Mexico 2014 Crime and Safety Report: Tijuana
Travel Health and Safety; Transportation Security; Surveillance; Stolen items; Narco-Terrorism; Riots/Civil Unrest; Earthquakes; Financial Security; Theft; Fraud; Drug Trafficking; Human Trafficking; Murder; Extortion; Kidnapping; Bribery
Western Hemisphere > Mexico; Western Hemisphere > Mexico > Tijuana
Overall Crime and Safety Situation
The State Department divides its roles and responsibilities in Mexico between 10 consular districts (one for the Embassy and each of the nine Consulates). This Crime and Safety Report focuses on Consulate General Tijuana’s district, which includes the states of Baja California Norte and Baja California Sur.
For more information regarding the security environment in other areas of Mexico, please reference the OSAC Crime and Safety Reports from the following Consular Districts: Mexico City, Nogales, Hermosillo, Ciudad Juarez, Nuevo Laredo, Matamoros, Monterrey, Guadalajara, and Merida.
Tijuana is a very large metropolitan city with an ever-present, very real crime problem. Pickpockets and purse snatchers are common and mostly occur in large crowds, on public transportation, and at tourist attractions. Credit card fraud, ATM card, and telephone card fraud is common. Tijuana is a highly strategic location for narcotic and human trafficking, and violent crime continues to be a part of everyday life.
Although U.S. citizens are frequently the victims of crime in Tijuana, there is no indication that U.S. citizens are being specifically targeted. Innocent bystanders are at risk from street violence. Criminals normally operate in pairs or small groups, and generally carry a knife or handgun in the commission of their crimes. Criminals select victims based on an appearance of vulnerability, wealth, or inattentiveness. Within the U.S. Consulate Tijuana community, Mexican employees fall victim to crime far more frequently than American employee colleagues. U.S. Consulate staff members are not immune to the effects of local violence, as crimes have occurred within close proximity to Consulate residences.
After several years of falling homicides, Tijuana experienced a 48 percent increase in homicides in 2013 as compared to 2012 (2013: 492, 2012: 332). In fact, it is the highest number of homicides in Tijuana since 2010. Crime and homicide rates remained largely unchanged in the Baja cities of Ensenada and Mexicali, but Rosarito and Tecate, two smaller cities bordering on Tijuana, both saw substantial increases in violent crime.
Organized crime occurs on virtually a daily basis by organized crime groups and drug trafficking organizations. The Transnational Criminal Organization (TCO), the Sinaloa Cartel, is firmly in control of Baja California from an organized crime perspective. Baja California and Baja California Sur (“Baja”) contain approximately three percent of the population of Mexico, while an estimated nine percent of U.S. citizens living in Mexico live in Baja, according to the most accurate data available. Nonetheless, 32 percent of all U.S. citizen homicides in Mexico occurred in Baja California in 2013. Some 85 percent of the homicides in Baja are likely related to organized crime groups. Unlike 2007-2010 when there was a “narco war” between the incumbent TCO, the Arellano Felix Organization (aka AFO, Tijuana Cartel) and the Sinaloa Cartel, the crime now is between smaller cells within the Sinaloa Cartel as well as independent groups and local gangs. The homicides have been low profile in nature, as high publicity killings would not seem to be advantageous for the Sinaloa Cartel to maximize profits. Nonetheless, high-profile narcotics-related “hits” have occurred in public restaurants.
It is increasingly common for extortionists to call prospective victims on the telephone, often posing as law enforcement or other officials, and demand payments for the release of an arrested family member or to forestall a kidnapping. Prison inmates using smuggled cellular phones often place these calls.
Overall Road Safety Situation Road Safety
Road Safety and Road Conditions
Criminal assaults occur on highways. Travelers should exercise caution, avoid traveling at night, and use more secure toll (“cuota”) roads as opposed to “free” (“libre”) roads whenever possible. Keep your car doors locked and windows up while driving in town. When in heavy traffic or when stopped in traffic, leave enough room between vehicles to maneuver and escape, if necessary. In addition, U.S. citizens should not hitchhike with, accept rides from, or offer rides to, strangers.
Prior to road travel, ensure that your vehicle is in good operating condition, paying particular attention to the engine, tires, brakes, head and tail lights, spare tire and jack, horn, and fluid levels. Particularly on long trips to remote areas, travel in tandem, and advise someone of your travel plans, including anticipated arrival and departure times and contact numbers.
Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence
Northern Mexico is not historically anti-American but rather is well-integrated with the U.S. by family and commercial ties. American interests are generally not targets of political violence.
Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns
The Sinaloa Cartel is the TCO in control of Baja California. There have been members of almost every other TCO arrested in Tijuana. There are many others who try to set up independent trade routes, and there is also an increasing problem with criminal deportees from the U.S. who, due to a lack of options, resort to working with local criminal organizations. There also many intra-criminal organization skirmishes.
Terrorism is a worldwide concern. While there do not appear to be any Middle Eastern terrorist groups active in Baja, lax immigration controls, the ease in which fake Mexican travel documents can be obtained, and Mexico's geographic location make it an attractive transit point for potential transnational terrorists.
Small, peaceful demonstrations in protest of various U.S. policies occur rarely at the U.S. Consulate General. Other public protests and demonstrations occur within the city for various economic and political reasons, but they are typically peaceful.
There were no major earthquakes in Baja California in 2013, but on April 4, 2010, a 7.2 earthquake struck, with an epicenter 37 miles southeast of Mexicali, which suffered significant damage. The earthquake resulted in two deaths, serious infrastructural damage, and a suspension of public services. Although some buildings experienced structural damage, no casualties were reported in Tijuana (110 miles from epicenter). Due to Tijuana’s proximity to the San Andreas fault line, the possibility of another large earthquake remains high.
Regional Travel Concerns and Restricted Travel Areas/Zones
Travel for U.S. government employees is closely scrutinized due to the ebb and flow of violence associated with TCO. For a state-by-state assessment of the security conditions please see the latest U.S. Department of State Travel Warning for Mexico at: http://travel.state.gov/content/passports/english/alertswarnings/mexico-travel-warning.html
Mexico is well-known for its illegal drug trade and the violence and corruption the industry fosters. Mexico is the primary route or conduit for the transport of illegal drugs into the United States. The trafficking of narcotics is a very lucrative business, especially at a key point of entry into the U.S. like Tijuana. Drug-related violence in Tijuana is, for the most part, also confined to those involved in the drug trade.
Kidnapping for ransom is an established criminal activity in Mexico. Unofficial estimates vary wildly, from 600 to 5,000 per year countrywide. In most cases, the ransom is paid, and the victim is set free. Victims usually do not notify police authorities, as the popular belief is that the police may be involved in the crime or are unable to resolve the situation. Affluent residents in Tijuana often have bodyguards and armored vehicles for their families to protect them against kidnapping.
So-called "express kidnappings," attempts to get quick cash in exchange for the release of an individual, occur in almost all large Mexican cities and appear to target the middle class and the wealthy, to include U.S. citizens. Express kidnappings are a common type of abduction and are based on the 24-hour withdrawal limit placed on ATM cards industry-wide. The victim is generally held for less than 24 hours and is forced to withdraw funds from a series of ATMs.
"Express kidnapping" is also applied to the kidnapping of random 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. U.S. and Mexican citizens are sometimes accosted on the street and forced to withdraw money from their accounts using their ATM cards.
Another kidnapping tactic is the telephonic (or virtual) kidnapping threat. Although the calls vary, the methodology is the same: the call includes a crying/pleading voice immediately after the call is answered and before the "kidnapper" gets on the phone. In this manner, they hope to confuse the victim to give away important information; for example, if the crying voice sounds like a child in any way, and you call out that child’s name, the caller then knows the name of the child that could potentially be a kidnap victim, and will use this knowledge against you. The voice of the "victim" will usually be crying and/or hysterical. This makes it difficult to identify and increase the likelihood that you will believe it is your loved one. Criminals will try to use fear, tact, and timing against possible victims. For example, they plan their calls to coincide with times when it will be difficult to contact the child or another adult immediately (e.g. when child is either on their way to or from school). All calls demand money for the release of the loved one and stipulate no police involvement. Often times, the callers will give statements to suggest surveillance such as: "we saw you at the school with your camioneta (SUV)." One of the most important things for one to be aware of are the details of your family’s travel and location (where are they supposed to be, who are they supposed to be with, etc.). In addition, it is equally important that one ensures good communication (land-line and cell phone numbers) with family members.
The ability of the police forces vary, but there have been many strides by Tijuana police in recent years. Police response and confidence is improving in Tijuana, although police corruption still exists. The Tijuana Municipal Police have expressed a desire to gain the trust of the populace and are pursuing outreach activities.
The general perception was that the majority of crime victims do not report crimes against them due to fear of reprisals by the police, the belief that police are corrupt, or the feeling that nothing would come from such reports. This is slowly changing. Reporting crime is an archaic, exhausting process and is widely believed to be a waste of time except for the most serious of crimes or where a police report is required for insurance purposes. Many records of crimes are not even kept by the police. The Rosarito Police Department is especially known to do this, as police departments have a desire to keep their crime statistics down for political or other self-serving reasons.
You can minimize your vulnerability by obeying Mexican law. U.S. citizens are advised to cooperate with the police if stopped or questioned.
How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment
The U.S. Consulate General in Tijuana receives some reports of extortion by police officers in Baja. Sometimes the perpetrators are actual police officers, and sometimes they are criminals using fake police uniforms and credentials.
If you are stopped by a police officer, be aware that they cannot legally accept cash payments for fines and that offering a bribe to an officer is a serious crime. In addition, tourists should be wary of persons representing themselves as police officers or other officials. When in doubt, ask for identification.
If you are the victim of police extortion, please contact the U.S. Consulate. To file a complaint, it is helpful but not absolutely necessary to have the officer’s name, badge number, and patrol car number. If you were not able to obtain those, it may be possible to identify the officer based on physical appearance and the time and place that the event occurred. If you file a complaint, Consulate staff will assist you in every step of the process.
For additional information, travelers should refer to the Department of State’s Country Specific Information for Mexico, the Travel Warning for Mexico, and the publication “Help for American Victims of Crime Overseas.”
Where To Turn For Assistance If You Become A Victim Of Crime
Travelers may contact the Consular Section at the U.S. Consulate General Tijuana for assistance in dealing with the local police. If involved in a traffic accident or victimized by crime, one may be required to accompany the investigating officer to the local police station to file a complaint or respond to questions. Should a police report be required for an insurance claim, a nominal fee will be charged.
The Mexican police emergency telephone number is 066, whether they arrive in a timely fashion or at all is questionable.
An international hotline was set up by the Baja California Secretary of Public Safety so that anyone wishing to report criminal activity in Mexico can do so anonymously from anywhere in the U.S. and Puerto Rico. Interested parties can call 1-866-201-5060 at any time 24/7/365 to report any crime-related information to bilingual operators who will forward the report to the proper authorities for action. A similar tip line “089” has been available since 2005 for the public within Mexico to make an anonymous tip and enjoys a sizable call volume.
Useful information on medical emergencies abroad, including overseas insurance programs, is provided in the Department of States Bureau of Consular Affairs brochure, "Medical Information for Americans Traveling Abroad," available via the Bureau of Consular Affairs home page at http://www.travel.state.gov.
Contact Information for Recommended Local Hospitals and Clinics
Del Prado Hospital/Centro Medico
Hospital Direct: 681-4900/681-4906
Address: Hospital y Centro Médico del Prado
50 Calle Bugambilias, Tijuana, Baja California 22440, 22160, Mexico
DIRECTOR - AUBANEL, MA. EUGENIA, Work: 681-4900
Hospital Direct: 635-1900/635-1800
Address: 10999 Paseo de los Heroes, Tijuana, B.C. Mexico
DIRECTOR - EBERRI, PAULO, Work: 635-1800
Excel Hospital/Centro Medico
Address: Centro Medico Excel
Avenida Paseo de los Heroes # 2507 Zona Rio, Tijuana, B.C. 22329
These three local hospitals also have outpatient clinics:
1) Hospital Angeles
Avenida Paseo de los Heroes 10999
Zona Rio, Tijuana
2) Centro Medico Excel
Avenida Paseo de los Heroes 2507
Zona Rio, Tijuana
3) Centro Medico Hospital Del Prado
Fracc. Del Prado, Tijuana
Recommended Air Ambulance Services
San Diego, California
Toll Free from USA: 1-800-462-0911
Call Collect: 619/284-7910
Schaeffer Air Service
Van Nuys, California
Ensenada, BC, Mexico
GROUND AMBULANCE SERVICES / EMERGENCY MEDICAL RESPONSE
Red Cross (Cruz Roja) Ambulance-608-6700
CDC Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance
For vaccine and health guidance, please visit the CDC at: http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/traveler/none/mexico.
Tips on How to Avoid Becoming a Victim
Areas to be Avoided
Organized crime elements are present in local bars, nightclubs, and the casinos in Tijuana. Due to the presence of criminal activity, people should use extreme caution after dark in the old Zona Centro near “Avenida Revolución, Zona Centro.” For about eight blocks, Avenida Revolucion is lined with shops, bars, and restaurants, many aimed at day-trip tourists. Visitors should be careful (or aware) in walking too far north on Constitucion Avenue, one block west of Revolucion, and going below Juarez (Segunda), as it will abruptly lead you into the “red light” district.
In addition, visitors should exercise extreme caution when visiting Playas de Tijuana after dark, as there is an increased criminal element. The road leading from Tijuana’s city center to Playas de Tijuana is often used as a dumping ground for dead bodies. Visitors are strongly encouraged to avoid the roads to the coastal towns - Playas de Tijuana, Rosarito, Ensenada - after dark.
Tourists should not hike alone in backcountry areas, nor walk alone on lightly-frequented beaches, archaeological ruins, or trails.
Best Situational Awareness Practices
Personnel are encouraged to be aware of their surroundings and remove themselves from locations that present security concerns. Do not travel in unfamiliar areas of the city, particularly after dark. Crime is a 24-hour concern, but darkness and late night travel increases your chances of being a victim of crime. Having a travel companion is encouraged. When walking, always travel in well-lit areas with at least one other person. Visitors should be aware of their surroundings at all times, even in areas generally considered safe. Women traveling alone are especially vulnerable and should exercise caution, particularly at night. Victims, often those who are unaccompanied, have been raped, robbed of personal property, or abducted and then held while their credit cards were used at various businesses and ATMs.
Maintain a low profile. Dress casually, keep valuables out of sight, and do not draw attention to yourself with your actions. Avoid wearing jewelry and carry a clutch purse or a neck purse instead of a shoulder bag. Carry a wallet in the front trouser pocket or front jacket pocket. Minimize valuables and do not carry large sums of money while in crowded, urban areas. Be aware of popular scams and robbery tactics used to distract your attention. Avoid con games by being aware of street side requests for donations to charity. Never leave shopping bags or merchandise unattended. Avoid sitting outside at restaurants. Instead, try to find a seat in an area not clearly visible from the street.
Vary your routine. Be unpredictable in your movements; vary your routes and departure/arrival times. Be alert to possible surveillance. Note any individual who appears out of place along your routes. Be alert to your surroundings.
U.S. citizens are urged to be especially aware of safety and security concerns when visiting the border region and to exercise common sense precautions, such as visiting only legitimate business and tourist areas and only during daylight hours.
Persons receiving extortion calls should be wary, as many such demands or threats are baseless, and should attempt to contact the alleged victim/family member as soon as possible. If you cannot reach the missing individual and believe s/he may have run afoul of criminals or of the law, contact the Consulate, the U.S. Embassy, or the Department of State for assistance.
U.S. citizens should be very cautious in general when using ATMs. If an ATM must be used, it should be accessed only during the business hours at large protected facilities (preferably inside commercial establishments, rather than at glass-enclosed, highly visible ATMs on streets). If possible, pay with cash and only use your credit card with reputable merchants. Never let someone take your credit card a hard copy, retrieve the carbons. Keep low-limit credit cards to restrict the amount of money that thieves can steal. Although not exactly a prevention tactic, it will help if you fall victim. Sign all credit cards. You can also write "Check ID" so that the clerk, if they read the back, will ask for ID for verification during a transaction. Cancel all credit cards that you do not use and to monitor the ones that you do use. Be aware of your surroundings. When at an ATM, cover the key pad when entering your PIN. Prior to inserting your ATM card, check the reader to make sure that it is not altered. Do not leave receipts at ATMs, teller windows, gasoline pumps, or with a clerk. Commit the PIN to memory. Be very careful any time you use a telephone card. If possible, make telephone card phone calls from your hotel room. Keep an eye out for anyone who may be observing your card or your fingers as you dial your code. Avoid giving the number to local operators. Be cautious if asked for an “Expediter” fee, cons include persons who offer their services to facilitate your business and personal dealings for a fee.
U.S. Consulate General Location and Contact Information
Consulate Address and Hours of Operation
Paseo de las Culturas s/n Mesa de Otay Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico 22425
Contacting the US Consulate General Tijuana
U.S. Consulate Tijuana - Hours: 0730 - 1615 M-F
Consulate Contact Numbers
Mexico country code: 52
Tijuana area code: 664
Telephone: Consulate switchboard - 664-977-2000 (from the U.S., dial 011-52-664-977-2000)
After hours emergency Duty Officer cellular phone - 619-692-2154 (US), 664-628-1762 (Mex)
Regional Security Office - Contact through the Consulate Switchboard: ext. 2102, or 2271.
OSAC Country Council Information
There is an active OSAC Country Council in Tijuana. For more information on how to participate, please contact RSO Tijuana at 52-664-977-2102 or the Tijuana OSAC Country Council private-sector co-Chair, Guillermo Gonzalez, at guigonzalez@IENova.com.mx.