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Haiti 2017 Crime & Safety Report

Western Hemisphere > Haiti; Western Hemisphere > Haiti > Port-au-Prince

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

U.S. Embassy Port-au-Prince does not assume responsibility for the professional ability or integrity of the persons or firms appearing in this report. The ACS Unit cannot recommend a particular individual or location and assumes no responsibility for the quality of service provided.

THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE HAS ASSESSED PORT-AU-PRINCE AS BEING A CRITICAL-THREAT LOCATION FOR CRIME DIRECTED AT OR AFFECTING OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT INTERESTS.

Please review OSAC’s Haiti-specific webpage for proprietary analytic reports, Consular Messages, and contact information.

Haiti is unique in the Caribbean for its relative lack of tourism, scarcity of foreign investment, and inferior infrastructure.

Crime Threats

Crime statistics are woefully underreported by the Haitian National Police (HNP), and reports indicating that Haiti is statistically safer than other countries in the Caribbean are inaccurate.

Traditional tourist-oriented crimes (pickpocketing, purse snatching) are less frequently reported than elsewhere in the region. This results from both a lack of tourism and underreporting.

The most frequently reported crimes against U.S. citizens in Port-au-Prince are aggravated assaults and robberies. A typical mugging in Port-au-Prince involves a group of young males who surround and overwhelm a victim in a public area. Reports of robberies of Haitian-Americans appear to increase around holiday seasons, but that appears to correlate with an overall increase in visitor traffic. Armed robberies against motorists/pedestrians remain a serious concern. In recent years, a number of people have been robbed en route from Toussaint L’Ouverture airport.

Banks continue to be a frequent location for armed robberies. Motorcycle-mounted assailants frequently follow their victims a short distance from a bank and rob them in a less public area. Shootings during these incidents are common.

Vehicle break-ins and thefts from vehicles, occupied or empty, occur frequently. Unattended vehicles with visible valuables are subject to break-ins. There have also been reports of pedestrians opening unlocked doors of idling vehicles and snatching valuables.

Violent crime appears to remain predominantly gang-related or robbery-related. Robberies are most common in Port-au-Prince and affect affluent areas frequented by visitors (Petionville). Gang-related violent crime continues to be centralized in specific areas of Port-au-Prince (Cité Soleil), which are not traditional tourist/business areas. Organized crime appears as small, organized, criminal gang activity (kidnapping gangs).

Homicides continue to be a major concern in Haiti. In 2016, there were 1,029 reported homicides, with 70% occurring in Port-au-Prince.

Residential theft (burglaries, home invasions) trends over the past few years have suggested a decline in traditional criminal burglary and a rise in home invasions. There was a continuation of home invasions in the more affluent areas of upper Port-au-Prince in 2015 and 2016. The bulk occurred in middle-class neighborhoods (Delmas 75, Delmas 83, Laboul, Pelerin) outside the traditional expatriate residential areas. Assailants have little fear of resistance from residents and do not appear to consider whether a residence is occupied when committing crimes. Criminals are not reluctant to use violence to get across a point or when confronted; however, the vast majority will brandish a firearm/weapon, fire it randomly, tie up their victim(s), and abscond with currency or a vehicle. Neither violent or passive criminal seems overly concerned with police response, as they know none will be dispatched quickly.

Other Areas of Concern

Cite Soleil remains an area of particular difficultly for UN and HNP forces to rein in.

Other areas of concern include Belair, Carrefour, Fort National, Simon Pele, Martissant, and Grand Ravine.

Transportation-Safety Situation

Road Safety and Road Conditions

Road conditions, particularly in Port-au-Prince, have continued to improve in 2016. There have been significant improvements to the road network in parts of the metropolitan area. However, driving conditions can still be chaotic. Many roads outside of the main cities are either topped with gravel or are poorly maintained dirt roads.

Driving requires extreme caution, particularly in the evening. Road safety remains a significant threat to the average visitor. Travel at night outside of main cities is ill-advised due to poor lighting and unpredictable road conditions that may result in an increased risk of not seeing pedestrians, broken-down vehicles, and oncoming traffic. Vehicles, including large buses and trucks, are known to travel at high rates of speed, especially on provincial roads.

In rural/mountainous areas, drivers should expect no guard rails, few traffic signs/road markings, and little/no vehicle or road lighting. Drivers should use caution when driving around bends, as it is common for vehicles coming from the other direction to pass slower vehicles or for vehicles to drive in the middle of the road. People traveling outside of Port-au-Prince should do so during daylight hours and in tandem due the security situation and road conditions.

Armed robberies are not uncommon in urban areas; however, they are less common in the countryside.

Accidents can draw angry, potentially violent, crowds very quickly. If a mob forms, proceed directly to a safe place (police station) to resolve the situation. Remaining at the scene could be a risk to one’s safety.

U.S. citizens should take special care to ensure they do not become stranded in remote regions or enter certain areas deemed unsafe, especially in Port-au-Prince. Avoid driving at night outside the low-density, suburban areas. Rural and suburban areas are poorly illuminated and pose additional safety hazards due to pedestrians and animals crossing the roads.

In the case of vehicular robberies (smash-and-grabs) and carjacking, a group of street criminals (hidden in the grass or in ditches) often wait for vehicles to stop in traffic or at traffic lights. They rush the vehicle and attempt to open the vehicle doors. If all doors are locked and the driver fails to take immediate action, the group will attempt to break a window to access the vehicle and gain control violently. Occurrences of these incidents increase at night and occur frequently in heavy mid-day traffic. The road from the Port-au-Prince International Airport is particularly targeted.

For more information on self-driving, please review OSAC’s Report “Driving Overseas: Best Practices.”

Public Transportation Conditions

Avoid travelling by local or public transportation. Embassy policy prohibits the use of any public transportation for U.S. government employees. Many vehicles are poorly maintained and often lack working equipment (headlights, reliable brakes). Tap-taps are the primary form of public transportation for most Haitians. Tap-taps can be dangerous, as the vehicles are frequently poorly maintained, and accidents and robberies are common. 

Aviation/Airport Conditions

Travelers arriving at the airport should refrain from taking public transportation, safeguard their belongings, and remain alert after departing the airport.

Before using smaller airlines, one is advised to research recent history. Those that have a shoddy appearance are very likely to be remiss on safety standards.

Terrorism Threat

THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE HAS ASSESSED PORT-AU-PRINCE AS BEING A LOW-THREAT LOCATION FOR TERRORIST ACTIVITY DIRECTED AT OR AFFECTING OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT INTERESTS.

Anti-American/Anti-Western Sentiment

In general, Haitians are very pro-American. In 2016, the U.S. Embassy experienced a handful of demonstrations targeting the Embassy, the majority of which involved demonstrators marking the 1915-1934 presence of U.S. Marines in Haiti. These protests never reached more than a couple dozen protestors.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE HAS ASSESSED PORT-AU-PRINCE AS BEING A CRITICAL-THREAT LOCATION FOR POLITICAL VIOLENCE DIRECTED AT OR AFFECTING OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT INTERESTS.

The legislative and presidential elections and their associated security problems (increasing gang-related violent crime, political violence, kidnapping) continued to be a key security concern. A number of small-scale incidents of unrest and political violence tied to Haiti’s scheduled elections occurred in 2016. This unrest was motivated by a variety of political and social movements, ranging from the Haitian political situation, minimum wage concerns, school curriculum, to the presence of UN forces. They share a common trend in that the protestors are quick to barricade streets and regularly stone the windows of passing vehicles.

Civil Unrest

Civil unrest, either motivated by political or socio-economic issues, occurs frequently in downtown Port-au-Prince around the National Palace, the Champ de Mars, and the State University campuses, along with sporadic incidents scattered throughout the city. These protests have been frequent, averaging multiple incidents per week throughout 2016.

Travelers are reminded of the potential for spontaneous protests and public demonstrations. Any demonstration is capable of turning violent, and bystanders/travelers can be caught up in a clash between demonstrators and the HNP, rock throwing, tire burning, or road blocks. Travelers are advised to avoid all demonstrations and be prepared to seek alternate routes should one be encountered.

There were a number of significant politically-motivated attacks in 2016:

  • In June 25, 2016, six men on two motorcycles shot up the downtown and Delmas area of Port-au-Prince, firing indiscriminately at major businesses, including Natcom, Digicel, Marriott, Behrman Motors, Automeca, and Sogebank. The assailants fired rifles and handguns as the motorcycles passed by, dismounting in front of several business. Several hotel rooms occupied by Americans were impacted by rounds during the attack, but no one was injured.
  • On May 17, 2016, dozens of armed men in green military-style uniforms stormed the HNP Commissariat in Les Cayes. The attack resulted in the deaths of two police officers and three other people. An investigation by the HNP charged Senator-elect Guy Philippe with masterminding the attack, along with 16 others. Philippe has been arrested on a U.S. drug warrant and, as of April 2017, was awaiting federal trial in the U.S.
  • Political violence peaked in the weeks before the January 24, 2016, second round of presidential elections. In Port-au-Prince, angry protestors from different political factions clashed, burning cars, destroying storefronts, and looting businesses. As a result, the Electoral Commission indefinitely postponed elections – resulting in new elections in October 2016.


Post-specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

On October 4, 2016, Haiti was struck by Hurricane Matthew, a Category 4 storm that devastated Haiti’s southwest region. The storm destroyed more than 200,000 homes, leaving 1.4 million people in need of humanitarian aid. Monetary damage was estimated at U.S.$2.8 billion. Nearly complete crop damage occurred in Grand'Anse and Sud departments, leaving the impoverished population without a source of food. Communication networks and the road system were also compromised. An ongoing cholera outbreak worsened after the hurricane, killing at least 29 people.

Due to severe deforestation of the mountains, even modest rains can cause flash flooding and other life threatening hazards.

A 7.0 earthquake struck Haiti near Port-au-Prince on January 12, 2010. Much of the infrastructure of Port-au-Prince was destroyed, and it has taken years for Haiti to recover from the catastrophic damage. Services (health care, basic services) have been greatly reduced but are seemingly making small comebacks in certain sectors.

Personal Identity Concerns

Crimes against persons, including gender-based violence, remain a serious problem.

Drug-related Crimes

Haiti is a major transshipment point for South American narcotics en route to the U.S.; however, the threat of narco-terrorism has not been a major issue.

Kidnapping Threat

There were 36 reported kidnappings in 2016 (43 in 2015). The first and fourth quarters of 2016 saw a spike in the number of kidnappings, likely due to the pending national elections and the struggling economy. The number of kidnappings in general, and kidnappings of U.S. citizens, remains low compared to previous years.

Most kidnappings are criminal. Victims can vary in race, gender, and age, but all who are perceived to have wealth or family with assets (in Haiti or abroad) are vulnerable. U.S. citizens who are kidnapped are usually of Haitian descent. The breakdown in reported kidnapping victims from the last few years is spread fairly evenly among men, women, and children. While most cases were resolved through the payment of ransom, some kidnappings did include physical/sexual assaults. While less frequent, depending on the motive, gang, and/or knowledge of the kidnappers by the victim, a few incidents resulted in the death of the victim. There were no confirmed reports of U.S. citizens being kidnapped in 2016.

Kidnapping of U.S. citizens should be reported to the Haitian National Police and the American Citizens Services (ACS) section of the U.S. Embassy (509.2229.8000). As the lead U.S. law enforcement agency, the Diplomatic Security Service/Regional Security Office plays an active role in all kidnappings of U.S. citizens and coordinates closely with Federal Bureau of Investigation entities.

Police Response

The Haitian National Police (HNP) has about 15,000 officers, approximately two-thirds of whom are deployed in the greater Port-au-Prince metropolitan area (approximately three million residents). As a result, some communities do not have reliable means to report crimes, although experts tend to agree that there is much less crime in the provinces.

The HNP has a limited response capability, which hinders their deterrent effect on criminals, who operate without fear of the uniformed or traffic police. Investigations of crimes are frequently limited by a lack of resources.

Haitians, particularly outside of Port-au-Prince, lack basic policing services, and many residents do not report crimes. Underreporting or inaccurate reporting of crime appears to be an issue, partly due to the de-centralized nature of the HNP commissariats and to the perception that judicial or investigative follow-up is ineffective. Progress in skill-building among the HNP has been noteworthy, and the HNP enjoys the highest level of trust among the general population when compared with other government agencies. However, investigative capacities are overtaxed and remain mostly centralized in Port-au-Prince. The judiciary system has struggled for decades to demonstrate strength and reliability.

How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment

In all instances, visitors should be respectful and comply with local police authority. U.S. citizens who feel they are harassed are encouraged to call American Citizen Services (ACS) at the U.S. Embassy (tel: 509.2229.8000). This number is manned 24 hours/day. ACS advises that if you are arrested, request to speak with the U.S. Embassy immediately. If you cannot reach the Embassy, try to contact someone locally who can contact the Embassy on your behalf.

Crime Victim Assistance

If you are the victim of a crime, first get to a safe location and seek medical attention, if needed. You should immediately report the incident to the nearest police station. If it is an emergency and the police are not in the vicinity, police can be contacted at: 114. Then, notify local authorities and the U.S. Embassy (Tel. 509.2229.8000).

The Haitian National Police Information and Operations Center can be contacted at 509-3835-1111. Calling a phone number from a cell phone to a landline can be problematic.

For information about services available to victims of crime, please see the U.S. State Department website. In addition, information about sexual assault crisis hotline information, counseling services, and other services for crime victims is available online. Victims of crimes may be eligible for assistance or compensation from state crime victims assistance programs.

Medical Emergencies

The lack of top-quality, reliable, health care is a serious concern. Prescription pharmaceutical drugs are in short supply, and specialty care is extremely limited. For more information, please refer to OSAC’s Report, “Traveling with Medications.” Medical services are far below U.S. standards and can be difficult to obtain. Emergency medical care is not always readily available, as most hospitals do not have an emergency department staffed 24 hours/day. 

Health care providers do not accept U.S. medical insurance. Medical professionals require a cash payment up front and will provide a receipt that can be provided to a U.S. insurance company.

Available Air Ambulance Services

There is one air ambulance service in Haiti: Ayiti Air Anbilans: 509 3166-8197.

Air ambulance companies based in the U.S. that service Haiti:

National Air Ambulance (Ft.Lauderdale, FL) 1.800.327.3710

Air Ambulance Networks 1.800.327.1966

Air Ambulance Professionals 1.800.752.4195

Insurance Guidance

Medical evacuation is required for most major medical care. It is strongly advised that those visiting Port-au-Prince obtain medical evacuation insurance.

The Department of State strongly urges U.S. citizens to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses (medical evacuation). U.S. medical insurance plans seldom cover health costs incurred outside the U.S. unless supplemental coverage is purchased. U.S. Medicare and Medicaid programs do not provide payment for medical services outside the U.S. However, many travel agents and private companies offer insurance plans that will cover health care expenses incurred overseas, including emergency services. Useful information on medical emergencies abroad, including overseas insurance programs, is provided on the Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs home page.

For international treatment and medical insurance, AEA International: 206.340.6000.

Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance

The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for Haiti.

OSAC Country Council Information

The Port-au-Prince Country Council currently meets quarterly during the year and has approximately 20 members. Please contact OSAC’s Western Hemisphere team with any questions or to join.  

U.S. Embassy Location and Contact Information

Embassy Address and Hours of Operation

Tabarre #41
Route de Tabarre
Port-au-Prince

Hours of Operation: Mon-Fri, 0700-1530

Embassy Contact Numbers

American Citizen Services: 509.2229.8000

Afterhours Emergencies: 011-509-2229-8122

Regional Security Office: +509.2229.8061

Website: https://ht.usembassy.gov/

Embassy Guidance

U.S. citizen visitors are highly encouraged to register with STEP.

Additional Resources

Haiti Country Information Sheet

Haiti Travel Warning