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Mexico 2013 Crime and Safety Report: Tijuana

Western Hemisphere > Mexico > Tijuana

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

The security environment in Tijuana remained unsettled in 2012, as violent crime and narcotic trafficking continued. Authorities have failed to prosecute numerous crimes, including murder and kidnapping, committed against American citizens. Visitors traveling in border areas have also been victims of armed robberies, sexual assaults, auto thefts, and kidnappings. Although there is no indication that U.S. citizens are being specifically targeted, they are frequent victims.

Crime Threats

While U.S. citizens not involved in criminal activities are generally not targeted, innocent bystanders are at risk from the increase in violence in the streets of border cities and nearby towns. Criminals normally operate in pairs or small groups and generally carry a knife or handgun in the commission of their crimes. Criminals select victims based on an appearance of vulnerability, prosperity, or inattentiveness. Within the consulate community, Mexican employees fall victim to crime far more frequently than do their American employee colleagues. However, U.S. Consulate staff members are not immune to the effects of local violence, as crimes have occurred within close proximity to Consulate residences. 

Tijuana is a very large metropolitan city with an ever present and very real crime problem. Pickpockets and purse snatchers are common and mostly occur in large crowds, on public transportation, and at tourist attractions. The numbers of armed assaults and robberies have increased dramatically. 

The homicide rate dropped from 27 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants (or 418 total homicides) in 2011 to 21 per 100,000 inhabitants (or 332 total homicides) in 2012; however, homicide numbers increased in the nearby cities of Ensenada and Mexicali. Tijuana’s drop in homicides is widely attributed to a “truce” between Transnational Criminal Organizations (TCOs).

Crime victims, often those who are unaccompanied, have been raped, robbed of personal property, or abducted and then held while their credit cards were used at various businesses and Automatic Teller Machines (ATMs). 

Overall Road Safety Situation

Criminal assaults occur on Mexican highways; travelers should exercise caution at all times, avoid traveling at night, and may wish to use toll (“cuota”) roads rather than the less secure “free” (“libre”) roads whenever possible. 

Prior to road travel, ensure that your vehicle is in good operating condition, paying particular attention to the engine, tires, brakes, head and tail lights, spare tire and jack, horn, and fluid levels. The following items are recommended for extended road trips:

- Cellular telephone with charger (although some areas between cities lack coverage);
- A satellite tracking device;
- 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;
- Flares/reflectors;
- 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;
- Pliers;
- Wire;
- Electrical tape.

Theft of the vehicle’s operating computer is a common crime, as is the theft of car sound systems.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

Northern Mexico is not anti-American but is rather well-integrated with the United States by family and commercial ties. Organized crime occurs on virtually a daily basis by drug trafficking organizations. But, there is no evidence to indicate that American citizens are specifically targeted for violence by these organizations. 

Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns

It is widely believed that the recent drop in homicides in Tijuana was due to the Sinaloa Cartel strengthening its control over the region. There is evidence that they reached an agreement with the Arellano Felix Organization (AFO), once the major player in Tijuana and Baja California, over smuggling routes and territories. However, there has also been fragmentation and expansion of many of the small cartels, and they are operating along the Baja California coast. The constant shifting and reorganization of these Transnational Criminal Organizations (TCOs) bears monitoring, as the crime rate of Tijuana and Baja California is directly influenced by its outcome. The Sinaloa Cartel, led by Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, probably the richest criminal in the world, is being challenged throughout Mexico by the notoriously violent Zetas. Although this battle has not manifested itself in the streets of Tijuana, there are some who feel that the days of Sinaloa control could be numbered. Any change in the current status quo would probably result in an increase in narco-related violence for the region. 

Terrorism is a worldwide concern. While there do not appear to be any Middle Eastern terrorist groups active in Baja California, 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.

Civil Unrest

Anti-American sentiment is seldom expressed toward U.S. citizens, either official or non-official, in Tijuana. American interests are generally not targets of political violence. Small, peaceful demonstrations in protest of various U.S. policies occur rarely at the U.S. Consulate General. Other public protests and demonstrations do occur within the city, for various economic and political reasons, but they are typically peaceful. 

Post-specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards 

There were no major earthquakes in Baja California in 2012, but on April 4, 2010, a 7.2 earthquake struck, with its epicenter 37 miles southeast of Mexicali, which suffered the most damage of any city in Baja. The earthquake resulted in two deaths, serious infrastructural damage, and a suspension of public services in Mexicali. Although some buildings experienced structural damage, no casualties were reported in Tijuana (110 miles from epicenter). Due to Tijuana’s proximity to the San Andreas Fault Line, the possibility of another large earthquake remains high.

Industrial and Transportation Accidents 

If you are in a traffic accident, do not move the vehicle, assuming the traffic scene is safe and clear. Call your Mexican car insurance provider. An adjustor will come to the accident scene. Do not admit guilt or come to any agreements with other drivers. Obtain the other driver’s info.

Drug-related Crimes 

Drug-related violence continues in the Tijuana, Baja California region. Mexico is well-known for its illegal drug trade, and the violence and corruption the industry fosters. Mexico is the primary route for the transport of illegal drugs into the United States. Drug-related violence in Tijuana is, for the most part, confined to those involved in the drug trade. Mexican security forces and police have not been effective in maintaining security, as many officials have been corrupted and are working for the drug cartels as enforcers, bodyguards, and mules.

Kidnapping Threats

Kidnapping, including the kidnapping of non-Mexicans, continues to occur. So-called "express kidnappings," attempts to get quick cash in exchange for the release of an individual, have occurred in almost all the large cities in Mexico and appear to target the middle and upper class. Express kidnappings are a common type of abduction and are based on the 24-hour withdrawal limit placed on ATM cards industry-wide. The victim is generally held for 24 to 48 hours and is forced to withdraw funds from a series of ATMs. Americans have suffered this type of crime, but anecdotally many local employees working for the U.S. Embassy or Consulates either have been victimized themselves or personally know a victim. 

The term "express kidnapping" is also applied to the kidnapping of random victims held for brief periods where only small ransom amounts are demanded. A typical scenario may last for several hours and be settled for the peso equivalent of a few thousand dollars. U.S. and Mexican citizens are sometimes accosted on the street and forced to withdraw money from their accounts using their ATM cards.

Another kidnapping tactic used is the telephonic kidnapping threat (a.k.a. virtual kidnapping). Although the calls 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 now knows the name of the child that could potentially be a kidnap victim, and they 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 increase the likelihood that you will believe it is your loved one. Criminals will try to use fear, tact, and timing against possible victims. For example, they plan their calls to coincide with times when it would be difficult to contact the child or another adult immediately (e.g. when a child is either on his/her 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 such as: "we saw you at the school with your camioneta (SUV)." While 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 one to be aware of are the details of your family’s travel and location (where are they supposed to be, who are they supposed to be with, etc.). In addition, it is equally important that one ensures good communication (landline and cell phone numbers) with family members.

Kidnapping for ransom is an established criminal activity in Mexico. Most incidents go unreported to police. Unofficial estimates of kidnapping levels vary wildly, from 600 to 5,000 per year countrywide. In most cases, the ransom is paid, and the victim is set free. The usual victim practice is not to notify police authorities, as the popular belief is that the police may be involved in the crime or are unable to resolve the situation. Affluent residents in Tijuana often have bodyguards and armored vehicles for their families to protect them against kidnapping.

Police Response

Local police suffer from corruption and a lack of funds and training, and the judicial system is overworked and inefficient. Police corruption and police involvement in criminal activity is common in Mexico. Consequently, citizens are often indifferent to police authority, adding to a perceived sense of lawlessness in Tijuana. 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. Tijuana police are widely considered to be underpaid, poorly trained, and corrupt. From senior police in league with narco-traffickers and/or organized crime elements down to the routine bribes paid daily by motorists, police enjoy little respect from the general population. Reporting crime is an archaic, exhausting process and is widely believed to be a waste of time except for the most serious of crimes or where a police report is required for insurance purposes.

If you are stopped by a police officer, be aware that they cannot legally accept cash payments for fines and that offering a bribe to an officer is a serious crime. In addition, tourists should be wary of persons representing themselves as police officers or other officials. When in doubt, ask for identification. 

Where to Turn to for Assistance if you Become a Victim of Crime

Travelers may contact the Consular Section at the U.S. Consulate General Tijuana for assistance in dealing with the local police (numbers listed below). U.S. citizens are advised to cooperate with the police if stopped or questioned. If involved in a traffic accident or victimized by crime, one may be required to accompany the investigating 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. The police emergency telephone number is 066; whether they arrive in a timely fashion or at all is questionable.

How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment 

U.S. Consulate General Tijuana receives some reports of extortion by supposed police officers in Baja California. Sometimes, the perpetrators are actual police officers; sometimes they are criminals using fake police uniforms and credentials. You can minimize your vulnerability by obeying Mexican law. As in the United States, you can be arrested in Mexico for:

• Public drunkenness
• Drunken or reckless driving
• Public urination or indecent exposure
• Fighting
• Lewd or lascivious conduct
• Possession of illegal drugs, including marijuana

If you are the victim of police extortion, please contact the U.S. Consulate. To file a complaint, it is helpful, but not absolutely necessary, to have the officer’s name, badge number, and patrol car number. If you were not able to obtain those, it may still be possible to identify the officer based on physical appearance and the time and place that the event occurred. If you file a complaint, Consulate staff will assist you in every step of the process.

It is increasingly common for extortionists to call prospective victims on the telephone, often posing as law enforcement or other officials, and demand payments in return for the release of an arrested family member or to forestall a supposed kidnapping. Prison inmates using smuggled cellular phones often place these calls. Persons receiving such calls should be wary, as many such demands or threats are baseless, and recipients should attempt to contact the family member as soon as possible. If you cannot reach the missing individual and believe he or she may have run afoul of criminals or of the law, you may contact the Consulate, the U.S. Embassy, or the Department of State for assistance.

For additional information, travelers should refer to the Department of State’s Country Specific Information for Mexico and the latest Travel Warning for Mexico, and the publication Help for American Victims of Crime Overseas.

Medical Emergencies

Useful information on medical emergencies abroad, including overseas insurance programs, is provided in the Department of States Bureau of Consular Affairs brochure, "Medical Information for Americans Traveling Abroad," available via the Bureau of Consular Affairs home page at http://www.travel.state.gov

For international treatment and medical insurance: AEA International, 206-340-6000.

Contact Information for Local Hospitals and Clinics

Contact information for some other medical facilities in Tijuana are listed below (this listing is not all inclusive):

Del Prado Hospital/Centro Medico
Hospital Direct: 681-4900/681-4906 
Address: Hospital y Centro Médico del Prado
50 Calle Bugambilias, Tijuana, Baja California 22440, 22160, Mexico‎ 
DIRECTOR - AUBANEL, MA. EUGENIA, Work: 681-4900

Angeles Hospital
Hospital Direct: 635-1900/635-1800
Address: 10999 Paseo de los Heroes, Tijuana, B.C. Mexico
DIRECTOR - EBERRI, PAULO, Work: 635-1800

Excel Hospital/Centro Medico
Address: Centro Medico Excel 
Avenida Paseo de los Heroes # 2507 Zona Rio, Tijuana, B.C. 22329
Direct: 634-3434/634-7001/03

These three local hospitals also have outpatient clinics:
1) Hospital Angeles
Avenida Paseo de los Heroes 10999
Zona Rio, Tijuana
635-1900/635-1800
2) Centro Medico Excel
Avenida Paseo de los Heroes 2507
Zona Rio, Tijuana
634-3434/634-7001/634-7003
3) Centro Medico Hospital Del Prado
Bugambilias 50
Fracc. Del Prado, Tijuana
681-4900/681-4906

Recommended Air Ambulance Services

Both air ambulance services offer full service to all of Baja California.

U.S. BASED

Aeromedevac, Inc.
San Diego, California
Toll Free from USA: 1-800-462-0911
Toll Free from Mexico: 001-800-832-5087
Call Collect: 619/284-7910
Fax: 619/284-7918
www.aeromedevac.com

Air Star International
San Diego, California
1-800-991-2869
1-877-570-0911
e-mail: AirStar@aol.com

Schaeffer Air Service
Van Nuys, California
1-800-247-4455
Fax 818/786-7536
e-mail: schaeferair@yahoo.com

MEXICO BASED

TransMedic
Ensenada, BC, Mexico
1-800-026-3342
Tel. 646/178-1400
Fax 646/178-2891

GROUND AMBULANCE SERVICES / EMERGENCY MEDICAL RESPONSE
Emergency Services-066
Red Cross  (Cruz Roja) Ambulance-608-6700

Care Ambulance Services
www.careambulance.net
Baja, Mexico division: BajaCare
Toll Free (U.S.): 1-888-901-7037
In Mexico: 01-800-027-3320
Tel. 664/216-0525, 216-0526
info@bajacareambulance.com
Works closely with the Sharp and Scripps hospital networks, and with two U.S. air ambulance companies.

CDC Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance

CDC International Traveler's hotline - 24 hour info available at 888-232-6348 or 800-232-4636 or http://www.cdc.gov. For health guidance, please visit the CDC at: http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/traveler/none/mexico.

Tips on How to Avoid Becoming a Victim

Crimes/Scams

Credit card fraud, ATM card, and telephone card fraud is common. Here are some things that you can do to lessen the chances that you will become a victim of ATM or credit card fraud:
If possible, pay with cash and only use your credit card with reputable merchants. Never let someone take your credit card.
Keep low-limit credit cards. 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. 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. It is important to cancel all 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. Prior to inserting your ATM card, check the ATM card reader to make sure that it looks appropriate and is not altered. When at an ATM, cover the key pad when entering your pin.
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 debit 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.
Be very careful any time you use your telephone card. If possible make telephone card phone calls from your hotel room. Keep an eye out for anyone who may be observing your card or your fingers as you dial your code. Avoid giving the number to local operators.
Be cautious if asked for an “Expediter” fee, cons include persons who offer their services to facilitate your business and personal dealings for a fee.

Areas to be Avoided 

Drugs and organized crime elements are present in Tijuana and are security concerns at local bars and clubs. The area of Tijuana old Zona Centro near “Avenida Revolución, Zona Centro” should be avoided after dark due to prevalence of crime activity. For about eight blocks, Avenida Revolucion is lined with shops, bars, and restaurants, many aimed at day-trip tourists. Visitors should be careful (or aware) in walking too far north on Constitucion Avenue, one block west of Revolucion, and going below Juarez (Segunda) as it will abruptly lead you into the “red light” district. 

In addition, visitors should exercise extreme caution when visiting Playas de Tijuana after dark. This area along the coast has become quite dangerous; numerous killings and kidnappings have transpired there over the last three years. The road leading from Tijuana’s city center to Playas de Tijuana is often used as a dumping ground for dead bodies. Visitors are strongly encouraged to avoid the roads to the coastal towns (Playas de Tijuana, Rosarito, Ensenada) after dark.

Best Security Practices

Personnel are encouraged to be aware of their surroundings and remove themselves from locations that present security concerns. We suggest that you follow the same security measures you would in any large metropolitan city. Do not travel in unfamiliar areas of the city, particularly after dark. Crime is a 24-hour concern, but darkness and late night travel increases your chances of being a victim of crime. When walking, always travel in well lit areas with at least one other person. Having a travel companion is encouraged.

U.S. citizens are urged to be especially aware of safety and security concerns when visiting the border region and to exercise common sense precautions such as visiting only legitimate business and tourist areas and only during daylight hours. 

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. 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. Avoid con games by being aware of street side requests for donations to charity. 

Visitors should be aware of their surroundings at all times, even in areas generally considered safe. Women traveling alone are especially vulnerable and should exercise caution, particularly at night. 

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.

Avoid sitting outside at restaurants. Instead, try to find a seat in an area not clearly visible from the street.

U.S. citizens should be very cautious in general when using ATMs in Mexico. If an ATM must be used, it should be accessed only during the business hours at large protected facilities (preferably inside commercial establishments, rather than at glass-enclosed, highly visible ATMs on streets).

Keep your car doors locked and your windows up while driving in town. When in heavy traffic or when stopped in traffic, leave enough room between vehicles to maneuver and escape, if necessary. Particularly on long trips to remote areas, try to travel in tandem with other vehicles, and advise someone of your travel plans, including anticipated arrival and departure times and contact numbers. Protect your vehicle. The headlights and tail lights are held in place by easily accessible screws. Install grills around the lights or simply tap out the heads of the screws holding the lights in place. If your tire is mounted on the outside of the vehicle, secure it in place with 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. 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, keep your vehicle sterile, storing anything that would entice a thief out of plain view. 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.

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 and out of sight. Installation of a car alarm is a necessary precaution in deterring vehicle thefts and thefts of interior contents.

U.S. citizens should not hitchhike with, accept rides from, or offer rides to, strangers anywhere in Mexico. Tourists should not hike alone in backcountry areas, nor walk alone on lightly-frequented beaches, ruins, or trails.

U.S. Embassy/Consulate Location and Contact Information 

Embassy/Consulate Address and Hours of Operation 

Consulado Americano 
Paseo de las Culturas s/n Mesa de Otay Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico 22425
U.S. Consulate Tijuana - Hours: 0730 - 1615 M-F 

Embassy/Consulate Contact Numbers

Mexico country code: 52 
Tijuana area code: 664 

Telephone: Consulate switchboard - 664-977-2000 (from the U.S., dial 011-52-664-977-2000) 
After hours emergency Duty Officer cellular phone - 619-692-2154 (US), 664-628-1762 (Mex)
Email: ACSTijuana@state.gov
Regional Security Office - Contact through the Consulate Switchboard: ext. 2102, or 2271. 

Police Emergency: 066

Anonymous Crime Reporting Hotline: 866-201-5060
Callers can report criminal activity from anywhere in Mexico or U.S. This international hotline was set up by the Baja California Secretary of Public Safety so that anyone wishing to report criminal activity can do so anonymously from anywhere in the U.S. and Puerto Rico. Interested parties can call 1-866-201-5060 at any time 24/7/365 to report any crime-related information to bilingual operators who will forward the report to the proper authorities for action. A similar tip line “089” has been available since 2005 for the public within Mexico to make an anonymous tip and enjoys a sizable call volume.

OSAC Country Council Information

The RSO section organizes and participates in regular OSAC meetings in Tijuana and southern California. If interested in participating, please contact RSO Peter Kolshorn at 52-664-977-2102 or OSAC Chair Guillermo at guigonzalez@Sempra-Mexico.com.