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Mexico 2017 Crime & Safety Report: Nogales

Western Hemisphere > Mexico; Western Hemisphere > Mexico > Nogales

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

U.S. Consulate General Nogales 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 NOGALES AS BEING A CRITICAL-THREAT LOCATION FOR CRIME DIRECTED AT OR AFFECTING OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT INTERESTS.

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

Crime Threats

In 2016, the level of crime in Nogales showed a slight increase; the homicide rate rose from 2015. According to various sources, there were 62 homicides in 2016 compared to 51 in 2015. This information was corroborated by official statistics from the government of Mexico. A large quantity of violent crimes, and many other types of crimes, occurred throughout the city. However, there is no pattern or evidence indicating the targeting of a specific area. Drug cartel-related homicides and violence also occurred in other cities in the Consular District (Caborca, Altar, Agua Prieta, Sonoyta) but not at the same level as in Nogales. No area of Nogales is immune to violent crimes. Non-drug cartel-related street crime (armed robberies, assaults, burglaries) continue at high rates but have shown slight decreases from 2015.

There is no evidence to indicate that criminal/narco-trafficking elements specifically target U.S. citizens or foreign visitors. However, anyone who projects the perception of wealth and is unfamiliar with the area can become vulnerable to crime by being a target of opportunity or by being in the wrong place at the wrong time. U.S. citizens are urged to take the highest precautions regarding their safety and personal security in and around Nogales.

Due to Mexican laws that prevent individual firearm ownership, the vast majority of firearms in the Consular District are in the possession of law enforcement, military, or narc-trafficking criminal elements. A vast majority of the narco-trafficking elements possess a great deal of firearms (assault rifles, grenades, belt-fed machine guns) and use them when committing major drug-related crimes. The criminal concern for visitors to Nogales is being caught in the crossfire of cartels’ in-fighting. Consulate staff has experienced the impacts from small arms (7.62, 9mm etc.) against their homes and near the Consulate with no injuries.

  • In December 2016, an American citizen was shot during an armed robbery. 

  • In 2016, petty theft and muggings not associated with Drug Trafficking Organizations (DTOs) occurred with similar frequency as past years, but with a slight decrease from 2015. The area between the main roads of El Periferico highway and Avenida Obregon is considered to be safer than the outlying suburban areas of the city. However, violent crimes do occur in this area, with a higher frequency after dark.

    Residential burglaries, to include in the more affluent neighborhoods, occur often and are most common during the day and on weekends/holidays when houses are left vacant. Thieves often gain entry through unsecured entryways, by tricking domestic employees, or using force to access homes that appear to be vacant. 

    The theft of vehicles, carjacking, and the theft of parts from parked vehicles are all common crimes. Vehicle theft is by far the most common crime reported in the Consular District; there were 189 reported vehicle thefts in 2016. This is a slight drop from the over 270 reported vehicle thefts in 2015. DTOs and other criminals covet vehicles as high dollar items, especially mid- to high-end vehicles that transit the Consular District given its proximity to the U.S. boarder. Two of the most sought after vehicles are heavy-duty pick-up trucks and SUVs. These vehicles are used extensively by DTOs because of their ability to carry heavy loads at high speed. 

    Between 2012-2014, some drug cartel in-fighting occurred throughout the Consular District in areas like Agua Prieta and Caborca. However, recent violence has not reached the magnitude seen in 2014. 2015 and 2016 saw a reduction of violence in heavily populated areas. Police and media reports indicate that drug cartel violence in general does not target civilians. Organized crime occurs on virtually a daily basis involving DTOs, but there is no evidence to indicate that American citizens are specifically targeted by these organizations for political or economic gain.

    Cybersecurity Issues

    Given the reported rise in hacking and violations to cyber security globally, Nogales falls well below the global average for privacy violations and cyber intrusions. 

    Transportation-Safety Situation

    Road Safety and Road Conditions

    Driving requires vigilance, a defensive attitude, and Mexican insurance. Local drivers are generally not very experienced and often have cars that are poorly maintained or in disrepair. Be alert for vehicles moving slower than the rest of the traffic and for vehicles speeding through traffic signals. Road signage and traffic lights are improving but are not always clear, contributing to hazardous driving conditions. Drivers should give a wide berth to public buses, which are not known for safe driving practices.

    Pedestrians, to include small children, jaywalk with seeming disregard for personal safety. Pedestrians darting onto poorly illuminated streets are a common hazard.

    Travel on highways can be precarious due to the safety and security situation especially at night. As many drivers may not have functioning headlights and due to the probability of crime increasing after dark, travelers should avoid nighttime travel.

    Drivers are encouraged to use inter-city toll highways whenever possible during daylight hours. For more information on self-driving, please review OSAC’s Report “Driving Overseas: Best Practices.”

    During the rainy summer (July-September), localized flash flooding may occur on many of the main and side streets in the Consular District, primarily in Nogales. Flash floods leave many vehicles stalled in the middle of streets and intersections. Cars swept into deeper water are one of the most common dangers of the rainy season. During heavy rain storms, drivers should avoid driving/walking in flooded streets. Due to the rapid onset of flash flooding, city emergency workers rarely place road closure signs. During each rainy season, large sinkholes have occurred throughout the city; bridges have washed out, and individuals have been trapped/injured by flash floods. Resulting road damage is not always quickly repaired, leaving potholes that can damage your car, cause drivers to swerve, or brake unexpectedly. Visitors should be wary when traveling during the rainy season and pay attention to weather forecasts.

    Public Transportation Conditions

    Public transportation services are not advised for use in the Nogales Consular District. This is based on the lack of viable security vetting and the depth of narco-trafficking influence over the taxis in the area. Although public buses are influenced DTOs to a much lesser degree, the safety aspect of the public bus system also make it an unsafe option.

    Terrorism Threat

    THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE HAS ASSESSED NOGALES 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

    While there do not appear to be any international terrorist groups active in Mexico, lax immigration controls, the ease with which fake Mexican travel documents can be obtained, and Mexico's geographic proximity to the U.S. make Mexico an attractive transit point for potential transnational terrorists. 

    Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

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

    Civil Unrest

    Over the past several years, there have been several peaceful demonstrations in the Nogales area, taking place at/near the Deconcini port of entry or the fiscal corridor heading to the Mariposa port of entry. These demonstrations are generally orderly, peaceful, and comply with the police.

    In January 2017, there were several large-scale demonstrations, in some cases over 2,000 individuals, protesting the government of Mexico’s policy on fuel prices. On several occasions, protestors interfered with the flow of traffic into Mexico, prompting authorities in the U.S. and Mexico to temporarily close the DeConcini border crossing and redirect traffic to the Mariposa border crossing. In one case, the protests at DeConcini turned violent. Police quelled the situations and restored order within hours, with no loss of life or serious injuries. 

    Post-specific Concerns

    Environmental Hazards

    Flooding of residential areas and city streets can occur in all areas of the Consular District during the rainy season (July-September). Blvd. Tecnologico is a key juncture that is constantly affected by poor drainage and flood waters. Rushing water on this road can quickly rise to three or four feet deep in places, making the street dangerous and inaccessible. During each rainy season, large sinkholes have occurred in the city, causing a hazard on the roadway while traveling during the rainy season. 

    Economic Concerns

    Given the large number of corporations and manufacturing plants in Nogales, HAZMAT mishandling is a viable possibility. Although there were no reported incidents in 2014-2016, it remains a potential issue that the local government and the private sector monitor closely.

    Drug-related Crimes

    In 2007, Mexican military personnel began counter-drug cartel operations along the smuggling routes of both Mexican coasts. The routes out of Mexico and into the U.S. market have shifted to land routes, including the two ports of entry in Nogales. As a result, drug cartel-related violence in Nogales increased exponentially in 2009, as the Sinaloa Cartel and the remnants of the Beltran Leyva Cartel fought for the routes into the U.S. While nearly all the violence has manifested between warring cartels, there have been innocent people caught in the crossfire. According to media reports, in 2014, there was an increase in violence in Nogales and 74 murders. However, 2015 saw a noted decrease of 51 reported homicides. With the apprehension of “El Chapo” in 2016, a similar but less violent battle for control of Nogales took place, resulting in 61 homicides. The Cartel Sinaloa remained the dominant cartel in the Nogales area.

    Kidnapping Threat

    Kidnapping for ransom is an established criminal activity in Mexico. Over the past few years, cartel-related kidnappings have occurred in Nogales and the state of Sonora. Victims of these kidnappings include U.S. and Mexican citizens who are and are not involved in the drug trade. Overall, the amount of kidnapping in Nogales and Sonora is very small compared to other cities in Mexico.

  • In 2015, Nogales police reported only two kidnappings.
  • In 2106, that number rose to 12, attributed to a change in DTO tactics from shooting targeted victims to first kidnapping them. All 12 registered kidnapping cases were linked to criminals of DTOs kidnapping other criminals.

Express kidnappings are a common type of abduction and are based on the 24-hour withdrawal limit placed on ATM cards. The victim is generally held for 24-48 hours and is forced to withdraw funds from a series of ATMs. The term "express kidnapping" is also applied to the kidnapping for ransom of 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. Although common in other parts of Mexico, there were no reports of express kidnappings in Nogales in 2015 or 2016.

Police Response

Police response to emergencies is generally timely. However, response in other Consular District cities may not be. Police affected by narco-trafficking influence and complicity to criminal activity does go on throughout Mexico, and parts of northern Sonora are no exception. With the exclusion of several special units, Mexican law enforcement, especially at the local levels, are developing professionally in comparison with U.S. standards. Many police are eager to serve, but they do not have the training and equipment necessary to serve effectively. Given that many of the local police grew- up and live in the area with their families, they commonly acquiesce to threats of narco-trafficking violence. Low morale, poor pay, and submitting to narco-trafficking threats creates an overall negative image of the police in the minds of the populace and visitors. The high number of arrests and the low rate of criminal convictions also contributes to the state of low police morale. However, in 2015 Sonora began a major change to its criminal justice system. Mexican courts are in the process of switching from the written correspondence-based system to the much faster U.S.-style Oral Adversarial System (courtroom hearings). Sonora was the last state in Mexico to transition to this system. This transition should streamline the judicial and criminal justice system. 

Mexican law enforcement agencies in Sonora have been responsive to the U.S. Consulate’s and commercial ventures’ requests for assistance when needed.

  • In May 2014, the Consulate received credible information concerning threats made by the local cartel plaza leader to Americans traveling in Nogales or surrounding areas.
  • Also in May 2014, the Consulate received credible information concerning threats against its employees made by the local cartel and a few municipal police officers.

The Consulate worked with local authorities to investigate and prevent actions. Neither 2015 nor 2016 saw any threats directed at consulate personnel or the U.S. government.

American citizens are advised to cooperate with police officials if detained and/or questioned.

How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment

Visitors to may contact the Consular Section at U.S Consulate General Nogales if they encounter problems with police matters (see phone numbers below). Reports of police corruption in the form of grafting or shakedowns of tourist for an illegal fee is very. In 2015, there were no reports of police soliciting bribes from U.S. visitors. If you experience this form of corruption, please contact the U.S. Consulate General’s office of American Citizen Services.

Crime Victim Assistance

If involved in a crime, a visit to the local police facility with the investigating officer may be required to file a complaint or to be further questioned. There is usually a nominal fee required for an official police report regarding an insurance claim. Do not be surprised if you are told to return at another day or time to receive a copy of an official police report.

To contact police in the Nogales Consular District, dial 911. In Nogales, this call is received by a 24-hour emergency dispatcher. There is supposed to be at least one English speaker on duty at the emergency dispatcher station (called C-4).

Police/Security Agencies

Federal Police: primary function is highway patrol and airport policing. Special investigative units exist to investigate federal crimes and counter narcotics.

Sonora State Police (Policia Estatal Investigadora - PEI): serves as the primary criminal investigative agency in the state of Sonora. They have specialized groups that work with the U.S. FBI on kidnapping and other sensitive investigations.  

Municipal Police (Policia Municipal): mainly patrols and conducts crime prevention. They are the primary responders when summoned through 911 to include traffic violations and incidents on local roads.

The Sinaloa cartel has infiltrated many levels of society. Conducting periodic background checks on employees is good practice. However, given the size and population of Nogales and the state of Sonora as a whole, it would be difficult to hire a sizable workforce that is completely insulated from DTOs. An OSAC HR best practice calls for the use of periodic employee interviews and initial/periodic background checks. 

Medical Emergencies

For any medical emergency, dial 911. Ambulance service in Nogales is reasonably reliable, although ambulance personnel are not as well trained as those in the U.S. The Cruz Roja de Mexico (Red Cross) also provides ambulance service.

Contact Information for Available Medical Services

Centro Medico de Sonora (private): 631-313-0916/26—Ana Gabriela Guevara 71 Altos, Nogales

Centro Medico del Estado de Sonora (public): 631-313-3465

Hospital General (public): 631-313-0794—Av. Alvaro Obregon and Calle I. Ramirez, Colonia Bolivar

Hospital del Socorro (private): 631-314-6061—Calle Hermosillo #425, Colonia Kennedy

Cruz Roja de Mexico (Red Cross) 631-313-5801—Calle Plutarco Elias Calles S/N, Colonia Bolivar

Available Air Ambulance Services

In serious medical situations, drive across the border to Nogales, Arizona, and go to Holy Cross Hospital: 1171 W. Target Range Road, Nogales, AZ 85621

Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance

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

OSAC Country Council Information

The Nogales Country Council currently meets quarterly during the year and has approximately 78 members. Please contact OSAC’s Western Hemisphere team with any questions or to join.  

U.S. Consulate Location and Contact Information

Consulate Address and Hours of Operation

U.S. Consulate Nogales
Calle San Jose s/n
Fraccionamiento Los Alamos
Nogales, Sonora, Mexico

U.S. Consulate, Nogales business hours are from 8am to 5pm, Monday thru Friday.

Consulate Contact Numbers

631-311-8150 (in Mexico)

011-52-631-311-8150 (from the U.S.)

 

Duty Officer

From Mexico, dial (631) 318-0723

From U.S., dial +52 (631) 318-0723

 

American Citizens Services (ACS)

nogalesacs@state.gov

Emergencies during normal business hours:

From Mexico, dial (631) 311-8150

From U.S., dial +52 (631) 311-8150

After-hours emergencies:

From Mexico, dial 001 619-841-3203

From U.S., dial (619) 841-3203

Website: https://mx.usembassy.gov/embassy-consulates/nogales/

Nearby Posts

Embassy Mexico City: https://mx.usembassy.gov/

Consulate Ciudad Juarez: https://mx.usembassy.gov/embassy-consulates/ciudad-juarez/

Consulate Guadalajara: https://mx.usembassy.gov/embassy-consulates/guadalajara/

Consulate Hermosillo: https://mx.usembassy.gov/embassy-consulates/hermosillo/

Consulate Matamoros: https://mx.usembassy.gov/embassy-consulates/matamoros/

Consulate Mérida: https://mx.usembassy.gov/embassy-consulates/merida/

Consulate Monterrey: https://mx.usembassy.gov/embassy-consulates/monterrey/

Consulate Nuevo Laredo: https://mx.usembassy.gov/embassy-consulates/nuevo-laredo/

Consulate Tijuana: https://mx.usembassy.gov/embassy-consulates/tijuana/

Additional Resources

Mexico Country Information Sheet
Mexico Travel Warning