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Dominican Republic 2015 Crime and Safety Report

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

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

Crime Rating: Critical

Crime Threats

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.

The 2014 crime statistics from the National Police list the cities where the majority of reported criminal acts occurred by category. Figures were only provided for homicides. Preliminary 2014 crime statistics revealed that per 100,000 inhabitants the five highest ranking cities for homicide were: Independencia (34.5), Peravia (26.4), La Altagracia (23.4), Duarte (23.1) and Barahuco (22.2). The top five cities for reported robberies were: Santo Domingo National District, La Vega, Peravia, San Critóbal and Santo Domingo Province, and the top five National District neighborhoods were: Arroyo Hondo, Gazcue, Villa Consuelo, Villa Juana and Zona Universitaria. The top five cities for reported assaults were: Santo Domingo National District, Duarte, San Cristóbal, Santiago and Santo Domingo Province, and the top five National District neighborhoods were: Gazcue, Villa Consuelo, Villa Juana, Villa Agrícola and Zona Universitaria. The 2014 crime statistics from the National Police at the national level did not collect list incidences of rape. Previous reporting by the National Police stated that the method most utilized during the commission of rapes was strangulation followed by blunt force trauma and edged weapons (knifes, machetes). In 2013, rapes had increased by five percent over 2012 and took place most frequenly in Santo Domingo, San Cristobal, and Valverde. Some of the contributing factors for the commission of criminal activities are: unemployment, domestic violence, abuse of drugs/alcohol, drug trafficking, and the availability of weapons.

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 to their potential victim and grab anything that is in arm's reach (purses, cellular phones, necklaces, etc.)

Armed assaults are becoming more frequent during hours of darkness and when victims travel alone. 

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

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, poorly paid police officers, and unrest in Haiti. 

Cyber

Fraud schemes, particularly credit card fraud, continue to occur. More sophisticated cyber crimes are not common, though the National Police’s capability to combat it is poor.

Areas of Concern

If traveling overland between the Dominican Republic and Haiti, it is highly recommended to consult the Country Specific Information Sheet for Haiti, as well as the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince website for information about travel conditions in Haiti.

Transportation-Safety Situation

Road Safety and Road Conditions 

Avoid renting vehicles or driving unless familiar with the local traffic laws and customs. For those planning to self-drive, offensive and defensive driving skills are a necessity. Although traffic laws are similar to those in the U.S., a lack of adequate traffic controls and enforcement 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. Police conduct random stops of vehicles in order to check documentation. Individuals found to be violating the law can be fined or asked to pay a “fee” on the spot. 

Pedestrians tend to step out into traffic without regard to corners, crosswalks, or traffic signals. The lack of street lighting is notable and contributes to pedestrian and vehicular deaths. Pedestrians do not have the right of way, so walking along or crossing busy streets can be very dangerous, even at intersections with traffic lights or traffic police present.

Although the Dominican Republic criminalizes driving under the influence of alcohol, enforcement is non-existent. Traffic accidents related to driving under the influence often result in serious injury/death. This is especially the case during the holiday season and when commercial vehicles (buses, trucks) are involved. 

According to the 2013 Global Status report on Road Safety issued by the World Health Organisation (WHO), the Dominican Republic has the second-most dangerous roads in the world, with 41.7 people perishing in traffic accidents each year for every 100,000 residents. Local law requires that a driver be taken into custody when an accident results in serious injury/death, even if the driver is insured and appears not to have been at fault.  Only the driver will be taken into custody. The minimum detention period is 48 hours; however, detentions 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). 

Visitors may want to consider hiring a 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.

Travel at night on intercity highways and in rural areas is not recommended 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.

Public Transportation Conditions 

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 públicos") and urban buses ("guaguas").

Aviation/Airport Conditions

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. Airports are modernizing, and airport security is adequate.

Other Travel Conditions

As gasoline prices remain at a premium, many people convert their vehicles to propane gas, which is a cheaper fuel. The nozzles of the tanks that hold propane tanks are easily ruptured in an accident. The result of a rupture is often a massive explosion, which usually kills or severely burns the occupants of the vehicles and any bystanders.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

Political Violence Rating: Medium

Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns

There are no known organized domestic terrorist groups. Santo Domingo did experience its first incident of domestic terrorism in October 2014 when a male ignited an incendiary device on a crowded subway car, killing one person and injuring dozens. The Dominican Republic is an integral part of the Caribbean and, as such, a likely transit point for extremists from within the region, Africa, and Europe. 

Terrorism Rating: Low

Anti-American/Anti-Western Sentiment

Both objectively and compared to other countries in the Caribbean, the Dominican Republic has a very small and not prevalent presence of anti-American and/or anti-Western groups.  

Civil Unrest 

Politically-motivated protests, demonstrations, and general strikes occur periodically, particularly during general election’s years. Previous political demonstrations have sometimes turned violent, with participants rioting and erecting roadblocks. 

Civil unrest has become a common occurrence in the last several  years due to the lack of adequate electricity, water resources, and the public opinion from certain groups that the government is not actively protecting the national patrimony. Demonstrations and strikes have occurred outside of Santo Domingo without advance notice and have occasionally turned violent.

Religious/Ethnic Violence 

The Dominican Republic is a multi-ethnic/religious country, and a harmonious relationship generally exists between all groups. Occasionally, inter-ethnic disputes may arise due more to socio-economic pressures than an outright ethnic conflict or clash of religious ideologies.   

Post-specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

The Dominican Republic is located in the center of the Antillean archipelago that places the island in the pathway of severe weather, including hurricanes, tropical storms, tropical depressions, and other natural disasters (earthquakes, floods, droughts). Visitors to the island need to be aware that many buildings may not be in compliance with U.S. hurricane and seismic codes.

The largest reoccurring natural disaster threat is hurricanes, resultant landslides, and flooding in low lying and coastal areas that are also susceptible to the influence of tidal surge. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Atlantic hurricane season runs from June 1-November 30, which on average encompasses over 97 percent of reported tropical activity in the Atlantic basin.

The Dominican Republic lies on several fault lines running through the Caribbean. Of particular is the “Submarine Fault” between the easternmost part of the Dominican Republic and Guadeloupe. Large earthquakes of magnitude 8.5 to 9.0 could occur, rupturing the 1,000-kilometer length of this fault. 

Critical Infrastructure Concerns 

The potential exists for industrial accidents involving large infrastructure and industrial facilities containing hazardous materials, especially after a natural disaster.

Privacy Concerns

Hotel rooms and telephones are generally safe to use; however, your business should be conducted with discretion to avoid the loss of proprietary information.

Drug-related Crimes

Although the country is not a center of drug production, the Dominican Republic continues to be a transit zone for drugs entering the United States and Europe. Drugs are frequently channeled from Mexico and South America, either by aircraft or through maritime platforms. While cocaine is the most significant drug threat, hashish, heroin, and designer drugs are also readily available. 

On May 30, 1988, the Dominican Congress approved Law 50-88 dealing with narcotic drugs. It has been diligently enforced since its passage. Under this law, the possession of any quantity of marijuana (even with a U.S. prescription), cocaine, hallucinogens, barbiturates, amphetamines, or other narcotic drugs is a punishable offense. Each offender is categorized according to the quantity of the drugs found in his/her possession and must stand trial in a "Court of First Instance." The judicial process may last several years. During the pre-trial period, a defendant remains incarcerated in most cases. The severity of this law was intended to keep the country safe from criminal activities commonly associated with the trafficking, cultivation, and manufacture of narcotics. The Dominican Republic has empowered the police and military forces to undertake vigorous efforts to combat the threat from narcotic drugs. The law was enacted to prevent the Dominican Republic from becoming a major transit point in the criminal trade of drugs. 

Kidnapping Threat

U.S. citizens of Dominican descent are sometimes targets of kidnapping for ransom, in which families in the U.S. are asked to pay a large sum of money to secure the release of the abducted individual. Victims of reported cases included business persons, family members, and common citizens. Some victims have reported that they were abducted by men in police uniforms or similar clothing and were told that their identity needed to be verified. Victims are taken to an undisclosed location and held from a few hours to a couple of days. During that time, abductors contacted the family members and demanded large sums of money for the release of their loved ones. Most families paid the requested amount, and the victims were released unharmed. Most families did not involve or contact the police, as they feared it would make things worse. Top five cities for reported kidnappings were: Santo Domingo National District, María Trinidad Sánchez, Santiago, Santo Domingo Province and Valverde.

Police Response

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 reduction of internal corruption.

Visitors are subject to local laws. The judicial process can last several years, which may result in lengthy pre-trial detainment in a local jail. Anyone entering the Dominican Republic, regardless of nationality, is subject to the provisions of Law 50-88. Accordingly, U.S. citizens are subject to punishment under the strict anti-drug measures. Should one be arrested, here are the expected phases of the national criminal procedures:
PHASE ONE
Arrest: According to the Constitution, a person detained or arrested by the police may be held without charges for up to 48 hours. During this period, the prosecutor and the police conduct an initial investigation of the case.
Right to an Attorney: A detainee is typically questioned as part of the investigation by the police.  According to local law, a detainee is entitled to have an attorney present during any questioning, as well as at any of the hearings or trials. If the detainee cannot afford an attorney, the government will provide a public defender upon request. The detainee also has the right to remain silent.
Habeas Corpus: According to the Constitution, any person who is detained for more than 48 hours without being formally charged is entitled to request a hearing of habeas corpus, a release from prison while awaiting trial, but the defendant is required to remain in the country until the charges are finally resolved.
PHASE TWO
The District Attorney sends the case to a coordinating judge, who will assign one of the investigating judges to conduct a preliminary investigation. This judge will examine the evidence that is presented by the District Attorney, and a determination will be made whether the detainee should remain in custody. Should the judge determine that there is sufficient evidence to detain, a date for a preliminary hearing, typically three months to one year, will be set. A defendant may request bail at any time during this process.
PHASE THREE
At a preliminary hearing, the investigating judge will hear evidence and make a decision on whether grave, sufficient, and corroborating evidence of guilt exists. If so, the detainee remains in custody and the case is assigned to a First Instance Court.
PHASE FOUR
The First Instance Court is assigned the case and a court date is set for trial. The trial generally proceeds in the following sequence:
-Judge questions the prisoner to see if the testimony conforms to the statements in the documents;
-The prosecuting attorney may direct questions to the prisoner;
-The defense may ask further questions, call witnesses, and present defense arguments;
-The prosecuting attorney delivers a summation; and
-The trial is concluded and the defendant remains in custody pending rendering of a sentence.
PHASE FIVE
If the defendant is found guilty, the detainee has 10 days to appeal. If the case is appealed, the prisoner is incarcerated until a hearing is set before a five- or three-judge court of appeal.

How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment

If arrested or harassed, contact the U.S. Consulate's American Citizens Services Section at (809) 567-7775.

Crime Victim Assistance

A prompt police response to reported incidents is normally limited due to local traffic conditions and available resources. However, since 2014, the Santo Domingo National District has benefited from the new ‘911’ call center that has dramatically improved response times. Expansion to Santiago is planned for 2015. 

The Dominican Republic has a specialized police force, known as "CESTUR,” to assist tourists and provide first responder-type assistance to tourists. If a visitor is a victim of a crime, the CESTUR will help them to get to a police station, file a police report, and seek further assistance. However, Americans who are victims of a crime should contact American Citizens Services as soon as possible.

National Emergency Telephone Number: 911
U.S. Embassy, American Citizen Services: (809) 567-7775

Police/Security Agencies 

The Constitution was changed on January 26, 2010, to separate the powers of the National Police and the military. This constitutional change specifically identifies the military’s responsibility to maintain the country’s sovereignty, leaving the National Police to handle the country’s internal security and the protection of its citizens (to include residents, visitors, and diplomats). Over 2014, however, certain functions (the tourist police (CESTUR)), have been returned to the military. CESTUR is a cooperative effort between the National Police, Secretary of the Armed Forces, and the Secretary of Tourism but remains under the ultimate purview of the Minister of Defense.

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. Recommended Ambulance Services include: 
Movimed:(809) 532-0000 (in Santo Domingo)
Pro Med: (809) 948-7200 (in Santo Domingo)

Contact Information for Recommended Hospitals/Clinics

Santo Domingo
Clínica Abreu, tel: (809) 688-4411
Clínica Abel González, tel: (809) 227-2235
CEDIMAT, tel: (809) 565-9989
Plaza de la Salud, tel: (809) 565-7477

Santiago 
Clínica Corominas, tel: (809) 508-1171

Puerto Plata
Centro Médico Bournigal, tel: (809) 586-2342

La Romana
Centro Médico Central Romana, tel: (809) 532-3333

Bávaro/Punta Cana 
Hospiten Bávaro, tel: (809) 686-1414

Recommended Insurance Posture

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

CDC Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance 

For further country specific health guidance please visit: http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/dominican-republic.htm.

Tips on How to Avoid Becoming a Victim

Scams 

Criminals have been known to install equipment that captures personal bank information (“skimmers”) from legitimate bank ATMs or contact someone on the inside that has access to card and personal identification (PIN) numbers. 

Be alert to scams involving an unknown person spilling a drink/food on clothing. An accomplice may be preparing to steal wallets, purses, or briefcases.

Situational Awareness Best Practices 

Visitors to the island are reminded to maintain a high level of vigilance and to take appropriate steps to increase their security awareness. Learn how to place a local telephone call. Vary the time/ route of departures and arrivals. Be alert for persons watching your movements. Be cautious when entering public bathrooms. Valuables should normally be left at home. 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. Keep items in view or "in touch." Pools or beaches are attractive areas for thieves. The Regional Security Office (RSO) office strongly urges all Americans to cooperate if confronted with any type of weapon.

Invest in a good city map. Note significant points (hotels, embassies, 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 your surroundings. Look up and down the street before exiting a building. 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.

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

The Regional Security Office strongly urges that travelers contact their financial institution before scheduled travel to provide them with dates and locations of the visit and limit the amount of money that can be withdrawn. Individuals are encouraged to use their credit and ATM cards judiciously. Always be aware of passersby when using an ATM and guard the key pad when entering the PIN so others cannot see the entry. 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 not located in hotels, banks, or malls to withdraw cash. Finally, it is recommended that travelers save receipts of purchases. In cases of fraud, immediately contact your financial institution and file a report. Fraudulent charges may not appear until well after the return home.If making credit/debit card transactions, check your accounts periodically online or through contacting the institution directly to clarify there are no erroneous charges on your account. 

To avoid becoming a victim of a drive-by robbery, try to avoid outwardly displaying any items of value 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, 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.

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 57 Avenida República de Colombia, Arroyo Hondo, Santo Domingo, D.R. 

Hours of Operation: 0800-1645 (8:00am until 4:45pm) Monday-Friday.

Embassy Contact Numbers

All embassy personnel can be reached at the embassy main telephone number: (809) 567-7775 (24 hours/day).
Regional Security Office: (809) 368-7239
Embassy Operator: (809) 567-7775
American Citizens Services: (809) 567-7775, afterhours call (809) 922-7932
Marine Post One: (809) 368-7777
Website: http://santodomingo.usembassy.gov/

Embassy Guidance

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

The RSO developed its OSAC Country Council program in October 2004, and the Embassy officially formalized its OSAC Country Council on November 21, 2009. The Country Council represents over 45 major U.S. companies from a varied number of industries, who meet on a quarterly basis. The Council takes an active role engaging issues of crime and security within the Dominican Republic. These take the form of security reports, outreach to public officials for speaking engagements, training, and briefing seminars, and an extensive email network to promote ideas and facilitate the exchange of information and contacts. Country Council information can be found at: www.osac.gov/countrycouncils. Point of contact for the Santo Domingo OSAC Council is Philippe G. Furstenberg, Regional Security Officer, at (809) 567-7775 or FurstenbergP@state.gov. To reach OSAC’s Western Hemisphere team, please email OSACWHA@state.gov.