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Trinidad and Tobago 2014 Crime and Safety Report

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

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

Crime Threats 

The U.S. Department of State considers crime in Trinidad and Tobago to be rated at a Critical level. Crime is the principal threat to visitors. 

While overall criminal activity decreased in 2013, according to the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service (TTPS) crime statistics, the murder rate increased. Violent crime is a concern for local security services and the general population. There were 405 murders in 2013, 379 murders in 2012, 354 murders in 2011, 480 murders in 2010, 508 murders in 2009, and 550 (record high) murders in 2008 in a population of approximately 1.3 million people. The murder rate for Trinidad and Tobago is 31 per 100,000 inhabitants. 

In late 2011, the government implemented a State of Emergency to deal with what they deemed specific and emerging threats. Along with the State of Emergency, a curfew in particular areas of the country was imposed. During the State of Emergency, the murder rate was greatly reduced, contributing to the low number of murders for 2011. 

The majority of violent criminal activity (i.e., homicides, kidnappings, assaults, sexual assaults, etc.) in Trinidad is gang/drug related or domestic in nature. A significant and growing portion of this violence is attributed to the influence of gangs, illegal narcotics, and firearms. Over 100 criminal gangs have been identified in Trinidad and Tobago, and these gangs, as well as other organizations, have been linked to crimes related to weapons smuggling, fraud, and other organized criminal activities. 

Despite the decrease in overall criminal activity, crimes related to economic gain, sexual assault, and domestic violence continue to plague the country. Per TTPS, there were 551 sexual offences in 2013. 

Most crimes are crimes of opportunity. American citizens have been victims of pickpocketing, assault, theft/robbery, fraud, and murder. However, there is no evidence to indicate that foreigners, specifically expatriate communities, are targeted in particular. Crimes, to include robbery, break-ins/burglary, vehicular break-ins, home invasions, and assaults (including sexual assaults), regularly occur in areas where expatriates live and congregate.

Many crimes go unreported. Further, there are instances in which crimes are reported but not documented. Most reported crimes occur within the metropolitan areas of Port of Spain and San Fernando. Approximately 18 percent of reported crimes result in an arrest.

As for the sister-island of Tobago, murder, home invasion, petty theft, and swindling, including theft of large sums of cash and passports from hotels rooms, affect tourists. Several violent home invasions targeted well-to-do villas sometimes rented to tourists. 

Overall Road Safety Situation

Road Safety and Road Conditions 

Traveling on the roads can be safe, though there are a relatively high number of traffic fatalities. The risk of serious vehicular traffic accidents, including accidents causing death, is moderate to high, particularly at night. Upward of 1,151 traffic fatalities were reported from 2008-2013. In 2013, there were 151 deaths, down from 189 in 2012. The government has passed legislation to allow law enforcement to utilize breathalyzers to reduce the number of drunk driving-related fatalities and make it illegal to talk on cell phones while driving. The government created Traffic Wardens to monitor traffic safety. 

The use of maxi-taxis and “gypsy taxis” are not recommended because of the poor condition of the vehicles and the unreliability of drivers. Individuals reportedly have been robbed while traveling in maxi/gypsy taxis, sometimes with the collusion of the drivers.

For self-driving, to the best extent possible, place articles in your vehicle’s trunk before arriving at your destination. 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.

Political, Economic, Religious and Ethnic Violence

Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns

The radical Muslim organization Jamaat al-Muslimeen (JAM) is locally based and was responsible for a violent, unsuccessful coup in July 1990. Since then, JAM and its leaders have focused on Islamic education and a number of business ventures, but they have been linked to serious crimes, including murder, and to alleged get-out-the-vote irregularities during national political campaigns. Meanwhile, the government is seeking restitution against JAM for damages associated with the 1990 coup attempt.

There are no known indigenous terrorist groups operating in Trinidad and Tobago. But, radical elements from criminal gangs are thought to occasionally make contact with individuals and groups with possible terrorist ties around the world, and given the crime rate and some weak aspects of border control that are permissive for drug and weapons trafficking, Trinidad and Tobago could be utilized as a transit point for potential terrorists or terrorist organizations.

Civil Unrest

Trinidad has remained mostly peaceful since the 1990 attempted coup, with periodic demonstrations by labor unions over salary negotiations, tax structures, and other issues involving public resources or government operations. Some political demonstrations do become violent, with an occasional clash with the police. In September 2013, demonstrators closed the primary route from Port of Spain to Piarco International Airport to protest police abuses. In 2001, immediately following the September 11 terrorist attacks, JAM members and others protested the U.S. policy on the war on terrorism.

Post-specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

Trinidad and Tobago has been rated in the “extremely vulnerable” category for seismic activity. The 2011 University of West Indies (UWI) Seismic Research Center Annual Report indicated that seismic activity remains elevated in the Paria Penninsula (extends eastward off Venezuela toward Trinidad). In 1955, an earthquake occurred off northern Trinidad, which UWI deemed would have been catastrophic if it had occurred in the same location under the islands’ current composition. The same report indicated that in 2011 there were 879 earthquakes in the Caribbean, four of which were 5.1 “moderate” and occurred near Trinidad and Tobago. In October 2013, there was a magnitude 6.4 earthquake off the coast of Venezuela; there were no reports of damage.

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

Industrial and Transportation Accidents

Industrial accidents are not a significant concern. One concern relative to general safety in Trinidad is the possible disruption of utility services as a result of industrial action group protests and non-violent demonstrations by labor organizations. 

Drug-related Crimes

Port of Spain experiences the effects of persons addicted to illicit drugs. Trinidad continues to be viewed as a transshipment point for illicit drugs, and drug-related crimes are a significant part of the overall crime picture.

Kidnapping Threats

There were 112 kidnappings in 2013, down from 182 in 2012. Kidnapping for ransom remains a problem in Trinidad. There were four in 2013, three in 2012, five in 2011, four in 2010, eight in 2009, and 17 in 2008. Of the four kidnapping for ransom cases reported in 2013, none was solved. 

Police Response

The government is making a sincere effort to combat crime. However, an overburdened legal system, bureaucratic resistance to change, the political landscape ahead of national elections in 2015, unemployment in marginal areas, the negative influence of gangs, and a burgeoning illegal narcotics industry create significant barriers. Response time can be sporadic due to a lack of resources, specifically vehicles and personnel. 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.

In recent years, in response to concerns of the public, the government provided the police service with new/tangible support in the form of additional police cruisers, renovations of several police stations, and recruitment of new officers. The Acting Police Commissioner is attempting to improve the police service response to crime and criminals. 

How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment

U.S. citizens detained or arrested by the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service should be offered the opportunity to contact friends or family. Take this opportunity to contact the U.S. Embassy in Port of Spain immediately at 622-6371. Harassment is not common with foreigners, but should it occur, you should report the incident to U.S. government authorities.

Where to Turn to for Assistance if you Become a Victim of Crime

Police stations are located throughout the country. Police response may be obtained by phoning “999.” 

Various Police/Security Agencies 

The government recently implemented a Rapid Response Unit (RRU) for emergencies (similar to a 911 response in the U.S.). This new response capability is being implemented slowly throughout the country with the goal of having both the RRU and the Community Comfort patrol, a unit operated by private security officers under the authority of the TTPS, in all communities. The RRU is meant to offer a more timely and effective response to emergencies. The RRU has been operational in Trinidad since December 1, 2013, and will be fully operational in Tobago by March 2014.

Medical Emergencies

In the event of a medical emergency, readily available assistance (ambulance service) can be reached in Trinidad by dialing “811”. 

Contact Information for Recommended Local Hospitals and Clinics

Seventh Day Adventists Centre: (868)622-1191
San Fernando General Hospital: (868)652-3581
St. Clair Medical Centre: (868)628-1451
Port of Spain General Hospital: (868)623-2951
Tobago Regional Hospital: (868)639-2551
Complex, Mt. Hope: (868)645-2640

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/trinidad-and-tobago.

Tips on How to Avoid Becoming a Victim

Areas of Town to be Avoided

Whever possible, the areas of Beetham Gardens, Cocorite, Laventille, and Sea Lots should be avoided. In addition, all isolated areas and public beaches should be avoided after dark.

Best Situational Awareness Practices 

Do not travel with valuable items. Carry traveler’s checks and major credit cards, not large amounts of cash. There are several banks in the metropolitan areas. Foreign bank cards can be used in ATMs. Money dispensed can either be in local currency or U.S. dollars, depending on the machine. Check the ATM before use, as some machines do not accept foreign cards and will either reject or retain the card without warning. Retrieving the bank card can be difficult.

If possible, do not travel alone after dark and do not walk in isolated areas at night. Carry your belongings in a secure manner and be alert/aware of your surroundings, especially when in crowds. Do not leave your valuables unattended on deserted beaches. 

Visitors to local hotels have reported the theft of items from their rooms. While not common during daylight hours, robberies and petty theft have also been reported. 

So-called date rape drugs are common in furtherance of thefts and other crimes. 

U.S. Embassy Location and Contact Information

Embassy Address and Hours of Operation 

Embassy of the United States of America
15 Queen's Park West
Port of Spain
TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO
Hours of operation: 7:30am – 4:30pm

Embassy Contact Numbers

U.S. Embassy Operator: (868) 622-6371
Emergency Only: (868) 622-6682
Marine Post One: (868) 822-5999

In the event of an emergency during business hours, the U.S. Embassy operator can assist American travelers with contacting the American Citizen Services (ACS) officers in the consular section. After business hours and on weekends/holidays, the Marine Security Guard can assist American travelers with contacting the Embassy’s Duty Officer for assistance with an emergency. The Marine Security Guard is available to assist in emergency situations only. All other calls should be placed during normal Embassy business hours. 

OSAC Country Council Information

U.S. Embassy Port of Spain does not have an OSAC Country Council.