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Dominican Republic 2014 Crime and Safety Report

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

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

Crime Threats 

While the State Department rates the crime threat for the Dominican Republic as High, the 2013 statistics from the National Police at the national level, in comparison to 2012 figures, showed a 13 percent decrease in the number of reported homicides; a 10 percent decrease in the number of injuries that resulted from acts of violence with weapons; a 16 percent increase in armed robberies; and an increase by 70 percent in the number of fraud related schemes. Some of the primary contributing factors were unemployment, domestic violence, abuse of drugs/alcohol, drug trafficking, and the availability of weapons.

Armed assaults are becoming more frequent during hours of darkness and when victims travel alone. Crime is generally not violent if the victim cooperates; however, an assailant will not hesitate to use violence if it appears that the victim will resist.

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 attractive areas for thieves.

Fraud schemes continue to occur, with credit card fraud being the main dilemma. In addition, during the holiday season (November-January) and especially during Carnival, the overall level of crime tends to rise, especially in the area of thefts and robberies. Teams of organized criminals either install equipment that captures personal bank information from legitimate bank ATMs or they have someone on the inside that has access to card and personal identification (PIN) numbers.

Preliminary 2013 crime statistics at a local level (per 100,000 inhabitants):
The five most violent cities were: La Altagracia (26.1), Montecristi (25.5) Santo Domingo National District (24.9), Duarte (24.3) and Santo Domingo Province (23.4)
Top five cities for robberies were: Santo Domingo Province, National District, Santiago, San Cristobal, and La Romana.
Top five national district neighborhoods were: Arroyo Hondo, Naco, Gazcue, Cristo Rey and Villa Agricola.
Top five cities for reported assaults were: Santo Domingo Province, National District, Santiago, San Cristobal and La Romana.
Top five cities for reported kidnappings were: National District, Santo Domingo Province, San Juan, Azua, and Santiago.

The country faces the challenge of organized crime, which involves a variety of activities, including drug trafficking and corruption. This situation is exacerbated by the lack of law enforcement resources in Haiti. Drugs are frequently channeled from Mexico and South America, either by aircraft or through maritime platforms into the Dominican Republic. Local drug use continues to increase as drug couriers are paid with narcotics rather than cash. Firearms are often used as collateral and exchanged for drugs as well. Finally, laundering the proceeds of drug sales undermines legitimate economic activity.

Overall Road Safety Situation

Road Safety and Road Conditions 

According to a World Bank study, the country's road network is approximately 19,000 kilometers, of which 5,000 kilometers are highways, and the rest are rural roads that require rehabilitation; 81 percent of the paved highways (3,831 kilometers) are in good or fair condition, and about 70 percent of the unpaved highways (1,222 kilometers) are in poor condition and in need of rehabilitation or reconstruction.

For those planning to drive, be aware that 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 have resulted in hostile driving conditions. 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. During the evening hours, police conduct random stops of vehicles. Pedestrians do not have the right of way, so walking along or crossing busy streets can be very dangerous, even at intersections with traffic lights or traffic police present. Pedestrians tend to step out into traffic without regard to corners, crosswalks, or traffic signals and are often dressed in dark clothing. This is exacerbated by a lack of street lighting.

Traffic accidents and driving under the influence often result in serious injury or death. This is especially the case during the holiday season and when commercial vehicles are involved. Typically, vehicles that are involved in accidents are not moved until authorized by a police officer. Drivers who violate this rule may be held liable for the accident. Local law requires that a driver be taken into custody when an accident results in serious injury or death, even if the driver is insured and appears not to have been at fault. The minimum detention period 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). In addition to traffic accidents, law requires that a driver be taken into custody for driving under the influence, and the minimum detention period is 48 hours. Individuals under the influence can face severe penalties.

As gasoline prices remain at a premium, most people convert their vehicles to propane gas, which is a cheaper fuel. The nozzles of the propane tanks are easily ruptured if the vehicle is involved in an accident; this can lead to a massive explosion. These explosions usually end up killing or severely burning the occupants of the vehicles, along with any innocent bystanders.

Visitors may want to consider hiring a professional driver during their stay in lieu of driving themselves. Licensed drivers who are familiar with local road conditions can be obtained through local car rental agencies. In case of accidents, only the driver will be taken into custody.

For intercity travel, consider using one of the more reputable tourist bus companies, and for travel within the city, hotel taxis are recommended. For safety reasons, it is suggested to avoid using public transportation, such as route taxis ("carros publicos") and urban buses ("guaguas").

Travel at night on intercity highways and in rural areas should be avoided due to animals on the road, poor road conditions, and vehicles being driven at excessive speeds often with malfunctioning headlights or taillights. Rolling blackouts within the urban and rural areas increase the danger of night travel.

The most common, yet easily avoidable, 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 in front of or behind their potential victim and grab anything that is in arm's reach: purses, cellular phones, necklaces, etc. To avoid becoming a victim of this type of crime, avoid outwardly displaying any of these items on your person while walking. Always remain aware of the surroundings and be alert for motorcycles and scooters approaching from any direction. If someone is approaching, simply move out of the way. If the assailant cannot get close enough, he will not stop, although he may circle around and try again later.
Based on information provided by the National Police concerning drivie-by robberies, the following are statistics for Metropolitan Santo Domingo:
65 percent of the reported incidents occurred while the person was walking on a public street;
70 percent of the items that were stolen were bags and/or purses;
40 percent of the assailants used black in color Yamaha RX 115 motorcycles;
45 percent of the assailants were armed with pistols;
35 percent of the incidents occurred on Friday, a pay day for many, followed by the weekend; and
Majority of the incidents occur between 2000 and 2300 hours; 85 percent of the motorcycles had two riders.

Political, Economic, Religious and Ethnic Violence

Since 1996, the Dominican Republic has seen a consolidation of political freedoms within its representational democracy with a series of generally free and fair elections. The country still faces a serious problem with corruption, as measured by international indices. 

Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns

The Dominican Republic is considered a low threat for terrorism. 

Civil Unrest

Politically-motivated protests, demonstrations, and general strikes occur periodically. Political demonstrations have turned violent, with participants rioting and erecting roadblocks, and police sometimes using deadly force in response. Civil unrest has become a common occurrence in the past several years due to the lack of adequate electricity, water resources, and the public opinion from certain groups that the government is not actively pursuing a sufficient maintenance and improvement program for roadways, bridges, and other infrastructure. In addition to public protests within the National District, demonstrations and strikes have occurred outside of Santo Domingo without advance notice and have turned violent.

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 a hydro-meteorological phenomenon, including hurricanes, tropical storms, tropical depressions, and other natural disasters (including earthquakes, floods, and droughts). By far the largest reoccurring natural disaster threat is hurricanes, its subsequent exposure to landslides, and the resultant flooding in low lying and coastal areas that are also susceptible to the influence of tidal waves. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Atlantic hurricane season runs from June 1 to November 30, a six-month period that encompasses over 97 percent of reported tropical activity in the Atlantic basin. Visitors to the island need to be aware that many buildings may not be in compliance with U.S. wind and seismic codes.

Santo Domingo is located just 160 miles from the epicenter of the January 2010 earthquake, and the Dominican Republic lies on several fault lines running through the Caribbean. Of particular concern to several organizations specializing in seismic studies is the “Submarine Fault,” located between the easternmost part of the Dominican Republic and the island of Guadeloupe. These organizations predict that earthquakes of magnitude 8.5 to 9.0 could occur, rupturing the entire 1,000-kilometre length of this fault.

Industrial and Transportation Accidents

The potential for industrial accidents by large infrastructures and industrial facilities containing hazardous materials, especially after a natural disaster, does exist. Bajos de Haina is severely contaminated with lead from a now out-of-business vehicle battery recycling smelter and is on the list of the world's ten worst polluted places.

As of December 18, 2008, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration assessed 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.

Privacy Concerns

Hotel rooms and telephones are not bugged; however, your business should be conducted with discretion to avoid the loss of proprietary information.

Regional Travel Concerns and Restricted Travel Areas/Zones

If traveling overland between the Dominican Republic and Haiti, it is highly recommended to consult the OSAC Crime and Safety Report for Haiti and the Country Specific Information Sheet for Haiti. This route is now especially dangerous due to the January 2010 earthquake in Port-au-Prince.

Drug-related Crimes

Local news agencies have described the Dominican Republic as a springboard for drug trafficking operations, delivering contraband to the U.S. and Europe. Such trafficking often involves frequent and violent clashes among rival drug traffickers, and in 2013, drug trafficking was identified as one of the contributing factor to the increase in reported violence.

Kidnapping Threats

There has been an increase of 32 percent in the number of reported kidnappings for ransom, and American citizens of Dominican descent have been targeted. In response, the police are responding to reported incidents and working to solve them. Kidnappings victims have included business persons, family members, and common citizens. Victims reported that they were approached by men in police uniforms or similar clothing and were told that their identity needed to be verified. Victims were then taken to an undisclosed location and held from a few hours to a couple of days. During that time, abductors would contact family members and demand huge sums of money for the release of their loved ones. Most families paid the amount, and the victims were released unharmed. Most families did not involve or contact the police, as they feared it would make things worse. 

Police Response

The constitution was changed on January 26, 2010, to separate the powers of the National Police and the military. Since 2010, in its effort to become a reliable and professional law enforcement entity, the National Police embarked on a set of reforms to ensure these changes come to fruition. The Chief of Police is striving to reach a level of professionalism, whereby the public’s perception is a positive one rather than being viewed as corrupt and inept. Corruption and official misconduct remains a serious concern and is being diligently investigated by the Internal Affairs Directorate for the National Police. As per the mandate of law 94-02, Internal Affairs is working to prevent, investigate, monitor, control, and recommend corrective actions for any improper conduct. This is aligned with the government’s commitment to one of transparency and the elimination of internal corruption.

Visitors are subject to local laws. Prostitution is legal, but illegal child prostitution also exists, including both boys and girls who work mainly in the tourist areas. According to the law, the age of consent is 18. The code for minors has been revised to strengthen provisions against child abuse. Offenses of child abuse carry a sentence of between 20-30 years and fines of U.S.$2,000 - $10,000.

How To Handle Incidents Of Police Detention Or Harassment

The judicial process can last up to seven years and may result in lengthy pre-trial detainment in a local jail. If arrested or harassed, contact the U.S. Consulate's American Citizens Services Section at (809) 221-2171.

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

A prompt police response to reported incidents is normally limited due to local traffic conditions and available resources. If a visitor is a victim of a crime, the Politur 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 (ACS) as soon as possible.

National Emergency Telephone Number 911
US Embassy, American Citizen Services (809) 221-2171
Fire Department (809) 682-2000 & 2001
Red Cross (809) 682-4545
Tourist Police (Cestur) (809) 222-2026

National Police
- General Number (809) 221-3004
- Information and Public Relations (809) 685-1835, ext 2016
- Robbery Division (809) 682-0039, ext 2135
- Homicide Division (809) 685-6010, ext 2225
- Fraud Division (809) 686-7652, ext 2118

Various Police/Security Agencies 

The constitutional change specifically identifies the military’s responsibility to maintain the country’s sovereignty, leaving the National Police, with a force of 32,109 officers to handle the country’s internal security and the protection of its citizens (to include residents, visitors, and diplomats).

The Dominican Republic has a specialized police force, known as "Politur," a cooperative effort between the National Police, Secretary of the Armed Forces, and the Secretary of Tourism that provides first responder type assistance to tourists.

The quality of local guard companies varies widely. The Embassy advises American businesses and private individuals to evaluate their options carefully before selecting a company.

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 15-45 minutes. U.S. insurance plans are not accepted nor will claims be filed for the traveler. 

Contact Information for Recommended Local Hospitals and Clinics

Ambulances
Movimed - (809) 532-0000 Santo Domingo
Pro Med - (809) 948-7200 Santo Domingo

Hospitals
Clinica Abreu (809) 688-4411 Santo Domingo
Clinica Abel Gonzalez (809) 227-2235 Santo Domingo
CEDIMAT (809) 565-9989 Santo Domingo
Plaza de la Salud (809) 565-7477 Santo Domingo
Clinica Corominas (809) 508-1171 Santiago
Centro Medico Bournigal (809) 586-2342.. Puerto Plata
Centro Medico Central Romana (809) 532-3333.. La Romana
Hospiten Bavaro (809) 686-1414.. Bavaro/Punta Cana

CDC Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance 

For vaccine and health guidance, please visit the CDC at: http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/dominican-republic.htm

Tips on How To Avoid Becoming A Victim

Areas To Avoid

During the hours of darkness, avoid walking in public parks or areas that are isolated, such as Parque Mirador del Sur, and areas that surround Santo Domingo's National District, such as Santo Domingo Oeste, Este, and Norte. Also be cautious in certain areas within the National District, including east of Avenue Maximo Gomez, Simon Bolivar, Luperon, Espaillat, and Capotillo; south of Parque Mirador del Sur; and west of Avenue Luperon, Avenue George Washington, Paseo Presidente Billini, and Avenue del Puerto.

Best Situational Awareness Practices 

Individuals are encouraged to use their credit and ATM cards judiciously while in the Dominican Republic. Always be aware of passersby when using an ATM and guard the key pad when entering the PIN. Do not use an ATM that is suspected to bear a skimming device. Only carry cards that are absolutely needed, such as a credit card, in lieu of a debit card. Avoid using ATMs to withdraw cash. To reduce the risk of possible ATM fraud, use only ATMs that are located in major hotels or co-located with banks. Finally, it is recommended that travelers save receipts of purchases. If making credit/debit card transactions, check your accounts periodically to clarify there are no erroneous charges on your account. Fraudulent charges may not appear until well after the return home. The RSO office strongly urges that travelers contact their financial institution before scheduled departure to the Dominican Republic to provide them with dates and locations of the visit and limit the amount of money that can be withdrawn. In cases of fraud, immediately contact the financial institution and file a report with American Citizen Services Section at the U.S. Consulate. 

Keep hotel room keys with you at all times, if possible. At night, secure passports and other valuables. Do not divulge the name of your hotel or room number to strangers. Sign for food and beverages on your room bill rather than carry cash.

Invest in a good city map. Note significant points on the map (hotels, embassies, and police stations). Make a mental note of alternative routes to the hotel or local office should the map become lost or stolen.

Be aware of the surroundings. Look up and down the street before exiting a building.

Learn how to place a local telephone call and how to use coin telephones. Make sure to always have extra tokens or coins for telephone use.

Avoid jogging or walking in unfamiliar cities. If one must jog, be aware of the traffic patterns when crossing public streets. Joggers have been seriously injured by failing to understand local traffic conditions.

Speak with the bellman, concierge, and front desk regarding safe areas around the city to jog, dine, or sight see. Ask about local customs and which taxi companies to use or avoid.

Avoid renting vehicles or driving unless familiar with the local traffic laws and customs.

Valuables should normally be left at home. However, if one must carry valuables, the best way to protect them is to secure them in your local offices or the hotel room safe. Keep a copy of your passport at all times and keep the original in the hotel safe. Only relinquish it if you are required to identify yourself to local authorities for any reason. Vary the time and route of hotel departures and arrivals. Be alert for persons watching your movements. Be cautious when entering public bathrooms. The Regional Security Officer (RSO) office strongly urges all Americans to cooperate if confronted with any type of weapon.

Keep items in view or "in touch." Be alert to scams involving an unknown person spilling a drink or food on clothing. An accomplice may be preparing to steal wallets, purses, or briefcases. Leave valuables in the hotel, but carry a token sum to placate violent thieves. 

Avoid 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.

U.S. Embassy Location and Contact Information

Embassy Address and Hours of Operation 

The U.S. Embassy is located at the corner of Cesar Nicolas Penson St. & Leopoldo Navarro, Gazcue, Santo Domingo, DR. Hours of operation are 0800 – 1645 (8:00am until 4:45pm) Monday-Friday.

The Consular Section is located at the corner of Cesar Nicolas Penson St. & Maximo Gomez Ave., Gazcue, Santo Domingo, DR. Hours of operation 0700-1630 (7:00am until 4:30pm) Monday-Thursday, 0700-1100 (7:00am until 11:00pm) on Fridays.

Embassy Contact Numbers

embassy main telephone number: (809) 221-2171 (24 hours/day).
American Citizens Services (ACS): (809) 689-6142, afterhours emergency call (829) 259-3094
Marine Post One (809) 731-4398
Embassy Operator (809) 221-2171
Regional Security Office (809) 731-4266

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.

OSAC Country Council Information

There is an active OSAC Country Council that meets on a quarterly basis. The OSAC Country Council represents over 45 U.S. companies from a numerousf industries. The Council takes an active role engaging issues of crime and security. These take the form of security reports, outreach to public officials for speaking engagements, training, and briefing seminars, as well as an extensive email network to promote ideas and facilitate the exchange of information and contacts.

For more information about the Dominican Republic OSAC Country Council, please contact Regional Security Officer (RSO) at U.S. Embassy Santo Domingo at (809) 731-4475.