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The Bahamas 2015 Crime and Safety Report

Western Hemisphere > Bahamas; Western Hemisphere > Bahamas > Nassau

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

The Bahamas is an archipelagic nation of more than 700 islands that cover a geographical region approximately equivalent to California. At the nearby points Bimini and Grand Bahama, the country is only 50 miles from the U.S., making it essentially a “third border” for the U.S. According to a 2010 census, The Bahamas has a population of 353,000. Seventy percent of the population resides on the island of New Providence, where the capital, Nassau, is. Another 15 percent live on Grand Bahama, which has the country’s second largest city, Freeport. The rest of the population is dispersed over two dozen outer islands (commonly referred to as the “Family Islands”). The Bahamas is a notable tourist destination with cruise ship ports of call for Nassau and Freeport and an array of luxury resorts including the world renowned Atlantis and the soon-to-be developed Bahama Mar resorts. Over six million U.S. citizens visit or reside in The Bahamas each year, and approximately 80 percent of the tourists visiting The Bahamas are U.S. citizens. 

Crime Rating: Critical

Crime Threats

Armed robberies, property theft, purse snatchings and general theft of personal property remain the most common crimes perpetrated against tourists. Home break-ins, theft, and robbery are not confined to any specific part of The Bahamas. The upsurge in criminal activity has also led to incidents that could place innocent bystanders at risk. Criminality on Grand Bahama has increased, notably crimes involving the use of machetes. Many criminals in The Bahamas carry firearms, machetes, or knives. In 2014, there was an increase of reported armed robberies using a knife and gun where the assailant assaulted the victim after the victim fought back and resisted. Many of these armed robberies were snatch-and-grabs involving purses, jewelry, and gold necklaces or home invasions.

Opportunistic crimes (petty thefts and vehicle theft) and fraudulent use of bank/credit card account numbers do occur. There have been numerous reports of credit and debit card numbers being compromised and unauthorized charges being placed on the card holder’s account from other countries to include the U.S. and Europe.  

While there has been a very slight reduction in some crime classifications reported in 2014 by the Royal Bahamas Police Force (RBPF), violent crime remains above the 2013 level. New Providence Island has sustained remarkably high levels of violent, armed crimes. The RBPF continued enforcing particularly dynamic policing methods, which included indiscriminate armed-checkpoints and a crime reduction plan in tourist areas. The majority of violent crimes reported were perpetrated against local Bahamians, and these occurred in areas of inundated criminality not typically frequented by tourists. Nevertheless, despite arduous government anti-crime incentives, during the past several months New Providence has witnessed a significant increase of violent armed crimes in locations heavily patronized by U.S. citizens. In many instances, these incidents have resulted in fatalities. 

The Bahamian government has not made public comprehensive, updated national crime statistics since July 2013. However, the murdered rate increased by 2.5 percent in 2014. Police recorded 122 murders in 2014, up from 119 in 2013. For the fourth consecutive year, the murder count in The Bahamas surpassed 100 (in 2010 there were 94 murders).

In 2014, the RBPF reported several incidents that either involved tourists or occurred in well known tourist locations. Specifically, crimes were reported near popular tourist attractions close to the cruise ship port (Prince George Wharf) and the Cable Beach resort areas. While there is no evidence that U.S. citizens have been targeted directly, criminals have progressively become more brazen and creative in their methods. For example, three armed robberies of U.S. citizens occurred in daylight hours in heavily frequented tourist areas, including an armed assailant assaulting and robbing a woman walking near Ardastra Gardens. In mid-October during daylight hours in a heavily populated area, two men armed with handguns robbed customers waiting in a restaurant’s drive-through line. Armed assailants have placed items in the street as impromptu roadblocks so unassuming drivers would stop and could be robbed. A man was shot at Potter’s Cay, near the base of the Paradise Island Bridge at a time when tourists would be frequenting the area. Three Embassy employees were injured in robberies. A member of the U.S. military was injured during an altercation at a popular lounge/restaurant heavily frequented by tourists. 

The Bahamas has experienced a wave of armed robberies at gas stations, convenience stores, fast food restaurants, banks, outside of places of worship, and residences. Perpetrators typically conduct pre-attack surveillance. There were several reports of victims being followed home in an attempt to steal nightly deposits. Several victims were severely injured.  

The U.S. Embassy has received several reports of home invasion robberies at both residences and hotels in Nassau. Foreigners resident in The Bahamas have periodically been victimized by residential burglary. Crimes ranging from theft (of personal watercraft, lawn furniture, and vehicles) to home invasions occur, even within gated communities. In Freeport (on Grand Bahama) during two unrelated incidents, a U.S. and a British citizen died as a result of injuries sustained during home invasions. Residential security remains a pronounced concern, with the RBPF reporting a large number of house burglaries and break-ins. Home invasions in Nassau have become more numerous and violent. A home invasion in October 2014 resulted in the murder of the homeowner. In August 2014, a U.S. citizen was the victim of a home invasion and attempted sexual assault in the Cable Beach area. A number of armed home invasions in both New Providence and Grand Bahama were conducted within direct proximity of Embassy residential housing.  

The U.S. Embassy has received an increase of reports of assaults, including sexual assaults, at residences, hotel rooms, casinos, outside hotels, and on cruise ships. In some sexual assault incidents, the victim had reportedly been drugged. As a result, the Embassy has issued five security messages for 2014 (Spike in Crime, Recent Armed Robberies, Credit Card/ATM Fraud, Jet ski sexual assaults, and Crime during Holiday Season). Police warned women to be extra vigilant after a recent spike in the number of reported sexual assaults in Nassau. In October, a U.S. citizen resident was kidnapped and raped. The water sports rental industry is loosely regulated; in 2014, there were four reported sexual assaults of U.S. citizens, including minors, by jet-ski operators: three incidents on Paradise Island and one on Cable Beach. 

In 2014, there were significant reports of credit card and bank fraud cases; approximately 75 percent of the Embassy community have reported being a victim of credit card fraud.

Criminal activity in the Family Islands does occur but to a lesser degree than on New Providence Island. The Embassy has received reports of burglaries and thefts, especially of boats and other watercraft. 

Some systematized crime activity is believed to occur in The Bahamas, primarily related to the illegal importation and smuggling of illicit drugs, weapons, or human trafficking. The Bahamas, due to its numerous uninhabited islands and cays, has been favored by smugglers. Most visitors would not have any interaction with organized crime elements; however, persons who operate their own water craft or aircraft should be alert to the possibility of encountering vessels operated by armed smugglers engaged in illicit activities on the open seas or air space in or near The Bahamas.

Areas of Concern

There are no specific travel concerns in The Bahamas or restricted travel zones or areas. Areas of Nassau referred to as “Over the Hill” by locals should be avoided, especially at night. These areas are generally south of the downtown Nassau area south of Shirley Street. These areas are not clearly defined but encompass the lower income areas on New Providence.  

Transportation-Safety Situation

Road Safety and Road Conditions 

Traffic moves on the left side of the roadway, and traffic circles are common. Traffic in the circles has the right of way. Some major streets do not have adequate shoulders or even passable sidewalks, compelling pedestrians to walk in the right-of-way. Pedestrians need to remember that vehicular traffic comes from the opposite to what one would expect in the U.S., as tourists have been struck by cars after failing to check properly for oncoming traffic. Many motorists disobey traffic control devices (stop signs, speed limits, and traffic signals). Traffic congestion in Nassau is prevalent, and drivers occasionally display antagonistic tendencies and sometimes drive recklessly, passing on the right into oncoming traffic. Motorcyclists frequently swerve through slow traffic and drive between lanes of moving vehicles. Traffic accidents pose a safety hazard, primarily due to intolerant drivers speeding; driving recklessly on two-way, two-lane roads not designed for high-speed travel; and maneuvering vehicles in need of maintenance. It is not uncommon to see poorly maintained or excessively loaded vehicles on roadways. Passengers regularly ride in the bed of trucks and pick-up trucks without any safety restraints. Drivers should be alert for unmarked or poorly marked construction zones. Roads on the outer Family Islands can be narrow, winding, and in poor condition. 

Police enforcement of traffic laws increased in 2014 but is still considered minimal, and visitors self-driving should exercise extreme caution. Bahamian law requires individuals who intend to stay longer than three months obtain a Bahamian drivers license. Any individuals over the age of 18 and who are driving must obtain a drivers license. Third party liability insurance is also required for residents. While it is against the law, drinking and driving is common. The law is infrequently enforced, resulting in numerous traffic accidents and fatalities, including involving tourists and scooters.

If involved in a traffic accident, the police require that the vehicles not be moved until a police officer arrives to investigate. The police can be slow to respond to vehicle accidents. The police will issue a “Notice of Prosecution” form letter to each driver involved in the accident with an initial court hearing to be held within a week of the accident to determine who is at fault. 

Emergency ambulance service is generally available and can be reached by dialing 911 or 919. Roadside assistance is also widely available through private towing services. New Providence also has air ambulance services available; however, this may require advance payment.

Keep your car doors locked and your windows rolled up, as you drive. Keep valuables out of site in your vehicles when parked. Utilize a car alarm or steering wheel locking device. In crawling traffic or in a stopped line of cars, leave at least a half a car length between your vehicle and the car in front of you. If you believe you are being followed, drive immediately to a safe location (a police station, gas station, or a hotel) and call the police. Keep your cell phone charged and with you at all times and use a GPS system if you are traveling in unfamiliar areas.

Public Transportation Conditions 

Visitors are strongly encouraged to use taxi cabs at night. Visitors should not accept rides from strangers or from unlicensed taxi drivers. 

Other Travel Conditions

Visitors should exercise caution when renting vehicles, to include motorcycles and mopeds. Travel by moped or bicycle can be quite hazardous, especially in the heavy traffic conditions in Nassau. Those who choose to ride a motorcycle, moped, or bicycle should follow Bahamian helmet laws and drive very defensively. The Embassy continues to see a significant number of moped accidents each year resulting in serious injury as a result of driver inexperience or inattention by the moped operator and other motorists. Wearing a helmet is highly recommended to avoid serious injury and required under Bahamian law.

Rental of personal watercraft (jet skis) is very popular at many resorts and beaches. Visitors should use extreme caution and not operate watercraft unless they are experienced in using them. Use of life jackets is highly recommended. The Embassy has seen numerous injuries as a result of not following proper safety instructions by the jet-ski operators.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

The Bahamas is a parliamentary democracy and a member of the British Commonwealth. The governor general holds a largely ceremonial role and represents Queen Elizabeth II, who is the head of state. The Bahamas is a stable democracy that shares democratic principles, personal freedoms, and rule of law with the U.S. There is little threat facing Americans from domestic (Bahamian) terrorism, war, or civil unrest. The Bahamas has been an independent country since 1973.

Political Violence Rating: Low

Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns

There is a reasonable threat of transnational terrorism due to the porous borders. Terrorist groups native to the Western hemisphere do not typically operate in the northeastern Caribbean. 

Terrorism Rating: Low

Civil Unrest 

Public protests and demonstrations are infrequent and do not tend to be violent. However, limited law enforcement resources make rapid response to public disorder difficult, particularly on islands other than New Providence. Visitors should protect themselves by avoiding demonstrations of any kind. Strikes are generally limited to “industrial actions” or work-to-rule actions and slowdowns. The airports have also seen instances of “Go Slow” actions resulting in considerable delays by incoming and outgoing flights.

Post-specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

Hurricanes and tropical storms frequent The Bahamas from June-November. Travelers and U.S. businesses are recommended to consider devoting resources and time to emergency planning for the possibility of inclement weather, particularly during hurricane season. Travelers should pay close attention to the weather forecast during the hurricane seasons.

Critical Infrastructure Concerns 

Although The Bahamas prides itself on keeping the country clean, there is minimal enforcement of environmental standards, and recycling is not a common practice.

Flooding frequently occurs on roads in many areas. This flooding sometimes makes roadways impassable. 

Economic Espionage/Intellectual Property Thefts

Counterfeit and reproduced goods are accessible in The Bahamas. Transactions involving such products may be illegal under Bahamian law. Bringing such products into the U.S. may result in forfeitures and/or fines. 

Tourism is the primary economic source for The Bahamas with no reports of economic espionage.

Personnel Background Concerns

The Embassy has not received reports of persecution or hate crimes motivated by race, religion, or citizenship. In previous years, there have been reports of harassment and killings of persons based on sexual orientation. There have been no such reports in 2014.

Drug-related Crimes

The Bahamas has a long history of being a route for smugglers of narcotics, illegal immigrants, and weapons. Drugs, including marijuana, are illegal. As a key transshipment point for traffickers, U.S. businesses should be attentive to not conduct business with questionable persons or enterprises. It is lawful for the Royal Bahamian Police Force to conduct sting operations using entrapment techniques. There have been numerous reports of visitors being arrested for possession and use of drugs in The Bahamas. Individuals who are arrested may be expected to serve prison time and/or pay a substantial fine.

Kidnapping Threat

There have been very few reports of kidnappings. 

Police Response

Royal Bahamian Police Force officers are uniformed in bright white dress coats and blue trousers.  Officers also wear a more subdued navy blue uniform with a black beret.  Officers are regularly seen walking foot patrols or on bicycles in areas frequented by tourists.  In some cases they will be armed with automatic weapons. 

The police generally respond rapidly to hotels and establishments frequented by foreigners who are victims of crime. There have been complaints that police are slow to respond to emergency calls in the residential areas and that the 911 and 919 numbers often go unanswered. The police response is sometimes reduced by a lack of resources or by the physical constraints imposed by geography, infrastructure, and traffic. Recent changes in the police structure have promised a more proactive approach to deter crime. Police have limited emergency vehicles, and streets and houses are generally unmarked, inhibiting responders from locating affected residences. To ensure quick response to a residence, victims may have to go to the local police station and provide transportation to the site. 

Unregistered firearms and ammunition are illegal. Check local laws before bringing any firearms into The Bahamas by boat or by plane. Possession of unregistered firearms can lead to arrest and imprisonment.

How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment

If detained by the police, one should immediately cooperate, identify yourself as an American citizen and request to make contact with the U.S. Embassy immediately. Police harassment of Americans is rare. Attempting to bribe an officer of the Royal Bahamas Police Force is a serious offense and should be strictly avoided. Visitors should not attempt to “tip” police officers for their services.

Crime Victim Assistance

The local police emergency numbers are 911 or 919. Visitors are recommended to report crime to the RBPF as rapidly as possible. Applicable reports may expand the prospect of detecting and apprehending suspected perpetrators. In general, the RBPF is receptive to reports of crime and takes the threat of crime against tourists seriously. 

Police/Security Agencies 

The Royal Bahamas Police Force is the primary agency that handles all law enforcement matters for The Bahamas. The police can be contacted in an emergency by calling 911 or 919 or for non-emergencies: 242-322-4444. 
Royal Bahamas Police Force
East Street, North
P.O.Box N-458
Nassau, Bahamas
info@royalbahamaspolice.org
http://www.royalbahamaspolice.org/index.php

Medical Emergencies

Generally, adequate medical care is available on New Providence and Grand Bahama islands. Medical care is more limited elsewhere. Bahamian physicians and hospitals do not usually accept U.S. medical insurance policies and typically expect immediate cash or credit card payment/deposits for professional services. Some private clinics offer basic primary care. Medical facilities are generally limited and not equipped to handle many emergencies, especially those requiring surgery.  

There is a chronic shortage of blood at Princess Margaret Hospital in Nassau (the country’s largest public hospital) where most emergency surgery is performed. Travelers with rare blood types should know the names and locations of possible blood donors should the need arise. The Lyford Cay Hospital has a hyperbaric chamber for treatment of decompression illness associate with deep sea diving.

Ambulance service is available, but may not be able to respond quickly in the event of a major emergency or disaster.

General emergency numbers:  911 or 919 for police/fire/ambulance

Contact Information for Recommended Hospitals/Clinics

New Providence Island
Doctor’s Hospital (Private hospital on New Providence Island)
Located on Shirley Street in downtown Nassau
Ambulance Service:  (242) 302-4747
Emergency Room: (242) 302-4658
General: (242) 322-8411 or 322-8418 or 302-4600

Princess Margaret (Public hospital on New Providence Island)
Located on Shirley Street in downtown Nassau
Ambulance Service: 919 or (242) 323-2586 or 323-2597
Emergency Room: (242) 326-7014
General: (242) 322-2861

Medical Walk-In Clinic 
On Colin’s Avenue near downtown Nassau
General: (242) 328-0783 or 328-2744

Medical Walk-In Clinic
In Sandyport Business Center near Cable Beach
General: (242) 327-5485

Grand Bahama Island
Sunrise Medical Center (Private hospital) (242) 373-3333
Rand Memorial Hospital (Public hospital): (242) 352-6735 or (242) 352-2689
Lucayan Medical Center (Clinic West Freeport): (242) 352-7288
Lucayan Medical Center (Clinic East Freeport): (242) 373-7400

Recommended Air Ambulance Services

Air Ambulance: (242) 323-2186 (5pm-8am) and (242) 380-6666 (8am-5pm) 

SOS (Emergency Air Flight Services) servicing The Bahamas. Alarm Center, Philadelphia, open 24 hours for International SOS Assistance, Inc.  1 (215) 942-8226 or 1 (800) 523-5686 or 1 (215) 245-4707

Recommended Insurance Posture

The Department of State strongly urges U.S. citizens to consult their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to determine whether their policy applies overseas and whether they cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation. Serious health problems requiring hospitalization and/or medical evacuation to the United States can cost thousands of dollars, and air ambulance companies generally require payment or an insurer’s guarantee of payment up front. For serious cases, treatment in even the best hospitals would probably require medical evacuation after stabilization.

CDC Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance 

HIV/AIDS is a significant health concern in The Bahamas. Dengue virus is present in all tropical and many subtropical areas worldwide. Travelers to The Bahamas should take precautions to prevent contact with mosquitoes. The mosquitoes that carry dengue bite most often in the morning and evening and during hot, wet times of the year. However, they can bite and spread infection all year long and at any time of day.

For vaccine and health guidance, please visit the CDC at: http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/the-bahamas.htm.

Tips on How to Avoid Becoming a Victim

Situational Awareness Best Practices 

Visitors are reminded to be aware of their surroundings and use good personal security practices. Always be vigilant; look for possible threats or what looks out of the norm in your surroundings. Engaging in high-risk behavior (excessive consumption of alcohol, ostentatious displays of jewelry or cash, or walking alone in unsafe areas after dark) can be dangerous, as it greatly increases the vulnerability of an individual. One should utilize universal security tips and good common sense. Visitors should protect themselves as they would in any large or major metropolitan city. Do not display or wear expensive jewelry. If you are in an area that makes you feel uncomfortable or you do not see other tourists, you are probably in the wrong area of town. Most crimes occur at night so think prudently about night-time travel. Inform someone of your travel plans and when to expect you.

At night, park in lighted areas observable by shops, passersby, or attendants, when possible. Avoid poorly illuminated areas where persons could hide and ambush. Use the buddy system and walk in groups. Avoid walking alone in dark, isolated areas, including parking lots. 

Do not leave valuables unattended on the beach or pool-side. Keep your wallet or purse close to your body; never leave your purse or wallet unattended in a business or restaurant. Do not leave belongings unsecured outside your residence or hotel. Vehicles, bicycles, generators, and other property will attract criminals. If the items cannot be placed inside, then visibly secure them with a chain and lock as a deterrent.

Avoid carrying large amounts of cash; use an ATM/credit card when possible and check your credit card statements regularly for potential fraud or unauthorized charges. Avoid using ATMs in isolated areas and consider using ATMs in shopping centers that have security coverage. Use the buddy system when using ATMs.

If confronted by armed criminals remember your valuables are not worth your life or anyone else’s life. If confronted, try to remain calm, clearly display your hands and do not make any sudden moves that could be interpreted as resistance. Unless provoked, criminals engaged in property crimes do not generally engage in gratuitous violence. Should you be confronted by a group or person demanding money or valuables, you should comply with their demands and make the encounter as brief as possible.  

Secure your home/hotel room. Close and lock all windows and doors. Do not forget to lock garage or gate doors. Have an escape plan for you and your family and know how to get out of the house/hotel room. Do not answer your door unless you know who it is. Use a door viewer or window to identify who is at the door before opening. Secure valuables at home/hotel in a locked safe that is not easily removed. Although forced entry of residences, which are generally not random events, is a concern, the combination of a residential alarm, anti-burglar grill-work, substantial locks, lighting, a good emergency plan, neighborhood watches, and roving security patrols have proven an effective deterrent. Pay close attention to any unusual activity that may have occurred since leaving home and getting in and out of vehicles. Things like an open gate, unfamiliar vehicles parked nearby, house doors forced open, or shattered windows can be a sign of criminal interest or activity. Consider purchasing timers to turn on outside/inside lights automatically throughout the night, especially if you are off island. Check outside lighting and replace light bulbs if necessary and use exterior lighting at night. Arrange to have your lawn mowed periodically if you will be gone for an extended period. Arrange to have a friend or colleague check your home and pick up newspapers or other deliveries daily.

Make a copy of your driver’s license and or passport photo page to carry with you while your valuables are secured at home, hotel room, or cruise ship. Scan a copy of your passport or photo ID and have it available via email.

Unplug appliances such as televisions, stereos, and personal computers.

U.S. Embassy Location and Contact Information 

Embassy Address and Hours of Operation 

The Embassy is located at 42 Queen Street, Nassau, The Bahamas. It is located next to the McDonalds downtown and across the street from the British Colonial Hilton.

Embassy Contact Numbers

Embassy Operator: (242) 322-1181 
Regional Security Officer: (242) 322-1181 ext 4267
American Citizen Services: (242) 322-1181 ext 4519
Political/Economic Section: (242) 322-1181 ext 4226
Marine Post One: (242) 322-1181 ext 4311
Website: http://nassau.usembassy.gov/

Consular coverage for multi-post countries

The Embassy also covers Turks and Caicos Islands.

Embassy Guidance

U.S. citizens traveling to The Bahamas are encouraged to sign up for the Smart Traveler Program (STEP).  STEP is a free service provided by the U.S. Government to U.S. citizens who are traveling to, or living in, a foreign country.  STEP allows you to enter information about your upcoming trip abroad so that the Department of State and the U.S. Embassy can assist you in an emergency.  Follow this link to sign up:  https://step.state.gov/step/

OSAC Country Council Information

In February 2014, the Regional Security Office launched an OSAC Country Council in The Bahamas. Please check the OSAC website at www.osac.gov for more instructions on how to become a member. To reach OSAC’s Western Hemisphere team, please email OSACWHA@state.gov.