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Jamaica 2015 Crime and Safety Report

Western Hemisphere > Jamaica; Western Hemisphere > Jamaica > Kingston

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

Crime Rating: Critical

Crime Threats

Crime throughout Jamaica maybe as a result of several factors: poverty, retribution, drugs, gangs and politics. There is no evidence to indicate criminals and gang-related activities are specifically targeting U.S. citizens. Jamaican Foreign Service Nationals at Embassy Kingston are victims of crime far more frequently than their American employee colleagues, a fact attributable to the differing demographics between upscale expatriate neighborhoods and the rest of Kingston in general.  

Organized crime and other criminal elements are prevalent and extremely active. Most criminal activity is gang-related. The police are only able to resolve (make arrests) in 45 percent of homicides annually, and they only convict perpetrators in seven percent of the homicide cases. This leads both the public and police to doubt the effectiveness of the criminal justice system leading to vigilantism, which only exacerbates the cycle of violence. Based on their past experiences, most civilians fear that at best, the authorities cannot protect them from organized criminal elements, and at worst, are colluding with criminals, leading citizens to avoid giving evidence or witness testimonies.

Some of the major tourist areas continue to be sites for pickpocketing and petty theft. In several cases, armed robberies turned violent when the victims resisted handing over valuables.  

Jamaica suffers from violent crimes, and these occurrences can impact international visitors. Most criminal activity is “Jamaican on Jamaican” violence, often involving organized criminal elements and gangs. In 2014, there were five U.S. citizens murdered; 36 reports of robbery; three reports of rape and/or sexual assault; 14 reports aggravated assaults; five reports kidnapping (attempted kidnappings); 10 reports of domestic violence; nine report of child abuse; and seven other crimes, mostly threatening phone calls and those related to lottery scams. These numbers are not all inclusive, as many crimes, including rape and/or sexual assaults, remain unreported for numerous reasons, including fear of retribution. 

An historic concern that appears to have diminished in recent years is the incidence of sexual assault against guests by hotel employees at resort hotels on the north coast and the need for forceful investigation and follow-up by the hotels and by police and other security officials.    

Home break-ins occur in Kingston, even in the gated and affluent neighborhoods. Burglary is a crime of opportunity. Some past incidents have shown that when occupants neglected to use one or more of the security features provided, it afforded criminals successful opportunities to gain entry into their residences. A burglar will select a target because it offers the best opportunity to carry out the crime undetected and with the fewest number of obstacles. A home that presents itself as unoccupied and insecure is far more likely to be targeted than one properly secured. Most burglars want to spend the least amount of time possible trying to gain access to your residence. Criminals want to get in, steal valuable portable items, and get out undetected. Burglars can commit rape, robbery, and assault if they are surprised by someone coming home or entering a home that is occupied. 

In 2014, Jamaica saw a decrease in murders and other serious violent crimes. It is believed that the reductions in crimes may be attributed to overall proactive police actions. Most violent crimes, especially murder involve firearms. There were 1,005 murders (the lowest figure in a decade, 195 less than 2013, which is a 16.6 percent decline over the past year to date), 1,227 shootings, 580 aggravated assaults, 792 rapes, 2,631 robberies, 2,443 break-ins recorded in 2014. With a population of approximately 2.8 million people, Jamaica continues to have a high homicide rate (36/100,000), which places it among the highest (per capita) national homicide rates in the world. 

Police are unable to patrol and protect most neighborhoods adequately, and as a result, burglaries are quite common. Most wealthy residents hire private, armed guard forces to deter criminals.  

Skimming is a hi-tech method by which thieves capture your personal or account information from your credit card, ATM card, driver’s license, or even passport. An electronic device used to capture this information is called a “skimmer” and can be purchased online for under $50.00. Your card is swiped through the skimmer, and the information in the magnetic strip is stored on the device and can be downloaded to a computer. Skimming is predominantly a tactic used to perpetuate credit card fraud but is also a tactic that is gaining in popularity amongst identity thieves. As the use of smart card technology grows, as evident with its integration with driver’s licenses and passports, it is likely that skimming will continue to grow as a popular tactic of identity thieves. Since the skimming devices are so small and easy to hide, it is not difficult for them to skim your card without you noticing. Your credit card can be skimmed at a restaurant. Many skimming rings have been known to employ restaurant serving staff to capture your credit card information. In a restaurant, a server may carry a skimming device in his apron or somewhere close by. Another common form of skimming involves store clerks skimming a credit card for a purchase. In both scenarios, a card is scanned twice, once for the transaction and another with the skimming device to capture your credit card information for further use. There have been reports of clerks skimming driver’s licenses when they are offered as identity verification. It is not uncommon for a thief to tamper with an ATM. Typically, a "card trapping" device is inserted into the ATM card slot. This trap scans the card and stores its information or just traps the card. There is no cash dispensed in either case, and the crooks retrieve the cards and information later. ATM skimming has been a problem worldwide, with estimates that 1 in every 28 ATMs had been equipped with skimmers. Skimming is becoming more sophisticated where thieves are rigging card payment terminals with electronic equipment to capture the card information. The recorded card numbers are stored in an additional implanted chip, and thieves return at a later time for retrieval. Once a skimmer captures personal information, it can be used in a variety of ways. The criminals skimming are often not the same criminals who use commit identity theft or fraud. The "skimmers" will sell personal information to other criminals--typically for about $25-$75 each. Credit cards are a popular choice for skimmers. Personal information can be used to order products and services online sometimes for several weeks before the unsuspecting victim becomes aware. Once personal information is captured, it can be used to make duplicates, which are very valuable, as they can be used to perpetuate credit card fraud or identity theft.

“Carjacking” refers to the robbery of a motorist in which the vehicle is stolen. Motorists are most vulnerable to this type of crime when they stop at traffic control devices, when entering/exiting their vehicles, and anytime they stop their vehicle. One tactic is the “bump-and-rob.” A car carrying a driver and at least one passenger will “innocently” bump their intended victim from the rear. When the victim inspects the damage, the extra person jumps into the victim’s vehicle and drives away. The victim is usually submissive at this point, as they are usually looking at some sort of weapon.

Areas of Concern

Embassy personnel and private American citizens are advised to avoid traveling in into notoriously high-threat areas of Kingston including, but not limited to, Mountain View, Trench Town, Tivoli Gardens, Cassava Piece and Arnett Gardens, and Flankers, Canterbury, Norwood, Rose Heights, Clavers Street, and Hart Street in Montego Bay. 

Transportation-Safety Situation

Road Safety and Road Conditions 

In 2014, Jamaica saw an increase in fatal vehicular crashes. There were 330 overall fatalities. Driving is on the left-hand side of the road. The lack of pedestrian crosswalks requires special vigilance for all pedestrians. Most roads are paved, but suffer from ill repair, inadequate signage, large pot holes, and poor traffic control markings. Roads are often subject to poorly marked construction zones, pedestrians, bicyclists, and, occasionally, livestock. Driving habits range from aggressive speeding and disregard for others to inexperience and over-polite behaviors creating uncertainty and hazards to pedestrians.  

Drivers should maintain special care when entering traffic circles (“roundabouts”), which are often poorly marked and require traffic to move in a clockwise direction. Failure to turn into the correct flow of traffic can result in a head-on collision. Motorists entering a roundabout must yield to those already in it. Exit points are exceptionally confusing, often making it difficult to determine which exit to take. 

The A1, A2, and A3 highways are the primary links between the most important cities and tourist destinations on the island. These roads are not comparable to American highways, and road conditions are hazardous due to poor repair, inadequate signage and poor traffic control markings. The B highways and rural roads are often very narrow and frequented by large trucks, buses, pedestrians, bicyclists, and open range livestock. Highways are traveled at high speeds but are not limited-access. Breakdown assistance is limited in urban areas and virtually unavailable in rural areas. Nighttime driving is especially dangerous and should be avoided whenever possible.

Prior to any road travel, ensure that your vehicle is in good operating condition, paying particular attention to the engine, brakes, tires, head/tail lights, spare tire/jack, horn and fluid levels; always carry a first aid kit; and advise someone of your travel plans, including anticipated arrival/departure times and contact information. The following items are recommended for extended road trips: cell phone with charger; potable water and non-perishable food items; first-aid kit; jumper cables; spare tire; flares/reflectors; flashlight; and tools.

Drivers and passengers in the front seat are required to wear seat belts, and motorcycle riders are required to wear helmets. Extreme caution should be used in operating motor driven cycles. We urge all passengers to use vehicles equipped with seat belts. 

Awareness and planning can help you avoid becoming a victim of carjackings. Select a safe route. Illuminated and well-traveled streets are generally safe. Have an alternate route in mind in case of problems. Keep your vehicle in good repair and be aware of your fuel level. Travel with a friend when possible – a person alone is more vulnerable. Keep your car keys separate from your house keys. Keep doors locked and windows up. Do not leave mail and other items that list your address in the car. Always be aware of your surroundings, especially people on foot near your car. Be suspicious of anyone approaching your vehicle. If someone asks for assistance, do not get out of your vehicle. Go to a safe location and call the authorities. Travel in the lane closest to the center of the road whenever legally possible. Always leave plenty of room between your car and other vehicles to allow yourself a way out. Always be alert for motorcycles or bicycles stopping next to your car, especially if there are two riders. If you are bumped, be suspicious. Check out the car and occupants. If you are not sure of the situation, write down the car’s license number/description and signal/wave the other car to follow you to the nearest safehaven. If you have to exit your vehicle, take your keys and purse/wallet. Park in well-lit and well-traveled areas. Look around for suspicious persons and possible hiding places (darkened doorways, etc.).If in doubt, do not get out of your vehicle. Drive away and park someplace else. Report any suspicious activity to the authorities. Always lock your car and take your keys with you – even for brief errands. Be especially cautious when using ATMs. Use valet parking or an attended garage. Do not make yourself an attractive target by leaving your purse or valuable in plain view or by placing valuables in your trunk upon arrival. Place them in the trunk before departing your residence. Do not be distracted by talking on the cell phone, eating, etc. Be aware of persons loitering near your vehicle or suspicious persons sitting in vehicles. Be aware of any tampering with your vehicle. If you think your vehicle has been tampered with, do not get in it. Notify the authorities. Do not turn your back while loading packages and/or groceries. If you are alone, ask for a security escort or use the grocery store bagger. Teach and practice with your children to enter and exit the car quickly. Make it a habit to always start your car quickly and drive away immediately. When approaching your parked car, have your car keys in hand.

Public Transportation Conditions 

We recommend that no one use public transport other than JUTA or local hotel taxis. Public buses are often overcrowded and a venue for crime. Several serious and fatal accidents take place each year involving American tourists riding in taxis without seat belts. 

Other Travel Conditions

When parking, avoid leaving your vehicle on the street. Park inside a residential compound, in a parking lot with an attendant, or at least within view of your destination. When parking at a shopping facility lot, be sure to park as close as possible to the store entrance and away from dumpsters, bushes, or large vehicles. Be sure to lock you doors, close windows, and hide shopping bags and gifts/valuables in the trunk.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

Jamaica's political system is stable; however, the country's serious economic problems have exacerbated social tensions and have become the subject of political debate. These include high unemployment, currently about 13.8 percent, high underemployment, a large public debt burden, and a consistently stagnant economic growth rate. Violent crime is also a serious problem, particularly in Kingston and nearby Spanish Town.

The two major political parties have historical links with the two largest trade unions--the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) with the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union (BITU) and the People's National Party (PNP) with the National Workers Union (NWU). The center-right National Democratic Movement (NDM) was established in 1995, and the populist United Peoples Party (UPP) in 2001; neither has links with any particular trade union, and both are marginal movements.

Political Violence Rating: Medium

Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns

While there do not appear to be any extremist groups active in Jamaica, lax immigration controls, porous seas, and the ease in which fake Jamaican travel documents can be obtained make the country an attractive target for potential terrorists.  

Terrorism Rating: Medium

Civil Unrest 

Protests and demonstrations can be unpredictable in time, place, and intensity. Although protests and demonstrations are infrequent in Kingston, they do occur. Even protests and demonstrations intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and escalate into violence. There is no guarantee that a protest will not harm an innocent bystander. Activities observed in past protests include, but are not limited to, using tear gas, rubber bullets, setting off fireworks, rock throwing, tire burning, road blocks, bus/vehicle burning, and some degree of physical violence between law enforcement and protestors. The U.S. Embassy and U.S. interests within the community are not immune to the effects of these protests.

Post-specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

Earthquakes strike without warning, sometimes leaving devastation and heartache behind. Although nothing can stop an earthquake, careful preparation and planning can make a difference when it comes to protecting your home and family from the effects of an earthquake.
Preparation tips:
Develop an earthquake safety action plan identifying places that can provide the highest amount of protection, an escape route, and an off-premises meeting place.
Teach family members how to shut off water, gas, and electricity to the house. 
Purchase at least one multi-purpose dry chemical fire extinguisher. 
Install smoke detectors and change the batteries.
Prepare an emergency supplies kit including: a three-day supply of bottled water and non-perishable food; a manual can opener; paper plates, cups, and utensils; first-aid kit; flashlight; battery-operated radio; and extra batteries.
Attach cabinets and bookcases to the wall using brackets. Secure heavy objects with brackets or safety straps. Anchor large appliances to walls using safety cables or straps. Secure picture frames, bulletin boards, and mirrors to walls using closed eye screws into wall studs. Tack down glassware, heirlooms, and figurines with putty.
Apply safety film to windows and glass doors. 
Install latches on kitchen cabinet doors to prevent items from falling.
Safety tips
At the first sign of an earthquake, drop and take cover under a sturdy piece of furniture or against an inside wall but away from objects that may fall on you. Sit or stay close to the floor and hold on to furniture legs for balance. Use your arm to cover/protect your eyes.
If there is no sturdy furniture nearby, kneel or sit close to the floor next to a structurally sound interior wall away from windows, shelves, or furniture that could fall and place your hands on the floor for balance.
Do not run outside unless the building you are in is determined to be unsafe.
If outdoors, quickly move into the open, away from electrical lines, trees, and buildings. 
If driving, stop at the side of the road away from traffic. Do not stop on/under bridges or near/under power lines or road signs.
Recovery tips
Be alert for aftershocks. 
Look for injured victims and administer first aid.
Pay attention to damaged utilities. Avoid loose/dangling electric power lines and report all gas/electrical problems to the proper authorities. Turn off any damaged utilities.
Check for fire hazards and use flashlights, not candles/lanterns.
Wear protective shoes. Have them by your bed in case the earthquake happens in the middle of the night.
If your building is sound, stay inside and listen for radio advisories.
Response
Indoors: Remain indoors. Get under a desk or table or stand in a corner. If in a crowded public place, do not rush for the doors. Crouch and cover your head and neck with your hands and arms. Stay indoors until the shaking stops and you are sure it is safe to exit. 
In a high-rise building: Stay away from windows and outside walls. Get under a table. Do not use elevators. 
Outdoors: Go to an open area away from trees, buildings, walls, and power lines. If you are in a mountainous area or near unstable slopes/cliffs, be alert for falling rocks and other debris. Landslides are often triggered by earthquakes. 
Driving: Pull over to the side of the road and stop. Avoid overpasses and power lines. Stay inside your car until the shaking is over. 
After the earthquake:
Expect aftershocks, which frequently occur minutes, days, weeks, and even months following an earthquake. 
Get everyone outside if your building is unsafe. Exit via the stairs. Aftershocks can cause further damage to unstable buildings. 
Fire alarms and sprinkler systems frequently go off in buildings during an earthquake, even if there is no fire. Check for and extinguish small fires. Exit via the stairs if there is fire. Fire is the most common hazard following earthquakes. 
Clean up spilled chemicals, gasoline, or other flammable liquids immediately. 
Open closet and cabinet doors cautiously. Contents could have shifted during the shaking and could fall, creating further damage or injury. 
Check the telephones. Cellular telephone equipment is subject to damage by earthquakes and cell phones might not be able to get a signal, but land line phones might work.

Jamaica is located right in the middle of “Hurricane Alley” and has experienced several direct hits from hurricanes and/or tropical storms. Looting is a common problem immediately after storms. Hurricane season is June 1-November 30. Due to the potential for business closures during and immediately after a hurricane and/or strong tropical storm, the Embassy recommends that employees stockpile two-weeks’ worth of emergency supplies (food, water, infant formula, prescription medications, etc.). This can be useful in other types of emergencies as well. Be sure to have non-prescription drugs and medical supplies on hand, including pain relievers, stomach remedies, cough/cold medicines, fluids with electrolytes, and vitamins. 

Stocking water reserves and learning how to purify contaminated water should be among your top priorities in preparing for an emergency. You should store at least a two-week supply of water for each member of your family. A normally active person needs to drink at least two quarts of water each day, but children, nursing mothers and ill people will need more. You will need additional water for food preparation and hygiene. If activity is reduced, healthy people can survive on half their usual food intake for an extended period. Food may be rationed safely (except for children, pregnant women, and ill persons). If your water supply is limited, try to avoid foods that are high in fat/protein, and do not stock salty foods since they will make you thirsty. Eat salt-free crackers, whole grain cereals and canned foods with high liquid content. Use the canned foods, dry mixes, and other staples on your cupboard shelves. In fact, familiar foods are important; they can lift morale and give a feeling of security in time of stress. Try to include foods that they will enjoy and that are also high in calories and nutrition. Foods that require no refrigeration, preparation, or cooking are best. Individuals with special diets/allergies will need particular attention, as will babies, toddlers, and the elderly. Nursing mothers may need liquid formula, in case they are unable to nurse. Canned dietetic foods, juices, and soups may be helpful for the ill or elderly. Make sure you have a can opener and disposable utensils. Do not forget nonperishable foods for your pets. Following are recommended short-term and long-term food storage plans:
Keep food in the driest and coolest spot in the house – a dark area, if possible.
Keep food covered at all times.
Open food boxes or cans carefully so that you can close them tightly after each use.
Wrap cookies and crackers in plastic bags, and keep them in tight containers.
Empty opened packages of sugar and dried fruits/nuts into screw top jars or airtight cans to protect them from pests.
Inspect all food containers for signs of spoilage before use.

Important Disaster Supplies to Have on Hand 
Flashlight and extra batteries
Portable battery-operated radio and extra batteries
First aid kit and manual
Emergency food and water
Essential medicines
Cash and credit cards
Sturdy shoes

Critical Infrastructure Concerns 

The Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM) put measures in place in the event of an emergency or natural disaster.  

Drug-related Crimes

Jamaica is a transit point for South American cocaine en route to the U.S., Canada, and Europe. It is also the largest Caribbean producer and exporter of cannabis (marijuana). The government has a National Drug Control Strategy in place that covers both supply and demand reduction. The government has intensified and focused its law enforcement efforts on more effectively disrupting the transshipment of large amounts of cocaine through Jamaica and its territorial waters. The government also has fully cooperated in several major international narcotics law enforcement initiatives, which have resulted in the arrest and extradition to the U.S. of high-profile Jamaican, Colombian, Bahamian, and Panamanian narcotics traffickers responsible for the manufacture, trans-shipment, and distribution of vast amounts of cocaine throughout the Central Caribbean region.

Kidnapping Threat

In 2014, Jamaica continued to see a significant reduction in kidnappings; however, kidnapping is one of the most underreported crimes. All of the data regarding kidnapping is based on partial crime statistics and can only produce best-guess estimates. Despite the lack of hard data, there is no evidence that kidnapping is a growing problem/concern.

Kidnapping can happen in any part of Jamaica and can be executed by a wide range of players with varying levels of professionalism and differing motives. At one end of the spectrum are high-end kidnapping gangs that target high-profile and/or high-net-worth individuals. Such groups employ teams of operatives who carry out specialized tasks (collecting intelligence, conducting surveillance, snatching the target, negotiating with the victim’s family and establishing and guarding the safe houses).

On the other end of the spectrum are gangs that roam the streets and randomly kidnap targets of opportunity. These gangs are generally less professional and often will hold a victim for a short period, often referred to as an “express kidnapping.” In many instances, these groups hold the victim just long enough to use the victim’s ATM card to drain his/her checking account or to receive a small ransom. Sometimes express kidnapping victims are held in the trunk of a car for the duration of their ordeal, which can sometimes last for a couple of days if the victim has a large amount in a checking account and a small daily ATM withdrawal limit.    

Those conducting a kidnapping are most vulnerable to detection when they are conducting surveillance – before they are ready to deploy and carry out their attack. One of the secrets of counter-surveillance is that most criminals are not very good at conducting surveillance. This is the only time the perpetrators are exposed to detection. The primary reason they succeed is that no one is really looking for them. While there is the possibility the kidnappers could botch their operation and the target could escape unscathed, it is not practical to pin one’s hopes on that. It is better to spot the kidnappers early and avoid their trap before it is sprung. Ignoring the very real value of critical, proactive measures (situational awareness, surveillance recognition, varying your times and routes, and emergency planning) can be a fatal mistake.  

Another scam is the telephone kidnapping (virtual kidnapping) phone calls. Although telephone calls may vary in style, the methodology is invariably the same: the virtual kidnapping 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 and get them to give away important information; for example, if the crying voice sounds like your child and you call out your child’s name, the caller knows the name of the child who could be a kidnap victim and will use this knowledge against you. The voice of the “victim” will usually be crying and/or hysterical, making it difficult to identify and increasing the likelihood that you will believe it is in fact your loved one. Criminals will try to use fear, tact, and timing against you. They may 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 vehicle.” These are very vague but imply that they have been watching your family and using fear and everyday routines against you to reinforce the threat of the kidnapping. Know 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 you ensure good communication (land-line and cell phone numbers) with your family members.  

If you become the target of one of telephone kidnapping (virtual kidnapping) phone calls:
Try to remain calm! The vast majority of these calls are hoaxes. Regardless, the perpetrators are attempting to exploit your fears. If you have caller ID, write down the number. 
Ask to speak to your child to confirm his/her identity. This will foil the majority of these calls, as the virtual kidnapper only has the upper hand as long as you believe that he/she really has your loved one. Don’t be afraid to challenge by asking questions like ‘what is my child’s name?’ If the caller refuses to let you speak with your child and stays on the line (many will hang up at the first sign of stubbornness), ask the caller to ask your child something that is known only to your family. You can work out a secret word/phrase (favorite toy, pet name, first grade teacher’s name, etc.) to test for identifying a family member. If the caller can answer the question but does not let you speak with your child, this may be an “inside job,” and they still may not have your loved one in their custody. 
Do not tell the caller where you live or agree to any money transfer. Never volunteer information.

If you cannot locate your child after the caller has successfully answered the question or the caller actually puts your loved one on the line, it is very important that you attempt to do the following:
Keep the caller on the line as long as possible and have another family member contact the police. If you are alone, contact the police as soon as possible.  
Listen and take notes of the demands, tone, or accent of the caller, background noise, and any other important information that could assist the police. 
Ask for a way to make contact with the caller. If the caller refuses to answer, ask when the next call will come.  

Police Response

Police support for foreign victims of crimes runs between semi-responsive and responsive due to a shortage of manpower, training, vehicles, and other resources. Although the police receive some training from U.S and U.K law enforcement entities, they endure a lack of funding, resources, and management. 

Police corruption and police involvement in criminal activity is not uncommon. Consequently, citizens are often indifferent to police authority, adding to a perceived sense of lawlessness. The Jamaica Constabulary Force is considered to be underpaid, poorly trained, and corrupt.  

How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment

U.S. citizens are advised to cooperate with police if stopped or questioned. 

Crime Victim Assistance

Jamaica operates a 119 police and 110 for ambulance and fire system similar to the 911 system in the USA. You can use these numbers to request police, ambulance, and fire assistance.  

Local police assistance is available throughout the island. The Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) can be reached by dialing 119, which connects the caller to the nearest police station. Police do not usually mistreat Americans who are victims of crime, but response times, investigation techniques and the arrest and conviction rates of suspects are below the standards found in U.S police departments.

If involved in a traffic accident or victimized by crime, one may be required to accompany the investigating police 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 general perception is 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. Reporting crime can seem archaic and lengthy process and is widely believed a waste of time except for the most serious of crimes where a police report is required for insurance purposes.  

Medical Emergencies

Medical care is more limited than in the U.S. Comprehensive emergency medical services are located only in Kingston and Montego Bay. Medical facilities outside of Kingston and Montego Bay are not recommended by the Embassy medical staff. Visitors in need of medical attention should make every effort to reach Kingston or Montego Bay. Doctors and hospitals in Jamaica often require cash payment prior to providing services. An ambulance service is available in Kingston at tel (876) 978-2327, (876) 978-6021 or (876) 923-7415.  

Contact Information for Recommended Hospitals/Clinics

Although there are several hospitals in Kingston, the recommended hospital for U.S. citizens is the University of the West Indies (UWI) at (876) 927-1620.  

In Montego Bay, the Cornwall Regional Hospital (876) 952-9100 or the Montego Bay Hope Medical Center (876) 953-3649 are the recommended facilities.  

Recommended Air Ambulance Services

For air ambulance service (recommended for severe injuries or illnesses best treated in the U.S.), AEA International at 800-752-4195.

Recommended Insurance Posture

Serious medical problems requiring hospitalization and/or medical evacuation can costs thousands of dollars or more. For international treatment and medical insurance: AEA International, 206-340-6000.  

CDC Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance 

Additional health information can be found at: CDC International Traveler’s hotline – 24 hour information available at 888-232-6348 or 800-232-4636 or at http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/traveler/none/jamaica?s_cid=ncezid-dgmq-travel-single-001, for Jamaica-specific information.

Tips on How to Avoid Becoming a Victim

Scams 

Criminal elements continue to victimize American citizens through lottery scams. These criminal elements, posing as legitimate lottery companies, have convinced unsuspecting Americans to send large amounts of money to obtain claimed lottery winnings. This lottery fraud/scam operates predominantly from the north coast at/near tourist resort areas. Persons organizing these scams may be obtaining personal information on tourists and using it to conduct their operations. 

In addition to a number of lottery and investment scams, relatives of U.S. citizens visiting Jamaica and U.S. citizens who are prisoners in Jamaica have received telephone calls from people claiming to be Jamaican police officers, other public officials, or medical professionals. The caller usually states that the visitor/prisoner has had trouble and needs financial help. In almost every case, these claims are untrue. The caller insists that money should be sent by wire transfer to themselves or to a third party who will assist the visitor or prisoner, but when the money is sent, it fails to reach the alleged in-need visitor/prisoner. Do not send money if you receive such a call.  

The Embassy also received several reports of Americans being victimized in extortion attempts originating in Jamaica where a caller threatens the victim if they do not send a sum of money. 

Another financial scam reported is the “Damsel in Distress” where a partner met over the Internet falls into a series of unfortunate events and needs money with the promise of rewards at a later date (such as an in-person meeting).

Situational Awareness Best Practices 

Simple precautions may help to mitigate the numbers of crimes committed against Americans. Visitors should always be aware of their surroundings. Always try to travel in groups. Vary your times and routes to and from work. Try to make yourself unpredictable in both your work and social schedule. Inform family of your daily plans and do they know how to get in contact with you. Keep your doors locked and windows closed (both residence and vehicle). Maintain a low personal profile. Pay attention to what is going on around you. Avoid chokepoints. In traffic, always leave enough space to maneuver. Know where to go if you think you are being followed/surveilled, but never lead the person to your house. Drive to the nearest safehaven (police station, embassy, hotel, hospital, public facility, etc.). Know how to recognize surveillance. Ensure all family members are briefed on security measures. Do not wear expensive jewelry or carry expensive bags/briefcases while walking. Avoid walking around at night. Avoid conversations with beggars as they can become easily confrontational. Try to find a restaurant seat in an area not clearly visible from the street.

To protect against skimming, closely watch anyone who you give your card to for processing. If at all possible, do not let them out of your sight. If a clerk makes a hard copy, retrieve the carbons. Keeping a low limit on your credit cards restricts the amount of money that thieves can steal. Although not a prevention tactic, it will help if you fall victim. Sign all credit cards immediately upon your receipt of them. You can also write "Check ID" so that the clerk should 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. Prior to inserting your ATM card, check the card reader to make sure that it looks appropriate and unaltered. When at an ATM, cover the key pad when entering your PIN. Do not leave receipts at ATMs, teller windows, gasoline pumps, or with a clerk. Some people make it easy for criminals by writing the PIN to their credit/debit card on something in their wallet or even on back of the card itself! Commit the PIN to memory, as a thief having the card and the PIN is not going to work out well for you. Keep a record of all your credit/debit card numbers in a safe place at home so you can report lost or stolen cards by their numbers. 

When shopping, stay alert and be aware of what is going on around you. Park in well-lighted spaces, as close to the store entrance as possible and away from dumpsters, bushes, or large vehicles. Be sure to lock your doors, close the windows, and hide shopping bags and gifts in the trunk. If shopping near your home, consider returning home to drop off gifts. Never leave your car unoccupied with the motor running or with children inside. A car can be stolen in seconds. Avoid carrying large amounts of cash; pay with a credit card whenever possible. Carry your keys, cash, and credit cards separate from each other. Remember exactly where you parked your car. Make a mental note or write it down so you will know. If you need to use an ATM, use one inside the mall or some other well-illuminated, populated area. Be aware of your surroundings as you come and go from your car. Have your keys out and in your hand so you do not have to fumble to find them in the parking lot. Do not be shy about asking mall or store security personnel for an escort. Teach children to go to a store clerk or security guard if you get separated. Have a family “code word” in case you get separated. This word can be given to security staff so that your child can discern friend from foe.

For residential security, use all security features (the entire residential security system) to ensure the highest degree of protection. Know who belongs and does not belong in your neighborhood. Be alert to suspicious persons or vehicles and report them to the police. Do not keep valuables, heirlooms, passports, important documents or large sums of money in your residence. If a safe is available in your office to secure these items, use it. Only keep in your residence items you can afford to lose. If you do not have access to a safe or lockable cabinet at work, consider investing in a home safe that is placed out of sight. Make an inventory of personal property, record the serial numbers and take photographs of all valuable items, and ensure these items are covered under your home insurance policy. Keep a second copy of this information in your office. If a disturbance occurs in the vicinity of your residence, ensure that doors, windows, and grilles are secured, and stay away from windows and alert the police. It is recommended that you store emergency contact numbers in your cell phone (with the prefix "AA" in front of the name so they will be the first two numbers posted alphabetically in your phone book). Post emergency numbers next to all landlines in the home. Blinds, drapes, and curtains should be arranged so that movement within the house is not easily observed from the street. Get to know your neighbors. Keep an eye on your neighbors’ homes. Report anything suspicious to the police. Play the “what if” scenario game with family members. Rehearse safety drills and be aware of procedures to escape danger and obtain help. Teach them how to properly lock and unlock doors, gates, and grilles. Inform them who to contact and how to contact help in an emergency. Develop a simple easy-to-follow plan. Know the neighborhood name, street name, and the actual number to your house to help expedite an emergency response. Valuable time can be wasted if this information is not at hand.

Vary daily routines; try to avoid predictable patterns when departing and arriving from/to your home. When you are leaving/entering your home, be aware of your surroundings and of anyone who may be in the immediate vicinity. When you leave/enter your residence, do not rely on the door closing properly on its own. Physically check to see that the door is secured. This is especially important for garage doors. Do not drive off for a weekend vacation leaving your garage door opened. When away, make your residence look occupied. Use timers for lights, radios, and TVs. Do not let newspapers pile-up. Do not place a note on the door that reveals that your home is unoccupied. If you plan to be away from your residence for more than 24 hours, ask a trusted colleague/neighbor to keep an eye on your property. Consider leaving a copy of your keys with them in case of an emergency need. Tell them of your travel plans and when you plan to return. Maintain control of your keys. Do not leave keys in the locks for convenience. Never hide a spare key to your residence under a mat, in your mailbox, or near an entrance to your residence. Hide your car keys in the house (criminals have been known to burglarize homes and drive away in the occupant’s vehicle).

Make sure you are confident about who you are allowing into your home. Personnel are urged not allow anyone access to your residence that you are not expecting or know. You are not obligated to open the door to a stranger! Use your door viewer to identify visitors. Unannounced/unidentified visitors should not be admitted into the home. If you do not have a door viewer, you should think about having one installed. Speak with them through the door. If they claim to be policemen or other officials (from maintenance, a utility company, a survey company, etc.), ask them to show their identification and ask for their supervisor’s name and telephone number. This also applies to a person who requests to make an emergency call. Offer to make the call for them. Some burglars will operate in pairs. One will try and stall you at the front door, while the other is looking for another way to get into your residence.

When choosing domestic staff, remember that they can aid or detract from the security of your household. You should try to find someone used previously by other expatriates. Conduct police and reference checks on all domestic staff before you make a hiring decision. Ensure that your domestic employees are aware of proper security practices. This should be rehearsed and re-briefed from time to time. Make sure that children and domestic staff are also briefed on how to answer a door. Instruct domestic staff that no one is to enter your residence without your permission. Go over proper telephone answering procedures. They should never give a caller the impression that nobody is home or tell the caller when you are expected home. They should be instructed to say that you are busy and will return the call, taking the caller’s name and phone number. Instruct them not to answer questions from strangers concerning your family. Do not give a copy of a key to the guard/domestic help. If you must give a key to your domestic help, only give one key (each exterior door should have two locks). Get all keys back after terminating employment. Advise them not to carry your keys in their purses of backpacks. Thieves have been known to target personnel who work in affluent neighborhoods in an effort to obtain keys for easy access to homes. This will also prevent you from having to pay for re-keying the locks in your home if their purse is stolen. Monitor their activities from time to time. Suspicious activity on the part of domestic staff should be reported to the police. Ensure they know how to reach you or emergency personnel by phone. Make sure they know to report to you all suspicious or unusual activity. Domestic staff should not be allowed to overhear family or official plans. Letters and business information should not be left unsecured in the residence.

Never volunteer name, address, or telephone number to an unknown caller. All family members should memorize telephone numbers for emergency use and know how to use the local telephones. Establish a family code word for use in emergencies. Every member of your family should know how to request the assistance of local police, fire department, ambulance, or other emergency services. This, along with emergency numbers, should be posted by every phone in the house. Any unusual occurrences, such as anonymous phone threats or harassing calls, should be reported to the police. Be discreet with certain information (travel plans, personal problems, and gossip concerning family or office personnel). Home telephones around the world – possibly in Jamaica -- have been tapped. 

Lock all doors, windows, and garages when you are home and away. There have been incidents where intruders have entered an unsecured door while the occupant was at home. Additionally, secure all sliding glass doors and never leave doors or windows open when you are sleeping (unless you have locked grilles). Periodically examine your padlocks, grilles, and other security features for signs of tampering. Criminals have been known to visit a residence over an extended period to cut through locks or grilles little-by-little, minimizing the overall noise they make and the time it takes them to gain entry. Garage doors are a frequent point of entry for many burglars. If you are storing your bicycles in the garage, remember to chain lock them. You should also ensure that your vehicle is secured and that there are no valuables left in it. If you have window grilles and bars, review fire safety plans for escaping your home with your family. Learn how to operate the emergency escape devices. Do not block bedroom windows used for emergency egress. Keep at least one good fire extinguisher on each floor. This is especially important in the kitchen. Learn and show family members and domestic help how to use an extinguisher. Keep flashlights in several areas. Check the batteries often, particularly if you have children. Make sure smoke detectors are tested and that the batteries have been changed. Each entrance and each perimeter façade should be well illuminated. Use all porch/perimeter lighting in the evenings and during the night. Check lighting regularly and replace burned out exterior security lighting. If you have a residential alarm, use it. Be sure family members know how to use it as well. Learn how to operate your alarm system, including the different securing modes that it can be set to. Each system comes with a panic code capability. These systems are battery powered, so it is important to be able to tell when these need to be changed. If your alarm is triggered, immediately lock yourself inside your designated safe haven. Notify the police. DO NOT leave this area until you are satisfied that the situation is all clear. Do not leave codes/passwords by the keypad. Keep them hidden so they cannot be used by an intruder.

We strongly caution that resisting an assailant or attempting to flee may place you in great danger. Your personal safety – not the potential loss of property – must always remain the primary concern. Resistance to the robber’s demands, especially if he has a weapon or says he has a weapon, may escalate the situation and increase the risk of personal harm to you or family members. Your best course of action is to plan ahead and be prepared.

U.S. Embassy Location and Contact Information 

Embassy Address and Hours of Operation 

142 Old Hope Road
Kingston 6
Jamaica, West Indies

Business hours for the Embassy in Kingston are 7:15 am to 4:00 pm, Monday through Friday.

Embassy Contact Numbers

U.S. Embassy switchboard:  (876) 702-6000
U.S. Embassy operator can assist U.S. citizen in contacting the American Citizen Services (ACS) officers in the consular section.  
U.S. Marine Security Guard:  (876) 702-6055
After business hours and on weekend and holidays, the U.S. Embassy Marine Security Guard can assist U.S. citizen travelers in contacting the embassy’s Duty Officer for assistance with their emergency.  The Marine Security Guard is there to assist in emergency situations only.  
Regional Security Office:  (876) 702-6153 or through the Marine Security Guard
Website: http://kingston.usembassy.gov/

Embassy Guidance

Travelers are encouraged to check with the U.S. Embassy for current information prior to their trip.  

OSAC Country Council Information

The Department of State and Embassy Kingston supports an OSAC Country Council, with a growing membership. The point of contact is Regional Security Officer Vincent Cooper who can be reached at tel: (876) 702-6153 or via Coopervt@state.gov. To reach OSAC’s Western Hemisphere team, please email OSACWHA@state.gov.