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Trinidad and Tobago 2017 Crime & Safety Report

Western Hemisphere > Trinidad and Tobago; Western Hemisphere > Trinidad and Tobago > Port of Spain

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

U.S. Embassy Port of Spain does not assume responsibility for the professional ability or integrity of the persons or firms appearing in this report. The ACS Unit cannot recommend a particular individual or location and assumes no responsibility for the quality of service provided.

THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE HAS ASSESSED PORT OF SPAIN AS BEING A CRITICAL-THREAT LOCATION FOR CRIME DIRECTED AT OR AFFECTING OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT INTERESTS.

Please review OSAC’s Trinidad and Tobago country-specific webpage for proprietary analytic reports, Consular Messages, and contact information.

The government of Trinidad and Tobago (T&T) faces numerous challenges in its effort to reduce crime, including an overburdened legal system, bureaucratic resistance to change, unemployment in marginal areas, disenfranchised youth, the negative influence of gangs, drugs, weapons, and an economic recession.

Crime Threats

Crime is the principal threat to visitors. Most crimes are crimes of opportunity. American citizens have been victims of pickpocketing, assault, theft/robbery, fraud, and murder. Guests at hotels have reported the theft of items from their rooms. While not common during daylight hours, robberies and petty theft have been reported. There is no evidence to indicate that foreigners, specifically expatriates, are specifically targeted, but crimes (robbery, break-ins/burglary, vehicular break-ins, home invasions, assaults (including sexual assaults)) do occur in areas frequented by tourists and in which the expatriate community lives.

Trinidad and Tobago Police Service (TTPS) 2016 crime statistics show a 1.4% increase in overall serious criminal activity, as compared to 2015. Violent crime remains a major concern for local security services and the general population.

Despite the seizure of 765 firearms in 2016, almost 81% of the murders were committed by firearm, continuing to highlight the problem of imported and often illegal weapons and firearms smuggling. According to TTPS statistics, there were 462 murders in 2016, 420 murders in 2015, and 403 murders in 2014, out of a population of approximately 1.3 million people. The detection rate for murder was 15.2% for 2016, an increase from 13.6 percent in 2015. The murder rate continues to be driven primarily by gang and drug-related activities. In 2016, murders occurred in a more widespread area than 2015, when most murders were concentrated in a few urban areas. In 2016, the Northern Division, which includes the cities of Arima and Tunapuna, reported the highest number of murders at 124. The Central Division, which includes the cities of Chaguanas and Enterprise, reported 79 murders in 2016. Port of Spain and the Southern Division reported 61 and 55 murders in 2016, respectively.

Drug trafficking and gang-related activities continue to fuel the demand for illegal weapons.

Reported instances of crimes related to sexual assault and domestic violence decreased to 491 in 2016 from 625 in 2015; in 2014 there were 825 reports. 

Do not physically resist any robbery attempt. While this is a personal decision, statistics show that victims who resist are more likely to be injured or even killed by their attackers.

In Trinidad, the majority of violent crimes (homicides, kidnappings, assaults, robberies, sexual assaults) are gang/drug-related or domestic in nature. A significant, growing portion is attributed to the influence of gangs, illegal narcotics, and firearms. Most reported crimes occur within the metropolitan areas of Port of Spain and San Fernando, with the areas of Arima and Central Trinidad contributing heavily to the 2016 crime statistics. While there were 157 more reported serious crimes in 2016 (11,292 compared with 11,135 in 2015), the overall percent of crimes that resulted in an arrest remained relatively unchanged at 24%.

In Tobago, crimes affecting tourists include murder, home invasion, petty theft, swindling, fraud, and theft from hotel rooms. Several violent home invasions targeted well-to-do homes and villas sometimes rented to tourists.

In October 2015, a British couple was found murdered in their Carnbee Village home. Police charged two individuals; robbery appeared to have been the motive, as bank surveillance footage showed them using the couple’s stolen ATM cards.

In November 2014, an elderly German resident couple was murdered in the Bacolet Beach area; the case remains under investigation.

There were four murders in 2016, seven in 2015, and eight in 2014.

According to several sources, including the 2012 United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Caribbean Human Development Report and the Council on Hemispheric Affairs 2013 report entitled “Gangs Are The New Law In Urban Trinidad & Tobago,” approximately 100 criminal gangs were identified in T&T. These gangs, as well as other organizations, were linked to crimes including weapons smuggling, fraud, and other organized criminal activities.

Since a 1990 failed coup attempt, Jamaat al-Muslimeen and its leaders have focused on Islamic education and a number of business ventures and have been linked to serious crimes (murder).

There have been incidents of piracy in the waters between T&T and Venezuela, in which vessels were boarded and the occupants assaulted, robbed, and in some cases, murdered. While the majority of incidents have involved local fishermen, a small community of private boat owners who stay in Trinidad during the hurricane season have also been affected. Sailors should report any incidents to the T&T Coast Guard and local police and are encouraged to check with the Coast Guard and yacht facility managers for current information.

Cybersecurity Issues

The use of computers by the local population is moderate, as is the level of sophistication with computer usage.

Use caution with U.S. credit cards, as they do not offer the same levels of protection as many international credit cards that require a PIN for transactions. If using a credit card, ensure that the credit card stays in your sight and monitor billing activity for several months after you return. Do not withdraw large amounts of cash from banks or ATMs. If you need to withdraw a large sum of money, cash a check or conduct an electronic transfer instead.

Other Areas of Concern

U.S. citizens are advised that U.S. government personnel and their families are restricted from traveling to the following areas (see pdf for map): Laventille, Sea Lots, Cocorite, Beetham, the Interior of Savannah, Downtown Port of Spain (after dark), Ft. George (after dark), and all beaches (after dark).

Road Safety and Road 

Vehicles are driven on the left side of the road. Local law requires everyone to wear seat belts and motorcyclists to wear helmets. Children under five years should ride in a child-safety seat, and older children should ride in the back seat of a vehicle. The use of cellular telephones is prohibited while driving, unless used with a hands-free device. Persons caught talking on a cellular telephone while driving can be fined. Drivers should be alert for the use of hand signals to indicate turning, slowing, or stopping, which do not necessarily correspond to hand signals used in the U.S. Drivers are generally courteous but can be flexible with the rules of the road.

Do not stop your car if you are flagged down along the road; hitchhikers are usually swindlers and can be threatening. Criminals are also known to follow travelers from the airport to their destination.

Road travel is generally safe; however, there continue to be a relatively high number of traffic fatalities from speeding and drunk-driving. Road fatalities decreased in 2016 to 111, down from 147 in 2015 and 165 in 2014. In January 2015, the government amended provisions of the Motor Vehicles and Road Traffic Act to increase the fines for driving under the influence to $12,000 TT (approx. U.S.$1,900) for a first conviction and other road offences, including speeding and failing to submit to a breathalyzer test. Traffic wardens help monitor and enforce traffic safety; however, they have no powers of arrest and often request the assistance of the TTPS for an arrestable offense. Unannounced road checks are not uncommon and may occur at any time. For more information on self-driving, please review OSAC’s Report “Driving Overseas: Best Practices.”

The Beetham Highway, a main thoroughfare for Port of Spain, is dangerous in the event of broken-down vehicles. If your vehicle is mobile, you should get out of the area before seeking help. On the Beetham stretch, there are regular incidents of persons running out into the road or throwing debris (masonry bricks) at cars to cause accidents and force cars to stop. A group of accomplices descends upon accident victims, robbing them of valuables, and often violently assaulting them, even if they are compliant.

Trinidad has good four-lane highways and one controlled-access highway. However, road quality decreases quickly on secondary roads. Rural roads are narrow and often have deep drainage ditches. Many are in poor repair and are frequently congested. Night travel should be avoided other than on major highways. Roadside assistance exists but is limited and may be subject to lengthy delays; it is recommended to carry water with you and a charged cellular phone.

Public Transportation Conditions

Traditional, non-shared, marked taxis do not exist in T&T.

Private taxis are available at the airports and major hotels, but they are unmetered and unmarked. You can hire them to take you door-to-door, but fares should be agreed upon in advance. Private taxis and route taxis both have plate numbers beginning with “H.” You should use only private taxis for transportation around Port of Spain, and only private taxis or full-sized inter-city buses for travel between cities. You should ensure your taxi is not a route taxi before getting in, because route taxis will pick up additional passengers. Crimes (rapes, assaults, robberies, thefts) have taken place inside taxis. Taxis have also caused serious traffic accidents when they swerve across several lanes to pick up or discharge passengers.

Avoid small buses and vans (Maxi Taxis) for the same reasons.

If unsure, consult with the establishment where you are residing or through your travel agency, if applicable.

Aviation/Airport Conditions

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the government’s Civil Aviation Authority as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of Trinidad’s air carrier operations. Further information may be found on the FAA’s safety assessment page.

The Piarco International Airport is a hub for flights throughout the Caribbean. Airport services may be slow or not up to Western standards, but there are no concerns for safety or scams. T&T police and Airport Authority Officers are posted throughout the airport, and private security is located in the parking lot areas to assist in an emergency. The airport is located approximately 28 km east of the city. The Piarco Airport Taxi Cooperative Society provides service to/from the airport. Taxis are located outside the arrival area, and drivers were a white shirt, black/blue trousers, and a yellow photo identification pass. Travelers are recommended to have Trinbagonian currency for taxi fare; fares are typically negotiated in advance with the taxi driver.

Piarco Airport Taxi Cooperative Society: 868-669-1689

Dispatcher Contact Number: 868-669-0282

Terrorism Threat

THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE HAS ASSESSED PORT OF SPAIN AS BEING A LOW-THREAT LOCATION FOR TERRORIST ACTIVITY DIRECTED AT OR AFFECTING OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT INTERESTS.

Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns

There are no known indigenous terrorist groups operating in T&T. Local newspapers cite government sources reporting that T&T nationals have traveled to Syria and Iraq to fight for ISIS. Muslims make up about 5% of the population and are roughly equally split between African and Indian heritage. Fighters appear to have come from both the Afro-Trini and Indo-Trini Muslim communities, and many appear to have had prior affiliations with criminal gangs. In 2016, T&T took steps to address foreign terrorist fighters. Organizations within the Ministry of National Security identify and closely monitor the travel and activity of persons of interest. In addition, the previous government formed a National Counterterrorism Working group to draft a National Counterterrorism Strategy. The draft takes into account international and domestic commitments in combatting terrorism and the specific nature of the terrorist threat to T&T. The new Minister of National Security continues to discuss national security in the areas of crime and counterterrorism with stakeholders and Parliament.

In December 2015, the T&T High Court ruled Trinidadian national Kareem Ibrahim as a terrorist, allowing the state to proceed with freezing his local assets in accordance with the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2005. The judgment was the first under the law and will likely play an important role in setting legal precedent on terrorism rulings. Ibrahim died in January 2016.

In November 2015, an ISIS propaganda video featured several young men claiming to be Trinidadian nationals fighting in Syria. Since 2014, sporadic videos alleged to feature Trinidadian nationals in support of ISIS have surfaced on social media.

In August 2015, a Trinidadian student studying in Saudi Arabia was accused of being a terrorist. He was arrested and spent 16 months in prison there. He returned to Trinidad in December 2016.

In September 2014, the T&T government signed the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) anti-terrorist resolution, indicating its commitment to fighting terrorism. Traffickers continue to exploit T&T’s relatively porous borders to move drugs and weapons. Further, radical elements of gangs are also thought to make occasional contact with individuals/groups with possible terrorist ties.

In March 2014, 17 Trinidadians (men, women, children) were detained by Venezuelan authorities for terrorist-related activities. Five were charged in November 2014 with terrorism and alleged to have received training from Venezuelan police officers who were charged with treason and criminal conspiracy. After spending 32 months in Venezuelan jail, all returned to Trinidad in November 2016.

Given the crime rate and some weaknesses in border control, there remains a continued concern that T&T could be utilized as a transit point for potential terrorists or terrorist organizations. Although terrorism poses a low threat to travelers to T&T, all should be aware of the global risk of indiscriminate terrorist attacks. These could take place in public areas frequented by expatriates and foreign travelers. Travelers should review the U.S. Department of State’s most recent Worldwide Caution.

The call for self-radicalization, whether disseminated on extremist forums or via social media, continues to be a global concern. It is difficult to determine what message will inspire a violent extremist. 

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE HAS ASSESSED PORT OF SPAIN AS BEING A LOW-THREAT LOCATION FOR POLITICAL VIOLENCE DIRECTED AT OR AFFECTING OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT INTERESTS.

As a result of elections on September 7, 2015, a new Prime Minister and government came to power.

Civil Unrest

Trinidad experiences periodic demonstrations by labor unions over salary negotiations, tax structures, and other issues involving public resources or government operations. The disruption of utility services as a result of industrial action group protests and non-violent demonstrations by labor organizations remains a concern. 

Demonstrations are occasionally held, are often large, and usually take place in/near the parliament building downtown or outside the Prime Minister’s Offices in St. Clair. Demonstrations must be approved in advance by the police who typically provide appropriate coverage. Foreigners are advised to avoid demonstrations and large gatherings. 

Post-specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

T&T has been rated extremely vulnerable for seismic activity, especially in the Paria Peninsula (extending eastward off Venezuela toward Trinidad).

The islands are below the hurricane belt, though some storms have occurred nearby. Inadequate infrastructure and drainage as well as heavy rains occasionally cause flooding in certain urban areas, resulting in landslides that can block remote roads.

General information about natural disaster preparedness is available from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

Economic Concerns

T&T was removed from the U.S. Trade Representative’s Special 301 Report Watch List in 2016. Significant problems exist with respect to the protection or enforcement of intellectual property rights (IP) and market access for persons relying on intellectual property protection. T&T’s lax enforcement means wrongdoing will likely only be uncovered by the content owner – who in many cases is not in the country. Private companies are hesitant to pursue IP claims in T&T because of the small market size and reputation for having a slow legal system. Those that have pursued claims generally receive limited engagement by law enforcement. The T&T Police Service’s statistics indicate that they have not detected an intellectual property crime in several years. Companies say Customs Officers are hesitant to search containers, even with significant evidence that counterfeit products are present. A U.S. company reported counterfeit products to T&T officials, but the allegedly infringing products were pulled from shelves just hours before an inspection, suggesting collusion between law enforcement and the seller of the counterfeit goods.

The Embassy is not aware of any confirmed cases of industrial espionage.

Drug-related Crimes

Trinidad is a major trans-shipment point for illicit drugs, and drug-related crimes are a significant contributor to crime. 

Kidnapping Threat

According to TTPS crime statistics, there were 74 kidnappings in 2016, 106 in 2015, and 94 in 2014. There were three kidnappings for ransom in 2016 (0 solved), four in 2015 (1 solved), and three in 2014.

Police Response

You are subject to host country laws even as a U.S. citizen. If you break local laws, your U.S. passport will not help you avoid arrest or prosecution. T&T law prohibits the use of obscene language to the annoyance of other persons on a street. Using obscene language in public may result in an arrest once a Police Officer is in proximity. It is also illegal to carry ammunition when arriving, departing, or transiting T&T. In some cases, individuals found with as little as one bullet casings have been detained, charged, and fined.

How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment

U.S. citizens detained or arrested by the T&T Police Service (TTPS) should notify the U.S. Embassy in Port of Spain immediately by email or by telephone at 868-622-6371. U.S. citizens may also wish to contact their family and an attorney. During an initial interview, the police may defer a request to make contact with family, but local law provides for both consular notification and an attorney upon request.

Harassment is not common with foreigners, but report the incident to the U.S. Embassy if it occurs.

Crime Victim Assistance

The local emergency line is 991. If you or someone you know becomes the victim of a crime, you should contact the local police and the U.S. Embassy American Citizen Services (ACS) Office. If your passport is stolen, the Embassy can help you with replacement. For violent crimes, ACS can help you find medical care, contact family members or friends, and help them to send you money if needed. Although the investigation and prosecution of a crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney.

The public is encouraged to report suspicious activity to the TTPS by phoning “999” so that an appropriate patrol unit can be dispatched or redirected to the location of need. 

Foreigners who are crime victims can expect to be treated and assisted with the same level of cooperation and fairness as that given to a local citizen.

Police/Security Agencies

The TTPS falls under the Ministry of National Security. The TTPS functions in accordance with the Police Service Act Chapter 15:01. Over 6,500 police officers and Special Reserve Police support the mandate of the Act. The TTPS is organized into nine Divisions and 18 Branches, Squads, and Units: Community Police, Police Complaints, Special Branch, Guard and Emergency Branch, Criminal Investigation Division and Criminal Records Office, Organized Crime, Narcotics and Firearms Bureau, Homicide, Fraud Squad, Court and Process, Police Band, Mounted and Canine Branch, Police Training College, E-999, Traffic and Highway Patrol Branch, Transport and Telecom, Criminal Gangs Intelligence Unit (CGIU), and the Cybercrime Unit.

In recent years, in response to citizen concerns, the government bought additional police cruisers, constructed several new police stations, renovated several other police stations, recruited new officers, and made efforts to improve police customer service. 

Several units of the TTPS utilize dashboard cameras, which support the TTPS’ goal to continue to earn the trust of members of the public through honesty, transparency, and accountability. There are reports that units are using body cameras, but the practice is not widespread.  

In 2014, the government implemented a Community Comfort Patrol (CCP) Program whereby marked CCP patrol vehicles are operated by private security officers under the authority of the TTPS and serve as a visible deterrent to criminal activity in residential communities. This program ended in 2017 due to the economic situation. The government has called on the municipal police officers to conduct more community policing.

In 2013, the GOTT implemented a limited Rapid Response Unit (RRU) for emergencies (similar to a 911 response in the U.S.). These police vehicles are equipped with GPS tracking technology and monitored by dispatchers to improve their response times to emergency calls. The RRUs have been operating with success on both islands.     

Medical Emergencies

Medical care is significantly below U.S. standards for treatment of serious injuries and illness, with limited access to supplies and medications. Adequate private medical care is available in Port of Spain but is not up to the standards of industrialized countries. Medical care is substandard in the rest of the country. While care at some private facilities is better than at most public health facilities, patients may be expected to prove their ability to pay before assistance is given, even if emergency care is needed. Patients requiring blood transfusions are expected to arrange for at least the same amount to be donated on their behalf. Physicians and nurses have been known to go on strike, causing strain on public and private medical services.

Ambulance service is often extremely limited in response time due to low availability and high demand. Ambulances provide basic life support services, with some companies moving toward advanced life support capabilities.

SCI EMS (868) 694 2404 (private service)

GMRTT: 811 for major trauma only (public service)

A recompression chamber is located in Roxborough, Tobago. Before diving, check that facilities are operational.

Contact Information for Available Medical Services

 

Hospital Name

Telephone

Physical Address

Port of Spain General Hospital

868-623-2951

Upper Charlotte Street, Port of Spain

San Fernando General Hospital

868-652-3581

Independence Avenue, San Fernando

St. Clair Medical Centre

868-628-1451

18 Elizabeth Street, Port of Spain

Emergency Room: St. Clair Ave across from British High Commission

West Shore Medical Private Hospital

868-622-9878

239 Western Main Road, Port of Spain

Scarborough General Hospital

868-660-4744

Ford Street, Scarborough, Tobago

Available Air Ambulance Services

International SOS (ISOS) Assistance Inc.

3600 Horizon Blvd., Suite 300

Trevose, PA 19053

Email: phlopsmed@internationalsos.com

Philadelphia Assistance Center: +1-800-523-6586 or +1-215-942-8226; Fax: +1-215-354-2338

REVA

Operates fixed-wing fleet/aircrews based in South Florida, Puerto Rico, Phoenix, AZ, and San Diego, CA.  Offers international service via network of affiliated aeromedical providers.

1745 NW 51
st Pl, Hanger 73, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33309

Email: operations@flyreva.com

Web: operations@flyreva.com

24-hour response center number:  +1-800-752-4195; +1-954-730-9300

Insurance Guidance

Adequate evacuation insurance coverage for all travelers should be a high priority for travelers. Highly specialized cases or complex emergencies may require evacuation to Miami.

Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance

The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for Trinidad and Tobago.

OSAC Country Council Information

There is currently no active Country Council in Port of Spain. Please contact OSAC’s Western Hemisphere team if you are interested in private-sector engagement in Port of Spain or have questions about OSAC’s Country Council programs

U.S. Embassy Location and Contact Information

Embassy Address and Hours of Operation

U.S. Embassy Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago
15 Queens Park West, Port of Spain, Trinidad

Business hours: Monday-Friday 7:30 AM - 4:30 PM;

Embassy Contact Numbers

Switchboard: +868 622-6371
Fax: +868 822-5905
Security Office: +868 822-5927
Marine Guard (24 Hours): +868 822-5999/5912
Email: PortofSpainRSO-DL@state.gov
Website: http://trinidad.usembassy.gov/ 

Embassy Guidance

If you plan to reside in or visit T&T, please take the time to tell our Embassy about your presence in-country and enroll your stay or visit with the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). If you enroll, we can keep you up-to-date with important safety and security announcements. It will also help your friends and family get in touch with you in an emergency.

A valid passport is required of U.S. citizens for entry to T&T. A U.S. passport card is not accepted for entry or for direct air travel from T&T back to the U.S. U.S. citizens do not need a visa for tourism or business-related visits of 90 days or less. Work permits are required for compensated and some non-compensated employment, including missionary work. Questions pertaining to visas should be directed to the Embassy of Trinidad and Tobago or the Consulates in Miami or New York City.

Additional Resources

Trinidad and Tobago Country Information Sheet