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Dominican Republic 2018 Crime & Safety Report

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

 

According to the current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication, Dominican Republic has been assessed as Level 2: exercise increased caution.

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 American Citizens’ Services unit (ACS) 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 page for original OSAC reporting, consular messages, and contact information, some of which may be available only to private-sector representatives with an OSAC password.

Crime Threats

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

The most common type of crime is the drive-by robbery that is normally performed by one or two assailants (usually male) on a motorcycle, scooter, or even a bicycle. The assailant will drive up to their potential victim and grab anything that is in arm's reach. Often they will stop, one will disembark and point a handgun at the victim, demanding valuables. Although armed assaults are more frequent at night and when victims travel by foot, they can occur during the day while the victim is in a vehicle stopped at a traffic light.

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

Crime is generally not violent if the victim cooperates; however, an assailant will not hesitate to use violence if the victim resists, which can result in serious consequences. Although in 2015, homicides decreased, going from 1,990 in 2013 to 1,810 in 2014, to 1,676 in 2015, the lowest in 13 years, according to a study by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime in 2012, 27.6% of all DR homicides were committed during the commission of a robbery. By comparison, this rate in the US during that same year was 5%.

The country faces the challenge of organized crime, which involves a variety of activities, including drug trafficking and money laundering. This situation is exacerbated by the lack of law enforcement resources, poorly paid and trained police officers, and rampant corruption.

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 (25 per 100,000), Bahoruco (25 per 100,000), San Juan (23 per 100,000), Duarte (23 per 100,000), and Santo Domingo National District (22 per 100,000). The top five provinces for reported robberies were: Santo Domingo City, Santo Domingo National District, San Cristóbal, La Altagracia, and La Vega.

2016 crime statistics from the National Police show the highest incidents of sexual assault occurred in the provinces of Santo Domingo, San Cristobal, Puerto Plata, Punta Cana, Bavaro, and Montecristi. Anecdotal reports provided to the U.S. Embassy indicate perpetrators sometimes used 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 in the country.

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

Fraud schemes, particularly credit card fraud, continue to occur. ATM card skimming is rampant, though almost always takes place at ATMs not located inside banks, malls, and hotels. For more information, please review OSAC’s Report, “The Overseas Traveler’s Guide to ATM Skimmers & Fraud.”

The fraud scheme most attributed to the Dominican Republic, called the “Grandparents Scam,” is when 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 young relative. They sound credible and pressure the elderly relative to wire money for “bond” or “damages” or “legal fees.” The callback number they leave is frequently answered by someone claiming to be a U.S. Embassy representative. Due to the high number of U.S. tourists that visit, the Dominican Republic is often used as the country in which the purported incident is said to be occurring. Based on U.S. Embassy investigations, the callers are often not based in the Dominican Republic, nor does the wired money end up in the Dominican Republic, but the U.S. Embassy regularly receives calls from U.S.-based victims of the scam. Examples of other scams include where callers claim to be DEA agents or lottery officials.

Cybersecurity Issues

Sophisticated cyber crimes are not common, and the National Police’s capability to combat it is poor.

Other Areas of Concern

If traveling overland between the Dominican Republic and Haiti or traveling to the border region, it is highly recommended to consult the Country Specific Information Sheet for Haiti and the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince website for information about travel conditions in Haiti. The border areas between Haiti and the Dominican Republic are often regions where nationalistic tensions can result in violence and where black U.S. citizens can 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. Additionally, border crossings are frequently subject to sudden closures.

Avoid jogging or walking in an unfamiliar city or, if you must run outside, consider using the more secure park called “the Botanical Gardens” or the “Mirador del Sur” park main road, which the police close for bikers and runners between 6-9 am and 5-8 pm. If one walks, be aware of the traffic patterns when crossing public streets. Pedestrians have been seriously injured by failing to understand local traffic conditions.

Transportation-Safety Situation

For more information, please review OSAC’s Report, “Security in Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.”

Road Safety and Road Conditions

Avoid renting vehicles or driving unless familiar with the local traffic laws and customs. Local law requires that a 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. Only the driver will be taken into custody. The minimum detention period is 48 hours; however, detentions could 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). Visitors may want to consider hiring a driver during their stay. Licensed drivers who are familiar with local road conditions can be obtained through local car rental and travel agencies.

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 stops of vehicles in order to check documentation. Individuals found to be violating the law can be delayed, fined, or asked to pay a “fee” on the spot. For more information on self-driving, please review OSAC’s Report “Driving Overseas: Best Practices.”

Pedestrians tend to step out into traffic without regard to corners, crosswalks, or traffic signals. The lack of street lighting is notable and 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 are present.

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

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

Travel at night on intercity highways and in rural areas can be highly dangerous and is not advised due to animals on the road, poor road conditions, and vehicles being driven at either very slow or excessive speeds, often with malfunctioning headlights or taillights. Rolling blackouts within the urban and rural areas increase the danger of night travel, and street lights outside of major urban areas are uncommon.

Public Transportation Conditions

For intercity travel, consider using one of the more reputable tourist bus companies such as Caribe Tours or Metro, and for travel within the city, hotel and call-ahead or smartphone-app based taxi services are recommended. For safety reasons, it is suggested to avoid using public transportation, such as route taxis (carros públicos) and urban buses (guaguas).

Aviation/Airport Conditions

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration assesses through its International Aviation Safety Program that the Dominican Republic meets International Civil Aviation standards. The last reported aviation incident occurred on February 6, 1996, when a Virgin Air Boeing 757 crashed near Puerto Plata resulting in the death of 189 individuals. The only airline operating flights to and from the Dominican Republic that is prohibited for use by U.S. government employees is Insel Air, based in Aruba. 

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, and the tanks themselves are sometimes improperly secured to the vehicle. If a collision occurs involving a vehicle using propane gas, the result is often a massive explosion, which usually kills or severely burns the occupants of the vehicles and 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 Dominican Republic 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.  

Anti-American/Anti-Western Sentiment

Both objectively and compared to other countries in the Caribbean, the Dominican Republic has a very small presence of anti-American and/or anti-Western groups.   

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. Previous political demonstrations have sometimes 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 may arise due more to socio-economic pressures than an outright ethnic conflict or clash of religious ideologies.    

Post-specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

The Dominican Republic is located in the center of the Antillean archipelago that places the island in the pathway of severe weather, including hurricanes, tropical storms, tropical depressions, and 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 also susceptible to the influence of tidal surge. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Atlantic hurricane season runs from June 1-November 30, which on average encompasses over 97% of reported tropical activity in the Atlantic basin.

The Dominican Republic lies on several fault lines running through the Caribbean. Of particular note is the “Submarine Fault” between the easternmost part of the Dominican Republic and Guadeloupe.

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. After storms, pollution from rivers can be swept to sea and impact nearby beaches and their swimming conditions.

Four of the five international airports are located at or slightly above sea level, making them subject to closure due to flooding in moderate storm surge.

Other critical infrastructure concerns are the existence of a weak and non-redundant electrical grid, satellite communications subject to weather-related disruption, urban and inter-city road networks insufficient to carry the daily vehicle load and subject to city-crippling traffic jams.

Drug-related Crimes

Although the country is not a center of drug production, the Dominican Republic continues to be a transit zone for drugs entering the U.S. and Europe. Drugs are frequently channeled from Mexico and South America, either by aircraft or through maritime platforms. While cocaine is the most significant drug threat, hashish, heroin, and designer drugs are also 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 may last several years. During the pre-trial period, a defendant remains incarcerated in most cases. The severity of this law was intended to keep the country safe from criminal activities commonly associated with the trafficking, cultivation, and manufacture of narcotics. The Dominican Republic 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 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 have 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 to an undisclosed location and held from a few hours to a couple of days. During that time, abductors contact the family members and demand large sums of money for the release of their loved ones. For more information, please review OSAC’s Report, “Kidnapping: The Basics.”

 

Police Response

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.

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. Anyone entering the Dominican Republic, regardless of nationality, is subject to the provisions of Law 50-88. Accordingly, U.S. citizens are subject to punishment under the strict anti-drug measures. Should one be arrested, here are the expected phases of the national criminal procedures:

PHASE ONE

According to the Constitution, a person detained or arrested by the police may be held without charges for up to 48 hours. During this period, the prosecutor and the police conduct an initial investigation of the case. A detainee is typically questioned as part of the investigation by the police. A detainee is entitled to have an attorney present during any questioning and at any of the hearings or trials. If the detainee cannot afford an attorney, the government will provide a public defender upon request. The detainee also has the right to remain silent. Any person who is detained for more than 48 hours without being formally charged is entitled to request a hearing of habeas corpus, a release from prison while awaiting trial, but the defendant is required to remain in the country until the charges are finally resolved.

PHASE TWO

The District Attorney sends the case to a coordinating judge, who will assign one of the investigating judges to conduct a preliminary investigation. This judge will examine the evidence that is presented by the District Attorney, and a determination will be made whether the detainee should remain in custody. Should the judge determine that there is sufficient evidence to detain, a date for a preliminary hearing, typically three months to one year, will be set. A defendant may request bail at any time.

PHASE THREE

At a preliminary hearing, the investigating judge will hear evidence and make a decision on whether grave, sufficient, and corroborating evidence of guilt exists. If so, the detainee remains in custody and the case is assigned to a First Instance Court.

PHASE FOUR

The First Instance Court is assigned the case, and a court date is set for trial. The trial generally proceeds in the following sequence:

Judge questions the prisoner to see if the testimony conforms to the statements in the documents;

The prosecuting attorney may direct questions to the prisoner;

The defense may ask further questions, call witnesses, and present defense arguments;

The prosecuting attorney delivers a summation; and

The trial is concluded, and the defendant remains in custody pending rendering of a sentence.

PHASE FIVE

If the defendant is found guilty, the detainee has 10 days to appeal. If the case is appealed, the prisoner is incarcerated until a hearing is set before a five- or three-judge court of appeal.

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

A prompt police response to reported incidents is normally limited due to local traffic conditions and available resources. However, the Santo Domingo National District has a ‘911’ call center that has dramatically improved response times for police, ambulances, and fire fighters. In 2017, the system was expanded to include Santiago with coverage extending to Puerto Planta, Sosua, La Vega, Moca, and Cabarete. Additional expansion is planned in 2018.

The Dominican Republic has a specialized military police force, known as "CESTUR,” to assist tourists and to provide first responder-type assistance to tourists. If a visitor is a victim of a crime, the 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.

Santo Domingo District Emergency Telephone Number: 911

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

Police/Security Agencies

The Constitution was changed in 2010 to separate the powers of the National Police and the military. This constitutional change specifically identifies the military’s responsibility to maintain the country’s sovereignty, leaving the National Police to handle the country’s internal security and the protection of its citizens (to include residents, visitors, and diplomats). In 2014, certain functions, such as the tourist police (CESTUR), the border authorities (CESFRONT), and the airport security authorities (CESAC), returned to the military. 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 basic medical needs. Appointments are generally easy to obtain and can be scheduled for the same week. Payment for services are 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, “911”). Available private ambulance services include:

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

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

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

For medical assistance, please refer to the Embassy’s Medical Assistance page.

Insurance Guidance

U.S. insurance plans, with the exception of Tricare, are not accepted, nor will claims be filed for the 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 upfront, prior to treatment and/or before the patient’s hospital discharge.

Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance

With an active presence of mosquitos that transmit dengue fever, Zika virus, and chikungunya, the CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for the Dominican Republic.

OSAC Country Council Information

The Country Council in Santo Domingo is active, meeting quarterly. Interested private-sector security managers should contact OSAC’s Western Hemisphere Team with any questions.

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 Monday-Friday.

Embassy Contact Numbers

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

Marine Post One: (809) 368-7777

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

Embassy Guidance

U.S. citizens traveling to the Dominican Republic should register with the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to ensure they receive pertinent security updates and notices.

Additional Resources

Dominican Republic Country Information Sheet