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Dominican Republic 2017 Crime & Safety Report

Western Hemisphere > Dominican Republic; Western Hemisphere > Dominican Republic > Santo Domingo


Overall Crime and Safety Situation

 

U.S. Embassy Santo Domingo 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 SANTO DOMINGO AS BEING A CRITICAL-THREAT LOCATION FOR CRIME DIRECTED AT OR AFFECTING OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT INTERESTS.

 

Please review OSAC’s Dominican Republic-specific webpage for proprietary analytic reports, Consular Messages, and contact information.

 

Crime Threats

 

Crime continues to be the number one safety concern in the Dominican Republic (DomRep) by both Dominicans and the Embassy.

 

The 2016 crime statistics from the national police list the cities where the majority of reported criminal acts occurred by category. Preliminary crime statistics for 2016 reveal that the five highest ranking provinces for homicide in 2016 were: Montecristi and Bahoruco (25:100,000), San Juan and Duarte (23:100,000), and Santo Domingo National District (22:100,000). The top five provinces for reported robberies were: Santo Domingo City, Santo Domingo National District, San Cristóbal, La Altagracia, and La Vega. Statistics show the highest incidents of sexual assault in the provinces of Santo Domingo, San Cristobal, Puerto Plata, La Altagracia, and Montecristi. Ancedoctal reports provided to the U.S. Embassy show a marked increase in the use of date-rape drugs in the commission of sexual assaults. The wide availability of weapons, the use of drugs, and the weak criminal justice system all contribute to the high level of criminality.

 

The most common type of crime is drive-by robberies (1-2 (usually male) assailants on a motorcycle, scooter, or even a bicycle). The assailant typically drives up to the potential victim and grabs anything in arm's reach. Often, they stop, one disembarks, and points a handgun at the victim, demanding valuables. Although armed assaults are more frequent during hours of darkness and when victims travel by foot, they can occur while the victim is in a vehicle stopped at a traffic light and often during the day. To avoid becoming a victim of a drive-by robbery, try to avoid outwardly displaying any items of value. Be alert for motorcycles and scooters. If someone approaches, duck into a store or move out of the way. Note that assailants may circle around and try again.

 

Crime is generally not violent if the victim cooperates; however, an assailant will not hesitate to use violence if it the victim resists and can result in serious consequences. The RSO strongly urges all Americans to cooperate if confronted with any type of weapon during the commission of a crime.

 

During the holiday season (November-January) and especially during carnival (February), the overall level of crime (especially thefts, robberies) tends to rise.

 

Be alert to scams involving an unknown person spilling a drink/food on clothing. An accomplice may be preparing to steal wallets, purses, or briefcases.

 

Be cautious when entering public bathrooms.

 

Purse snatchers and briefcase thieves are known to work hotel bars and restaurants, waiting for guests to place items on chairs or under tables. Pools/beaches are attractive areas for thieves.

 

Invest in a good city map and or use smartphone GPS. If you must exercise outside, consider the Botanical Gardens or the Mirador del Sur park main road, which the police close for bikers and runners between 0600-0900 and 1700-2000 hours.

 

Keep hotel room keys with you, if possible. Leave valuables in the hotel, but carry a token sum to placate violent thieves. At night, secure passports and other valuables; the best way to protect them is to secure them in your local offices or the hotel room safe. Do not divulge the name of your hotel name or room number to strangers. Speak with the bellman, concierge, and front desk regarding safe areas around the city to dine, or sight see. Ask about local customs and which taxi companies to use or avoid.

 

Avoid providing too many details to strangers. Prostitutes, both men and women, take advantage of travelers through various ploys such as knock out drugs, the use of accomplices, and theft from the victim’s room.

 

Homicides in 2015 continued to decrease to 1,676 reported incidents (1,990 in 2013, 1,810 in 2014), which is the lowest in 13 years. According to a study by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime in 2012, 27.6% of homicides were committed during the commission of a robbery. By comparison, the rate in the US during the same year was 5%.

 

The country also faces organized crime (drug trafficking, money laundering).

 

Cybersecurity Issues

 

Fraud schemes (credit card fraud) continue to occur. ATM card skimming is rampant and most commonly occurs at ATMs that are not inside banks, malls, and hotels. Be aware of passersby when using an ATM and guard the key pad when entering the PIN. More sophisticated cyber crimes are not common, though the police’s capability to combat it is poor. 

 

The RSO strongly urges that travelers contact their financial institution before scheduled travel to provide them with dates and locations of the visit and limit the amount of money that can be withdrawn. Only carry cards that are absolutely needed and preferably a credit card. Travelers should consider saving receipts of purchases. In cases of fraud, immediately contact your financial institution and file a report. Fraudulent charges may not appear until well after the return home. If making credit/debit card transactions, check your accounts periodically online or through contacting the institution to ensure there are no erroneous charges.

 

The cyber fraud scheme most frequently attributed to the DomRep does not take place in the country. Often referred to as the “Grandparents Scam,” someone pretending to be a police officer or a representative from the U.S. Embassy calls an elderly relative of a U.S. citizen claiming to have arrested their relative. They sound credible and pressure the elderly relative to wire money for bond, damages, or legal fees. The callback number is frequently answered by someone claiming to be a U.S. Embassy representative. The high number of U.S. tourists who visit the DomRep spurs this type of crime. U.S. Embassy investigations have shown the callers are often not based in the DomRep, nor does the wired money end up in the DomRep. However, the U.S. Embassy receives several calls per week from U.S.-based victims of this scam. Other scams, where callers claim to be DEA agents or lottery officials, are also based in the DomRep, as many Dominican citizens have lived in the U.S., speak with a U.S. accent, and can be exploited.

 

Other Areas of Concern

 

If traveling overland between the DomRep and Haiti or if traveling to the border region, it is highly recommended to consult the Country Specific Information Sheet for Haiti and U.S. Embassy Port-au-Prince for information about travel conditions in Haiti. The border areas between Haiti and the DomRep are often regions in which nationalistic tensions can result in violence and where black U.S. citizens can occasionally be delayed at checkpoints while Dominican authorities review their passports and question their purpose of travel. Such situations should be brought to the attention of the U.S. Embassy for quick resolution.

 

Transportation-Safety Situation

 

Road Safety and Road Conditions

 

According to the 2015 Global Status report on Road Safety issued by the World Health Organization (WHO), the DomRep has the 12th-most dangerous roads in the world, with 29.4 people per every 100,000 residents perishing in traffic accidents each year. It ranks the highest in Latin America.

 

Avoid renting vehicles or driving unless familiar with the local traffic laws and customs. Visitors may want to consider hiring a driver during their stay in lieu of self-driving.

 

For those planning to self-drive, offensive and defensive driving skills are a necessity. Although traffic laws are similar to those in the U.S., a lack of adequate traffic controls and enforcement result in hostile driving conditions and frequent car accidents. Drivers are commonly aggressive and erratic, often failing to yield the right-of-way or engaging in road rage. Local laws require the use of seat belts, the use of hands-free cellular devices while driving, and the use of helmets by motorcyclists, although in practice this is rarely enforced. Police conduct random vehicle stops to check documentation. Individuals found to be violating the law can be delayed, fined, or asked to pay a fee on the spot. Licensed drivers who are familiar with local road conditions can be obtained through local car rental and travel agencies. For more information on self-driving, please review OSAC’s Report “Driving Overseas: Best Practices.”

 

Although the DomRep criminalizes driving under the influence of alcohol, there is no maximum blood alcohol content specified in the law. Therefore, enforcement is non-existent. Traffic accidents related to driving under the influence often result in serious injury/death, especially over weekends, holiday season, and when commercial vehicles are involved.

 

Pedestrians tend to step into traffic without regard to corners, crosswalks, or traffic signals. The lack of street lighting contributes to pedestrian and vehicular deaths. Pedestrians do not have the right-of-way, so walking along or crossing busy streets can be very dangerous, even in crosswalks, at intersections with traffic lights, or where traffic police present. Be aware of the traffic patterns when crossing public streets. Pedestrians have been seriously injured by failing to understand local traffic conditions.

 

Travel at night on intercity highways and in rural areas is not recommended due to animals on the road, poor road conditions, and vehicles being driven at excessive speeds often with malfunctioning head/tail lights. Rolling blackouts within the urban and rural areas increase the danger of night travel.

 

Local law requires that the driver be taken into custody when an accident results in serious injury/death, even if the driver is insured and appears not to have been at fault. The minimum detention is 48 hours; however, detentions frequently last until a judicial decision is reached (often weeks or months) or until a waiver is signed by the injured party (usually as the result of a settlement).

 

Public Transportation Conditions

 

For safety reasons, it is suggested to avoid using public transportation (route taxis (carros públicos) and urban buses (guaguas)). For travel within the city, hotel and call-ahead/app-based taxi services are recommended.

 

For intercity travel, consider using one of the more reputable tourist bus companies (Caribe Tours, Metro).

 

Aviation/Airport Conditions

 

The DomRep has five international airports that serve the U.S.: Puerto Plata, Punta Cana, Samana, La Romana, and Santo Domingo. The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration assesses through its International Aviation Safety Program that the DomRep meets International Civil Aviation standards. Airports are modernizing, and airport security is certified by the U.S. TSA. U.S. Customs and Border Protection will open a pre-clearance facility in Punta Cana by September 2017, permitting inspections to take place in Punta Cana.

 

The only airline operating flights to/from the DomRep that is prohibited for use by U.S. government employees is Insel Air.

 

Other Travel Conditions

 

As gasoline prices remain at a premium, many people convert their vehicles to propane gas, which is a cheaper fuel. The nozzles of the tanks that hold propane tanks are easily ruptured in an accident. The result of a rupture is often a massive explosion, which usually kills or severely burns the occupants of the vehicles and any bystanders.

 

Terrorism Threat

 

THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE HAS ASSESSED SANTO DOMINGO 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 organized domestic terrorist groups.

  • Santo Domingo did experience its first incident of domestic terrorism in October 2014, when a male ignited an incendiary device on a crowded subway car, killing one person and injuring dozens.

 

The DomRep is an integral part of the Caribbean with several international airports and, as such, a likely transit point for extremists from within the region, Africa, and Europe.

 

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

 

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

 

Civil Unrest

 

Politically-motivated protests, demonstrations, and general strikes occur periodically, particularly during general election years. Political demonstrations have turned violent, with participants rioting and erecting roadblocks.

 

Civil unrest has become a common occurrence in the last several years due to the lack of adequate electricity, water resources, and the public opinion from certain groups that the government is not actively protecting the national patrimony. Demonstrations and strikes have occurred outside of Santo Domingo without advance notice and have turned violent.

 

Religious/Ethnic Violence

 

Occasionally, inter-ethnic disputes arise due more to socio-economic pressures than an outright ethnic conflict or clash of religious ideologies.  

 

Post-specific Concerns

 

Environmental Hazards

 

The DomRep is located in the center of the Antillean archipelago that places the island in the pathway of severe weather (hurricanes, tropical storms, tropical depressions, other natural disasters (earthquakes, floods, droughts)). Many buildings are not in compliance with U.S. hurricane and seismic codes.

The largest reoccurring natural disaster threat is hurricanes, resultant landslides, and flooding in low lying and coastal areas that are susceptible to tidal surges. The Atlantic hurricane season (June 1-November 30) encompasses over 97% of reported tropical activity in the Atlantic basin.

The DomRep lies on several fault lines. Of particular note is the Submarine Fault between the easternmost part of the DomRep and Guadeloupe. Earthquakes of 8.5-9.0 magnitude could occur, rupturing the 1,000-kilometer length of this fault.

 

Critical Infrastructure

 

The potential exists for industrial accidents involving large infrastructure and industrial facilities containing hazardous materials, especially after a natural disaster.

 

Pollution of lakes and rivers is also a major environmental problem.

 

Drug-related Crimes

 

Although the country is not a center of drug production, the DomRep continues to be a transit zone for drugs entering the U.S. and Europe. Drugs are frequently channeled from Mexico and South America by aircraft or maritime. While cocaine is the most significant drug threat, hashish, heroin, and designer drugs are readily available.

 

By law, the possession of any quantity of marijuana (even with a U.S. prescription), cocaine, hallucinogens, barbiturates, amphetamines, or other narcotic drugs is a punishable offense. Each offender is categorized according to the quantity of the drugs found in his/her possession and must stand trial in a "Court of First Instance." The judicial process can last several years. During the pre-trial period, a defendant remains incarcerated in most cases. The DomRep has empowered the police and military forces to undertake vigorous efforts to combat the threat from narcotic drugs.

 

Kidnapping Threat

 

U.S. citizens of Dominican descent are very occasionally targets of kidnapping for ransom, in which families in the U.S. are asked to pay a large sum of money to secure the release of the abducted individual. Victims of reported cases include business persons, family members, and common citizens. Some victims reported that they were abducted by men in police uniforms or similar clothing and were told that their identity needed to be verified. Victims are taken and held from a few hours/days. Abductors contact family members and demand large sums of money for the individual’s release.

 

More common, but still relatively rare, are express kidnappings wherein people are held at gunpoint and forced to withdraw money from several ATMs or are driven to isolated areas and robbed of their valuables.

 

Police Response

 

This crime situation is exacerbated by the lack of law enforcement resources, poorly paid/trained police officers, and rampant corruption. Corruption and official misconduct remains a serious concern. Internal Affairs within the police works to prevent, investigate, monitor, control, and recommend corrective actions for any improper conduct. Although Internal Affairs investigations result in the termination of hundreds of police officers per year, they are under-resourced and unable to make a significant dent in the level of police corruption.

 

Carry a copy of your passport and only relinquish it if you are required to identify yourself to local authorities.

 

Visitors are subject to local laws. The judicial process can last several years, which may result in lengthy pre-trial detainment in a local jail. Should one be arrested, here is a summary of criminal procedures.

 

How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment

 

If arrested or harassed, contact the U.S. Embassy’s American Citizens Services section at (809) 567-7775.

 

Crime Victim Assistance

 

Santo Domingo District Emergency Telephone Number: 911

U.S. Embassy, American Citizen Services: (809) 567-7775

 

A prompt police response to reported incidents is normally limited due to local traffic conditions and available resources. However, since 2014, the Santo Domingo National District has benefited from a 911 call center that has dramatically improved response times for police, ambulances, and fire fighters. Expansion to Santiago (with coverage extending to Puerto Planta, Sosua, and Cabarete) is expected to be complete by April 2017.

 

The DomRep has a specialized military police force (CESTUR) to assist tourists and provide first responder-type assistance to tourists. If a visitor is a victim of a crime, CESTUR will help them to get to a police station, file a police report, and seek further assistance. However, Americans who are victims of a crime should contact American Citizens Services as soon as possible.

 

Police/Security Agencies

 

The military’s responsibility is to maintain the country’s sovereignty, leaving the National Police to handle the country’s internal security and the protection of its citizens (residents, visitors, and diplomats). In 2014, the tourist police (CESTUR), the border authorities (CESFRONT), and the airport security authorities (CESAC) returned to the military’s purview. CESTUR is a cooperative effort between the National Police, Secretary of the Armed Forces, and the Secretary of Tourism but remains under the ultimate purview of the Minister of Defense. A 2016 police reform law foresaw the return of CESTUR to the National Police but has yet to be implemented.

 

The National Police remain the main internal security force and the only agency authorized to conduct investigations.

 

Medical Emergencies

 

Medical care in Santo Domingo is adequate for most problems. Appointments are generally easy to obtain and can be scheduled for the same week. Payment for services is expected at the time of the appointment (or when the ambulance arrives). Ambulance response times range from 10-30 minutes (with the lower end being for private ambulances and the higher end the public 911 service).

 

Avoid purchasing any prescription medicine from small pharmacies due to the high prevalence of counterfeit drugs. Only use large pharmacy chains.

 

Contact Information for Available Medical Services

 

Santo Domingo

Clínica Abreu, tel: (809) 688-4411

Clínica Abel González, tel: (809) 227-2235

CEDIMAT, tel: (809) 565-9989

Plaza de la Salud, tel: (809) 565-7477

 

Santiago

Clínica Corominas, tel: (809) 508-1171

 

Puerto Plata

Centro Médico Bournigal, tel: (809) 586-2342

 

La Romana

Centro Médico Central Romana, tel: (809) 532-3333

 

Bávaro/Punta Cana

Centro Medico Punta Cana, tel: (809) 552-1506

Hospiten Bávaro, tel: (809) 686-1414

 

Available Air Ambulance Services

 

Movimed: (809) 532-0000 (in Santo Domingo)

Pro Med: (809) 948-7200 (in Santo Domingo)

 

Insurance Guidance

 

U.S. insurance plans, with the exception of Tricare, are not accepted nor will claims be filed for a traveler. Check before traveling to ensure your medical insurance provides coverage overseas or obtain supplemental travel insurance. Most health care providers in the DR only accept cash payments, and these payments often must be made prior to treatment and/or before the patient’s hospital discharge.

 

CDC Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance

 

With an active presence of mosquitos that transmit dengue fever, Zika virus, and chikungunya, the CDC recommends people take precautions while traveling to the DomRep. 

 

The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for the DomRep.

 

OSAC Country Council Information

 

The Santo Domingo Country Council currently meets quarterly during the year and has approximately 300 members. Please contact OSAC’s Western Hemisphere team with any questions or to join.

 

U.S. Embassy Location and Contact Information

 

Embassy Address and Hours of Operation

 

The U.S. Embassy is located at 57 Avenida República de Colombia, Arroyo Hondo, Santo Domingo, D.R.

 

Hours of Operation: 0800-1645 (8:00am until 4:45pm) Monday-Friday.

 

Embassy Contact Numbers

 

Main line: (809) 567-7775 (24 hours/day).

Regional Security Office: (809) 368-7239

Embassy Operator: (809) 567-7775

American Citizens Services: (809) 567-7775

Marine Post One: (809) 368-7777

Website: http://santodomingo.usembassy.gov/

 

Embassy Guidance

 

American citizens are encouraged to register their visits to the country on the State Department website under the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) in order to better assist you during an emergency.

 

Additional Resources

 

Dominican Republic Country Information Sheet