity is gang-related. The police are only able to resolve (make arrests) in 44 percent of homicides annually, and they only convict perpetrators in five percent of the homicide cases. This leads both the public and police to doubt the effectiveness of the criminal justice system, leading to vigilantism, which only exacerbates the cycle of violence. Based on their past experiences, most civilians fear that, at best, the authorities cannot protect them from organized criminal elements and, at worst, are colluding with criminals, all of which leads citizens to avoid giving evidence or witness testimonies.
International Terrorism or Transnational Terrorism
While there do not appear to be any extremist groups active, lax immigration controls, porous seas, and the ease with which fake Jamaican travel documents can be obtained make the country an attractive target for potential terrorists.
Protests and demonstrations can be unpredictable in time, place, and intensity. Although protests and demonstrations are infrequent in Kingston, they do occur. Even protests and demonstrations intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and escalate into violence. There is no guarantee that a protest will not harm an innocent bystander. Activities observed during past protests include, but are not limited to, using tear gas, rubber bullets, setting off fireworks, rock-throwing, tire burning, road blocks, bus/vehicle burning, and some degree of physical violence between law enforcement and protestors. The U.S. Embassy and U.S. interests within the community are not immune to the effects of these protests.
Unlike weather events, earthquakes strike without warning. Although nothing can stop an earthquake, careful preparation and planning can make a difference when it comes to protecting your home and family from the effects of an earthquake.
Develop an earthquake safety action plan for your family, identifying places that can provide the highest amount of protection during an earthquake, an escape route, and an off-premises meeting place. Teach family members how to shut off water, gas, and electricity to the house. Purchase at least one multi-purpose dry chemical fire extinguisher. Install smoke detectors, and change the batteries. Store protective shoes by your bed in case the earthquake happens in the middle of the night. Prepare an emergency supplies kit including a three-day supply of bottled water and non-perishable food; a manual can opener; paper plates and cups; utensils; first-aid kit; flashlight; and battery-operated radio with extra batteries. Attach cabinets, bookcases, and other heavy objects to the wall using brackets or safety straps. Secure picture frames, bulletin boards, and mirrors to walls using closed eye screws into wall studs. Apply safety film to windows and glass doors. Anchor large appliances to walls using safety cables or straps. Tack down glassware, heirlooms, and figurines with putty. Install latches on kitchen cabinet doors to prevent items from falling.
At the first sign of an earthquake, drop and take cover under a sturdy piece of furniture. Sit or stay close to the floor and hold on to furniture legs for balance. Use your arm to cover and protect your eyes. If there is no sturdy furniture nearby, kneel or sit close to the floor next to a structurally sound interior wall away from windows, shelves, or furniture that could fall and place your hands on the floor for balance. Do not use elevators. Do not run outside unless the building you are in is determined to be unsafe. If outdoors, quickly move into the open, away from electrical lines, trees, and buildings. If driving, stop at the side of the road away from traffic. Do not stop on or under bridges or near or under power lines or road signs. Stay inside your car until the shaking is over. In a crowded public place: Do not rush for the doors. Crouch and cover your head and neck with your hands and arms. Stay indoors until the shaking stops and you are sure it is safe to exit. If you are in a mountainous area or near unstable slopes or cliffs, be alert for falling rocks and other debris. Landslides are often triggered by earthquakes.
Be alert for aftershocks. Look for injured victims, and administer first aid. Pay attention to damaged utilities. Avoid loose or dangling electric power lines, and report all gas and electrical problems to the proper authorities. Turn off any damaged utilities. Check for fire hazards, and use flashlights instead of candles or lanterns. Wear protective shoes. If your building is sound, stay inside and listen for radio advisories.
After the Earthquake
Expect aftershocks. Aftershocks frequently occur minutes to months following an earthquake. Get everyone outside if your building is unsafe. Exit via the stairs. Aftershocks can cause further damage to unstable buildings. Be aware that fire alarms and sprinkler systems frequently go off in buildings during an earthquake, even if there is no fire. Check for and extinguish small fires. Exit via the stairs if there is fire. Fire is the most common hazard following earthquakes. Clean up spilled chemicals, gasoline, or other flammable liquids immediately. Open closet and cabinet doors cautiously. Contents could have shifted during the shaking and could fall, creating further damage or injury. Check the telephones. Cellular telephone equipment is subject to damage by earthquakes, and cell phones might not be able to get a signal, but landline phones might work.
Jamaica is located in the middle of “Hurricane Alley” and has experienced several direct hits from hurricanes and/or tropical storms. Hurricane season runs from June 1 through November 30. The Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM) put measures in place in the event of an emergency or natural disaster.
Due to the potential for business closures in Jamaica during and immediately after a hurricane and/or strong tropical storm, we recommend that employees stockpile a two-week supply of emergency supplies (food, water, infant formula, prescription medications, etc.). If stores and businesses close, it will be important for you to have extra supplies on hand. This can be useful in other types of emergencies, such as natural disasters. Please be sure to have nonprescription drugs and other health supplies on hand, including pain relievers, stomach remedies, cough and cold medicines, fluids with electrolytes, and vitamins. Looting is a common problem immediately after storms.
Preparing an Emergency Stockpile of Water
Stocking water reserves and learning how to purify contaminated water should be among your top priorities in preparing for an emergency. You should store at least a two-week supply of water for each member of your family. Everyone’s need will differ, depending upon age, physical condition, activity, diet, and climate. A normally active person needs to drink at least two quarts of water each day. Children, nursing mothers, and ill people will need more. You will need additional water for food preparation and hygiene.
Preparing an Emergency Stockpile of Food
If activity is reduced, healthy people can survive on half their usual food intake for an extended period. Food, unlike water, may be rationed safely, except for children, pregnant women, and ill persons. If your water supply is limited, try to avoid foods that are high in fat and protein. Do not stock salty foods, since they will make you thirsty. Eat salt-free crackers, whole grain cereals, and canned foods with high liquid content. Stocking familiar foods are important. They can lift morale and give a feeling of security in time of stress. Also, canned foods will not require cooking, water, or special preparation. Do not forget nonperishable foods for your pets.
Keep food in the driest and coolest spot in the house: a dark area, if possible. Keep food covered at all times. Open food boxes or cans carefully so that you can close them tightly after each use. Wrap cookies and crackers in plastic bags, and keep them in tight containers. Empty opened packages of sugar, dried fruits, and nuts into screw top jars or airtight cans to protect them from pests. Inspect all food containers for signs of spoilage before use. As you stockpile food, take into account your family’s unique needs and tastes. Try to include foods that they will enjoy and that are also high in calories and nutrition. Foods that require no refrigeration, preparation, or cooking are best. Individuals with special diets and allergies will need particular attention, as will babies, toddlers, and the elderly. Nursing mothers may need liquid formula, in case they are unable to nurse. Canned dietetic foods, juices, and soups may be helpful for the ill or elderly.
Important Disaster Supplies to Have on Hand
Flashlight and extra batteries; Portable battery-operated radio and extra batteries; first aid kit and manual; emergency food and water; essential medicines; cash and credit cards; sturdy shoes.
There are many different types and sizes of criminal gangs in Jamaica. But, of all the crimes committed by these gangs, perhaps the one that creates the most widespread psychological and emotional damage is kidnapping, which is also one of the most underreported crimes. All of the data regarding kidnapping is based on partial crime statistics and, as a result, can only produce best-guess estimates. Despite the lack of hard data, there is little doubt that kidnapping is a growing problem/concern.
Kidnapping affects almost every part of Jamaica and is executed by a wide range of players with varying levels of professionalism and very different motives. At one end of the spectrum are high-end kidnapping gangs that target high-profile and/or high-net-worth individuals. Such groups employ teams of operatives who carry out specialized tasks such as collecting intelligence, conducting surveillance, snatching the target, negotiating with the victim’s family, and establishing and 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. In many instances, these groups hold the victim just long enough to use the victim’s ATM card to drain his or her checking account or to receive a small ransom. This type of opportunistic kidnapping is often referred to as an “express kidnapping.” Sometimes express kidnapping victims are held in the trunk of a car for the duration of their ordeal, which can sometimes last for a couple of days if the victim has a large amount in a checking account and a small daily ATM withdrawal limit.
Similar to the perpetrators of a terrorist attack, those conducting a kidnapping are most vulnerable to detection when they are conducting surveillance – before they are ready to carry out their attack. One of the secrets of counter-surveillance is that most criminals are not very good at conducting surveillance. This is the time the perpetrators are exposed to detection. The primary reason they succeed is that no one is looking for them. While the kidnappers could botch their operation and the target could escape unscathed, it is simply not practical to pin one’s hopes on that. It is better to spot the kidnappers early and avoid their trap before it is sprung.
Ignoring the very real value of critical, proactive measures such as situational awareness, surveillance recognition, varying your times and routes, and emergency planning can be a fatal mistake.
An increasingly common variation is the telephone kidnapping, a.k.a. virtual kidnapping phone calls. Although telephone calls may vary in style, the methodology is invariably the same: the virtual kidnapping call includes a crying/pleading voice immediately after the call is answered and before the “kidnapper” gets on the phone. In this manner, they hope to confuse the victim and get them to give away important information. For example, if the crying voice sounds like your child in any way, and you call out that child’s name, the caller knows the name of the child who could potentially be a kidnap victim and will use this knowledge against you. The voice of the “victim” will usually be crying and/or hysterical; this makes it difficult to identify and increases the likelihood that you will believe it is your loved one. Criminals will try to use fear, tact, and timing against you. For example, they plan their calls to coincide with times when it will be difficult to contact the child or another adult immediately (e.g., when child is either on their way to or from school). All calls demand money for the release of the loved one and stipulate no police involvement. Often times, the callers will give statements to suggest surveillance. Although very vague, it implies they have been watching your family and using fear and everyday routines against you to reinforce the threat of the kidnapping. One of the most important things for you to know is the details of your family’s travel and location. In addition, it is equally important that you ensure good communication (land-line and cell phone numbers) with your family members.
Drugs and Narco-terrorism
Jamaica is a transit point for South American cocaine en route to the United States. It is also the largest Caribbean producer and exporter of cannabis (marijuana). The government of Jamaica (GOJ) has a National Drug Control Strategy in place that covers both supply and demand reduction. The GOJ has intensified and focused its law enforcement efforts on more effectively disrupting the trafficking of large amounts of cocaine in Jamaica and throughout its territorial waters. The GOJ also has cooperated fully in several major international narcotics law enforcement initiatives that have resulted in the arrest and extradition to the United States of high-profile Jamaican, Colombian, Bahamian, and Panamanian narcotics traffickers responsible for the manufacture, trans-shipment, and distribution of vast amounts of cocaine throughout the central Caribbean region.
Police support for foreign victims of crimes runs between semi-responsive and non-responsive due to a shortage of manpower, training, vehicles, and other resources. Although the police receive some training from U.S and U.K law enforcement entities, they endure a lack of funding, resources, and management. Response times, investigative techniques, and the arrest and conviction rates of suspects are below the standards found in U.S police departments. The Jamaica Constabulary Force is considered to be underpaid, poorly trained and corrupt. Reporting crime can seem archaic and lengthy process and is widely believed a waste of time except for the most serious of crimes where a police report is required for insurance purposes.
Where to Turn to for Assistance if you Become a Victim of Crime, and Local Police Telephone Numbers
Local police assistance is available throughout the island. The Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) can be reached by dialing 119, which connects the caller to the nearest police station. Jamaica also operates 110 for ambulance and fire system.
U.S. citizens are advised to cooperate with police if stopped or questioned. If involved in a traffic accident or victimized by crime, one may be required to accompany the investigating police officer to the local police station to file a complaint or respond to questions. Should a police report be required for an insurance claim, a nominal fee will be charged.
How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment
Police do not usually mistreat Americans who are victims of crime. But, police corruption and police involvement in criminal activity is not uncommon. Consequently, citizens are often indifferent to police authority, adding to a perceived sense of lawlessness. The general perception is that the majority of crime victims do not report crimes against them due to fear of reprisals by the police, the belief that police are corrupt, or the feeling that nothing would come from such reports.
Medical care is more limited than in the United States. Comprehensive emergency medical services are located only in Kingston and Montego Bay. Medical facilities outside of Kingston and Montego Bay are not recommended by the Embassy medical staff. Visitors in need of medical attention should make every effort to reach Kingston or Montego Bay. Doctors and hospitals often require cash payment prior to providing services.
Contact Information for Local Hospitals and Clinics
An ambulance service is available in Kingston at telephone number (876) 978-2327, (876) 978-6021 or (876) 923-7415.
Although there are several hospitals in Kingston, the recommended hospital for U.S. citizens is the University of the West Indies (UWI) at (876) 927-1620.
In Montego Bay, the Cornwall Regional Hospital (876) 952-9100 or the Montego Bay Hope Medical Center (876) 953-3649 are the recommended facilities.
Serious medical problems requiring hospitalization and/or medical evacuation can costs thousands of dollars or more. For international treatment and medical insurance: AEA International, 206-340-6000. For air ambulance service (recommended for severe injuries or illnesses best treated in the U.S.), AEA International at 800-752-4195.
CDC International Traveler’s hotline – 24 hour information available at 888-232-6348 or 800-232-4636 or at www.cdc.gov
Tips on How to Avoid Becoming a Victim
Areas to Avoid
Embassy personnel and private American citizens are advised to avoid traveling in into notoriously high-threat areas of Kingston including, but not limited to, Mountain View, Trench Town, Tivoli Gardens, Cassava Piece and Arnett Gardens, and Flankers, Canterbury, Norwood, Rose Heights, Clavers Street and Hart Street in Montego Bay.
Lottery scams by large criminal elements continue to victimize American citizens. These criminal elements, posing as legitimate lottery companies, have convinced unsuspecting Americans to send large amounts of money in order to obtain claimed lottery winnings. This lottery scam operates predominantly from the north coast at/near tourist resort areas. Persons organizing these scams may be obtaining personal information on tourists and using it to conduct their operations.
In addition to a number of lottery and investment scams, relatives of U.S. citizens visiting Jamaica and U.S. citizens who are prisoners in Jamaica have received telephone calls from people claiming to be Jamaican police officers, other public officials, or medical professionals. The caller usually states that the visitor or prisoner has had trouble and needs financial help. In almost every case, these claims are untrue. The caller insists that money should be sent by wire transfer to either themselves or a third party who will assist the visitor or prisoner. When the money is sent, it fails to reach the visitor or prisoner in alleged need. Do not send money if you receive such a call.
The embassy received several reports of Americans being victimized in extortion attempts where the caller threatens the victim if they do not send a sum of money.
Another financial scam reported is the “Damsel in Distress” where a partner met over the Internet falls into a series of unfortunate events and needs money with the promise of rewards at a later date (such as an in-person meeting).
To protect against skimming, closely watch anyone that you give your card to for processing. If at all possible, do not let them out of your sight. If a clerk makes a hard copy, retrieve the carbons. Keeping a low limit on your credit cards restricts 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 all credit cards that you do not use, and monitor the ones that you do. 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. Do not leave receipts at ATMs, teller windows, gasoline pumps, or with a clerk.
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. Commit the PIN to memory.
Before you go, select a safe route. Well-lit and well traveled streets are generally safe. Have an alternate route in mind in case of problems. Keep your vehicle in good repair, and be aware of your fuel level. Travel with a friend when possible; a person alone is more vulnerable. Keep your car keys separate from your house keys. Keep doors locked and windows up. Do not leave mail and other items that list your address in the car.
Always be aware of your surroundings, especially people on foot near your car. Be suspicious of anyone approaching your vehicle (handing out flyers, asking for change, asking for directions, etc.). Always be alert for motorcycles or bicycles stopping next to your car, especially if there are two riders. If someone asks for assistance, do not get out of your vehicle. Go to a safe location and call the authorities. Travel in the lane closest to the center of the road whenever legally possible. Always leave plenty of room between your car and other vehicles to allow yourself a way out. If you are bumped, be suspicious. Check out the car and occupants. If you are not sure of the situation, memorize or write down the car’s license number and description, and signal/wave the other car to follow you to the nearest safehaven. If you have to exit your vehicle, take your keys and purse/wallet.
Park in well-lit and well traveled areas. Look around for suspicious persons and possible hiding places (darkened doorways, etc.) If in doubt, do not get out of your vehicle. Drive away and park someplace else. Report any suspicious activity to the authorities. Always lock your car and take your keys with you – even for brief errands. Be especially cautious when using automated teller machines. Use valet parking or an attended garage. Do not make yourself an attractive target by leaving your purse or valuable in plain view or by placing valuables in your trunk upon arrival. Place them in the trunk before departing your residence. Do not be distracted by talking on the cell phone, eating, etc.
Be aware of persons loitering near your vehicle or suspicious persons sitting in vehicles. Be aware of any tampering with your vehicle. If you think your vehicle has been tampered with, do not get in it. Notify the authorities. Do not turn your back while loading packages and/or groceries. If you are alone, ask for a security escort or use the grocery store bagger. Teach and practice with your children to enter and exit the car quickly. Make it a habit to always start your car quickly and drive away immediately. When approaching your parked car, have your car keys in hand.
We strongly caution that resisting or attempting to flee may place you in great danger. Your personal safety – not the potential loss of property – must always remain the primary concern. Resistance to the robber’s demands, especially if they have a weapon or say they have a weapon, may escalate the situation and increase the risk of personal harm to you or family members. Your best course of action is to plan ahead and be prepared.
To minimize the risk of kidnapping, vary your times and routes to and from work; keep your doors locked and windows closed (both residence and vehicle); maintain a low personal profile; pay attention to what is going on around you; inform family of your daily plans and how to get in contact with you; try to make yourself unpredictable in both your work and social schedule; avoid chokepoints; in traffic, always leave enough space to maneuver; know where to go if you think you are being followed/surveilled (never lead the person back to your house but rather drive to the nearest safehaven (police station, embassy, hotel, hospital, public facility, etc.); know how to recognize surveillance; and ensure all family members are briefed on security measures.
If you become the target of a telephone kidnapping call, here are some important tips to remember:
• Try to remain calm. Remember, the vast majority of these calls are a hoax. Whether done as a prank or an attempt to extort money from you, the perpetrators are attempting to exploit your fears. If you have caller ID, write down the number.
• Do not tell the caller where you live or agree to any money transfer. Never volunteer information.
• Ask to speak to your child to confirm his/her identity. This will foil the majority of these calls, as the virtual kidnapper only has the upper hand as long as you believe that he/she really has your loved one. Do not be afraid to challenge BY ASKING: “what is my child’s name?” If the caller refuses to let you speak with your child and stays on the line (many will hang up at the first sign of stubbornness), ask the caller to ask your child something that is known only to your family. You can work out a secret word or phrase (e.g., favorite toy, pet name, first grade teacher’s name, etc.) to test for identifying a family member.
• If the caller can answer the question, but does not let you speak with your child, this may be an “inside job,” and they still may not have your loved one.
In the event you cannot locate your child after the caller has successfully answered the question or the caller actually puts your loved one on the line, it is very important that you attempt to do the following:
• Keep the caller on the line as long as possible and have another family member contact the police. If you are alone, contact the police as soon as possible.
• Listen and take notes of the demands, tone, or accent of the caller, background noise, and any other important information that could assist the police.
• Ask for a way to make contact with the caller. If the caller refuses to answer, ask when the next call will come.
We encourage visitors to accept personal responsibility for their safety. This checklist is a generic self-assessment instrument for visitors to evaluate their daily habits and practices to improve their own security awareness.
• Vary your times and routes to and from work.
• Keep your doors and windows closed and locked (residence and vehicle).
• Check the interior and exterior of your vehicle prior to getting into your vehicle. Look for anomalies or other things that do not belong in your car.
• Maintain a low profile by not doing anything that draws attention to yourself. Dress casually and keep valuables out of sight. Do not wear expensive jewelry or carry expensive bags/briefcases while walking.
• Attempt to identify and report persons or vehicles possibly involved in surveillance.
• Be aware of your surroundings and to what is going on around you.
• Ensure colleagues and family members are aware of your plans and have contact info.
• Be unpredictable in both your work and social schedules.
• While in traffic, leave enough space in which to maneuver your vehicle. Always leave yourself an exit. Be prepared to take evasive action at any time.
• Avoid choke points while traveling. Be wary of diversions.
• Know where the nearest safe haven (police station, hotel, public facility) is located in case you are followed or harassed. Never lead them back to your home or stop and get out.
• Avoid walking around at night.
• Always try to travel in groups.
• Avoid conversations with beggars as they can become easily confrontational.
• While in restaurants, try to sit in an area not clearly visible from the street.
Personal Security While Shopping
• Stay alert and be aware of what’s going on around you.
• Remember exactly where you parked your car. Make a mental note or write it down so you will know. Park in well-lit spaces, as close to the store entrance as possible and away from dumpsters, bushes, or large vehicles. Be aware of your surroundings as you come and go from your car. Have your keys out and in your hand. Do not be shy about asking mall or store security personnel for an escort. Be sure to lock your doors, close the windows, and hide shopping bags and gifts in the trunk. If shopping near your home, consider returning home to drop off gifts. They will be safer there than in your car.
• Never leave your car unoccupied with the motor running or with children inside. A car can be stolen in seconds.
• Avoid carrying large amounts of cash; pay with a credit card whenever possible (but make sure you watch the person handling your credit card. Do not let them walk away with your card and make sure they only swipe it once in front of you). Keep a record of all your credit and debit card numbers in a safe place at home so you can report lost or stolen cards by their numbers.
• Carry your keys, cash, and credit cards separate from each other.
• If you need to use an ATM, use one inside the mall or some other well-lit, populated area.
• Teach children to go to a store clerk or security guard if you get separated. Also, have a family “code word” in case you get separated. This word can be given to security staff so that your child can discern friend from foe.
• Know who belongs and does not belong in your neighborhood. Get to know your neighbors. Keep an eye on your neighbors’ homes. Be alert to suspicious persons or vehicles and report anything suspicious to the police. Know the neighborhood name, street name, and the actual number to your house to help expedite an emergency response. Valuable time can be wasted if this information is not at hand.
• Do not keep valuables, heirlooms, passports, important documents, or large sums of money in your residence. If a safe is available in your office to secure these items, use it. Only keep in your residence items you can afford to lose. If you do not have access to a safe or lockable cabinet at work, consider investing in a home safe, which is placed out of sight.
• Make an inventory of personal property, record the serial numbers and take photographs of all valuable items, and ensure these items are covered under your home insurance policy. Keep a second copy of this information in your office.
• If a disturbance occurs near your residence, ensure that doors, windows, and grilles are secured. In addition, stay away from windows and alert the police.
• Store emergency contact numbers in your cell phone (with the prefix "AA" in front of the name so they will be the first two numbers posted alphabetically in your phone book). Post these emergency numbers next to all landlines in the home.
• Blinds, drapes, and curtains should be arranged so that movement within the house is not easily observed from the street.
• Play the “what if” game with family members. Go through different scenarios: “being followed home, an assault, a burglar in the house, etc.” Rehearse safety drills and be aware of procedures to escape danger and obtain help. Teach them how to properly lock and unlock doors, gates, and grilles. Inform them who to contact and how to contact help in an emergency. Develop a simple easy-to-follow plan.
When entering and departing your residence, we recommend that you:
• Vary daily routines; try to avoid predictable patterns when departing and arriving from/to your home.
• Remember when you are leaving or entering your home to be aware of your surroundings and to anyone who may be in the immediate vicinity.
• When you leave or enter your residence, do not rely on the door closing properly on its own. Physically check to see that the door is secured. This is especially important for garage doors.
• When away, make your residence look occupied. Use timers for lights, radios, and TVs. Do not let newspapers pile-up. Do not place a note on the door that reveals that your home is unoccupied. If you plan to be away from your residence for more than 24 hours, ask a trusted colleague/neighbor to keep an eye on your property. Consider leaving a copy of your keys with them in case of an emergency. Tell them of your travel plans and when you plan to return.
• Maintain control of your keys. Do not give a copy of a key to the guard/domestic help. If you must give a key to your domestic help, only give one key (each exterior door should have two locks). Do not leave keys in the locks for convenience. Never hide a spare key to your residence under a mat, in your mailbox, or near an entrance to your residence. Hide your car keys in the house (criminals have been known to burglarize homes and drive away in the occupant’s vehicle).
When someone is at your door, we recommend the following:
• Make sure you are confident about who you are allowing in. Personnel are urged not allow anyone access to your residence that you are not expecting or know. You are not obligated to open the door to a stranger. Use your door viewer to identify visitors. If you do not have a door viewer, you should consider having one installed.
• Speak with them through the door. If they claim to be policemen or other officials (from maintenance, a utility company, a survey company, etc.) ask them to show their identification and ask for their supervisor’s name and telephone number. Make sure that children and domestic staff are also briefed on how to answer a door. This also applies to a person who requests to make an emergency call. Offer to make the call for them. Remember that some burglars will operate in pairs. One will try and stall you at the front door, while the other is looking for another way to get into your residence.
Doors, Locks, Window Grilles, and Lighting
• Lock all doors, windows, and garages at all times. There have been incidents where intruders have entered an unsecured door while the occupant was at home. Additionally, secure all sliding glass doors, and never leave doors or windows open when you are sleeping (unless you have locked grilles).
• Periodically examine your padlocks, grilles, and other security features for signs of tampering. Criminals have been known to visit a residence over an extended period to cut through locks or grills little-by-little, thus minimizing the overall noise they make and the time it takes them to gain entry.
• Garage doors are a frequent point of entry for many burglars in the U.S. and Jamaica. If you store a bicycles in the garage, remember to chain lock it. You should also ensure that your vehicle is secured and that there are no valuables left in it.
• If you have window grilles and bars, review fire safety plans for escaping your home with your family. Learn how to operate the emergency escape devices installed to egress a bedroom window during an emergency. Do not block bedroom windows if they may be used for emergency egress.
• Keep at least one good fire extinguisher on each floor. This is especially important in the kitchen. Learn and show family members and domestic help how to use an extinguisher. Make sure smoke detectors are tested and that the batteries have been changed.
• Keep flashlights in several areas within the house. Check the batteries often, particularly if you have children who might play with them.
• Each entrance and each perimeter façade should be well illuminated. Use all porch and perimeter lighting in the evenings and during the night. Check lighting regularly and replace burned out exterior security lighting.
• If you have a residential alarm, use it. Be sure family members know how to use it as well. Learn how to operate your alarm system, including different securing modes. Each system comes with a panic code capability. These systems are battery powered, so it is important to be able to tell when these need to be changed. If your alarm is triggered, immediately lock yourself inside your designated safe haven. Notify the police. DO NOT leave this area until you are satisfied that the situation is all clear. Do not leave codes/passwords by the keypad. Keep them hidden so an intruder cannot use them.
Housekeepers and Childcare
• When choosing domestic staff, remember that they can aid or detract from the security of your household. You should try to find someone previously used by other expatriates. Conduct police and reference checks on all domestic staff before you make a hiring decision. Monitor their activities from time to time. Suspicious activity on the part of domestic staff should be reported to the police.
• Ensure that your domestic employees are aware of proper security practices. This should be rehearsed and re-briefed from time to time. Instruct domestic staff that no one is to enter your residence without your permission.
• Resist giving domestic staff a key if possible. If you must give them one, give only those needed. Get all keys back after terminating a servant. Advise them not to carry your keys in their purses of backpacks. Thieves have targeted domestic staff in affluent neighborhoods in an effort to obtain keys for easy access to homes. This will also prevent you from having to pay for re-keying the locks in your home if their purse is stolen.
• Ensure they know how to reach you or emergency personnel by phone. Make sure they know to report to you all suspicious or unusual activity.
• Domestic staff should not be allowed to overhear family or official plans. Letters and business information should not be left unsecured in the residence.
Residential Telephone Security
• Go over proper telephone answering procedures with domestic help. Instruct them not to answer questions from strangers concerning your family. They should never give a caller the impression that nobody is home or tell the caller when you are expected home. Instead, they should say that you are busy and will return the call, taking the caller’s name and phone number.
• Never volunteer name, address, or telephone number to an unknown caller.
• All family members should memorize telephone numbers for emergency use and know how to use the local telephones. Every member of your family should know how to request the assistance of local police, fire department, ambulance, or other emergency services. This, along with emergency numbers, should be posted by every phone in the house.
• Establish a family code word for use in emergencies.
• Any unusual occurrences, such as anonymous phone threats or harassing calls, should be reported to the police.
• Remember to be discreet with certain information (travel plans, personal problems, and gossip concerning family or office personnel). Home telephones at posts around the world have been known to be tapped. The same may be true in Jamaica.
Business hours for the Embassy in Kingston are 7:15 am to 4:00 pm, Monday through Friday. In the event of an emergency during business hours, the U.S. Embassy operator can assist U.S. citizen travelers in contacting the American Citizen Services (ACS) officers in the consular section. After business hours and on weekend and holidays, the U.S. Embassy Marine Security Guard can assist U.S. citizen travelers in contacting the Embassy’s Duty Officer for assistance with their emergency. The Marine Security Guard is there to assist in emergency situations only. All other calls should be placed during normal embassy business hours.
Please call the following numbers for assistance:
U.S. Embassy switchboard: (876) 702-6000
U.S. Marine Security Guard: (876) 702-6055
Regional Security Office: (876) 702-6153 or through the Marine Security Guard
Travelers are encouraged to check with the U.S. Embassy for current information prior to their trip.
OSAC Country Council
The Department of State and Embassy Kingston supports an active OSAC Country Council, with a growing membership. The Country Council was re-established in January 2010, and the point of contact is Regional Security Officer Christopher Murray. He can be reached at (876) 702-6153 or MURRAYC@state.gov.