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Mexico 2018 Crime & Safety Report: Tijuana

Western Hemisphere > Mexico; Western Hemisphere > Mexico > Cabo San Lucas; Western Hemisphere > Mexico > Tijuana

 

According to the current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication, Mexico has been assessed as Level 2: exercise increased caution.

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

U.S. Consulate General Tijuana does not assume responsibility for the professional ability or integrity of the persons or firms appearing in this report. The American Citizens Services (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 Tijuana as being a CRITICAL-threat location for crime directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.

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

The Department of State divides its roles and responsibilities in Mexico among 10 consular districts. The Consular District for the U.S. Consulate General in Tijuana comprises the states of Baja California and Baja California Sur. For information regarding the security environment in other areas of Mexico, please reference the OSAC Crime and Safety Reports from the following Consular Districts: Ciudad Juarez, Nogales, Hermosillo, Mexican Federal District, Nuevo Laredo, Matamoros, Monterrey, Guadalajara, and Merida.

The majority of U.S. corporations in Baja California can be found in Tijuana and Mexicali, with the bulk of the remaining U.S. commercial and tourist interests found in and around Ensenada and Rosarito. Tijuana is the largest city in Baja California and is connected to greater San Diego, California, by the San Ysidro Port of Entry – the busiest land border crossing in the world.

Crime Threats

Tijuana is a very large metropolitan city with an ever-present, very real crime problem. Pickpockets and purse snatchers are present and mostly target large crowds on public transportation and at tourist attractions. Criminals normally operate in pairs or small groups, and they generally carry a knife or handgun. These criminals select victims based on an appearance of vulnerability, prosperity, or inattentiveness. Within the Consulate community, Mexican employees fall victim to crime far more frequently than their American colleagues. However, U.S. Consulate staff members are not immune to the effects of local violence, as crimes have occurred within close proximity to the Consulate and its residences.

Tijuana is an important and lucrative location for Transnational Criminal Organizations (TCOs), narco-traffickers, and human smuggling organizations, given its proximity to a major U.S. city with a massive border crossing. Mexico is the primary route for the transport of illegal drugs into the U.S, and Tijuana is the gateway to southern California. As a result of its highly strategic location, violent crime continues to be a part of everyday life. Organized crime occurs on a near-daily basis by TCOs. Drug-related violence in U.S. Consulate General Tijuana’s consular district, for the most part, is confined to those involved in the drug trade. While U.S. citizens not involved in criminal activities are generally not targeted, innocent bystanders are at risk due to the rising violence.

From an organized crime perspective, control over Baja California remains contested between three rival cartels: the Sinaloa Cartel, the Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generacion (CJNG), and remnants of the Arellano Felix Organization (AFO). In-fighting within the TCOs is also common and leads to further insecurity. Additionally, criminal deportees from the U.S. to Tijuana continue to be a problem since, due to a lack of other options, they often work with local criminal organizations. As law enforcement agencies on both sides of the border succeed in arresting high-level members of TCOs, unrest and power plays among the lower ranks tend to ensue.

Unlike 2007-2010 when there was a blatant “narco war” between the incumbent AFO (aka Tijuana Cartel) and the Sinaloa Cartel, crime now involves smaller cells within the Sinaloa Cartel and independent operators. However, targeted violent actions between the two most active cartels, Sinaloa Cartel and CJNG, continues to become more prevalent. In 2017, there was a noticeable increase in public announcements (normally done by placing banners in public places near or on murdered bodies) by self-proclaimed members of rival cartels (AFO and CJNG) against the Sinaloa cartel, and conversely, boasts from the Sinaloa Cartel of their continued dominance over the “plaza.”

Homicides continue to be mostly connected to these rivalries and power struggles, but the continued increase in public displays of violence in 2017 and the frequency of homicides are the main cause for continued concern. Per official government of Mexico statistics, the five municipalities in Baja California – Tijuana, Mexicali, Ensenada, Rosarito, and Tecate – all had a record increase in homicides in 2017. Baja California as a whole experienced an 84% increase in the number of murder victims in 2017, as compared to 2016. This increase in violence continues to garner media attention, and many worry about its possible impact on the general populace.

Tijuana experienced a slight decline in reported kidnappings, while Rosarito had the first reported incident since 2014. All other municipalities show similar numbers to last year.

All five municipalities experienced a slight increase in reported rapes compared to 2016, while the amount of robberies showed a slight increase for Tijuana, Ensenada and Rosarito, and a slight decline for Mexicali and Tecate.

In Baja California Sur, the majority of U.S. interests are concentrated in Los Cabos and La Paz. The current U.S. Department of State Travel Warning for all of Mexico continues to ask travelers to exercise increased caution in Baja California Sur due to crime, since the state continues to experience a high rate of homicides, many of which have occurred in La Paz. In that city, and to a lesser extent in other cities in Baja California Sur, there have been ongoing public acts of violence between rival criminal organizations. Recently published statistics from Mexico’s Department of Interior show 2017 homicide rates for the state are higher than any previously published rates, further supporting the warning to exercise increased caution. Baja California Sur experienced a 92% increase in the number of murder victims in 2017.

Credit and debit card fraud does occur. For more information, please review OSAC’s Report, “The Overseas Traveler’s Guide to ATM Skimmers & Fraud.”

Cybersecurity Issues

Cybercrime is a concern. Precautions should be taken to protect sensitive computer-based programs and operations. It is not uncommon for private corporations or government agencies to fall victim to hackers or other cyber-related attacks regardless of their location worldwide.

Other Areas of Concern

Organized crime elements are present in local bars, nightclubs, and casinos in Tijuana. People should use extreme caution after dark in the northern portion old Zona Centro in/around the “red light” district. For approximately eight blocks, Avenida Revolucion is lined with shops, bars, and restaurants, many aimed at day-trip tourists. Visitors should be careful (or aware) of walking too far north on Constitucion Avenue, one block west of Revolucion, and going below Juarez (Segunda), as it will abruptly lead you into the “red light” district.

Visitors should exercise caution when visiting Playas de Tijuana after dark, as there is an increased criminal element.

Visitors are highly encouraged to avoid traveling after dark on remote roads, isolated highways, or throughways that are not frequently patrolled by police.

Transportation-Safety Situation

For more information, please review OSAC’s Report, “Security in Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.”

Road Safety and Road Conditions

Travelers should exercise caution, avoid traveling at night, and use toll (cuota) roads rather than the less secure “free” (libre) roads whenever possible. In light of fuel shortages due to protest activities in Baja California, maintain at least half of a tank of fuel and to top off the tank whenever possible during extended road trips.

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

Public Transportation Conditions

You are more vulnerable to petty crime in crowded and confined places with unknown individuals, which applies to use of shared public transportation. Use of established cab companies that, as a practice, do not pick up additional passengers, or the use of private transportation services like Uber (where available and permitted) is encouraged. When using a transportation service such as Uber, it is advisable to compare the photograph of the driver in the Uber application to the person who is picking you up to ensure that the person, not just the vehicle, is legitimate. For more information on ride-sharing, please review OSAC’s Annual Briefing Report “Safety and Security in the Share Economy.”

Aviation/Airport Conditions

The use of established cab services (from a kiosk) is recommended.

The Cross Border Xpress (CBX) addition to the airport in December 2015 has been well received by travelers. The CBX is an enclosed pedestrian bridge for Tijuana Airport (TIJ) passengers crossing the U.S./Mexico border. Spanning 390 feet, the CBX skywalk is the first ever to connect a facility in the U.S. directly into a foreign airport terminal. CBX serves approximately 2.4 million passengers who already cross the border as part of their travels, helping them avoid unpredictable, often long delays at congested San Ysidro and Otay Mesa land ports of entry. Users of the bridge will be able to access the more than 30 destinations within Mexico that TIJ offers, many of which are not served by other southern California airports.

Other Travel Conditions

U.S. citizens should not hitchhike with, accept rides from, or offer rides to strangers. Tourists should not hike alone in backcountry areas, nor walk alone on lightly frequented beaches, ruins, or trails.

U.S. citizens should be mindful of entry requirements and permits when traveling into Mexico, to included entry by waters via private boat. The U.S. Consulate advises that all individuals on board vessels used for sport fishing, including passengers on commercial and charter boats, understand the entry requirements and permits needed before traveling. Also, it is advisable for U.S. citizens to be aware of weather conditions when traveling aboard a vessel. 

Terrorism Threat

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Tijuana as being a LOW-threat location for terrorist activity directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.

Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns

While there do not appear to be any terrorist groups active in Baja California, lax immigration controls, the ease in which fake Mexican travel documents can be obtained, and Mexico's geographic location make the country a potentially attractive transit point for transnational terrorists. Mexican Immigration has discussed plans for implementing stricter controls, but they have not yet been put into place.

Anti-American/Anti-Western Sentiment

Anti-American sentiment is seldom expressed toward U.S. citizens, either official or non-official. Small, peaceful demonstrations in protest of various U.S. policies rarely occur at the U.S. Consulate General.

  • Throughout 2017, Tijuana witnessed multiple protests, especially along the border. Although the majority of these protests revolved around rising gas prices, there were reports of a few protestors also expressing some anti-American sentiment. No violence or threats were directed specifically to Americans or U.S. interests.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Tijuana as being a HIGH-threat location for political violence directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.

Civil Unrest

Public protests and demonstrations do occur for economic and political reasons, but they are typically peaceful. The government of Mexico’s ongoing conflict with TCOs is the main cause for civil unrest in the consular district. The January 2017 protest activity in Baja California disrupted access to fuel, caused border closures, and resulted in significant traffic delays for vehicles wanting to enter Mexico. Because of the ever-present risk of a peaceful protest turning violent, travelers are always encouraged to avoid protest activity.

Religious/Ethnic Violence

There have also been significant numbers of asylum seekers arriving at the ports of entry which at times can lead to increased protest activity.

Post-specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

Due to Tijuana’s proximity to the San Andreas Fault Line, the possibility of a large earthquake remains high.

In 2017, hurricane activity was comparatively less destructive to Category 3 Hurricane Odile that hit the peninsula in 2014. However, the region did experience Tropical Storm Lidia, a tropical cyclone that flooded parts of the Baja California Peninsula and western Mexico. Travelers are encouraged to stay current with weather conditions when traveling throughout the peninsula, especially in Baja California Sur during May-November, and plan accordingly. This includes monitoring the risk of heavy rainfall and its potential for causing flooding in urban and rural areas.  

Critical Infrastructure

Weather events can severely impact critical infrastructure in both Baja California and Baja California Sur. Depending on the severity of the weather event, access to electricity, potable water, and operable roads may be impacted. Although Tijuana and other cities in the consular district are relatively modern, many buildings are not built to Western seismic standards.

Kidnapping Threat

Kidnapping, including the kidnapping of non-Mexicans, occurs. Kidnapping-for-ransom is an established criminal activity. Official nationwide numbers for kidnappings were 1,148 in 2017, slightly higher than 2016, which had 1,131 - an increase of just 1.5%. Unofficial estimates of kidnapping levels vary wildly, from 600-5,000 per year countrywide. In most cases, the ransom is paid, and the victim is set free. The usual practice is not to notify law enforcement, as it is commonly believed that the police may be involved or are unable to resolve the situation. Affluent residents in Tijuana often have bodyguards and armored vehicles for their families to protect against kidnapping.

Another kidnapping tactic is the telephonic kidnapping (virtual kidnapping). Prison inmates using smuggled cellular phones often place these calls. It is increasingly common for extortionists to call prospective victims, frequently posing as law enforcement or other officials, and demand payments in return for the release of an arrested family member or supposedly to forestall a kidnapping. Persons receiving such calls should be wary, as many such demands/threats are baseless, and should attempt to contact the family member as soon as possible. If you cannot reach the missing individual, and believe s/he may have run afoul of criminals or of the law, you may contact the Consulate, the Embassy, or the Department of State for assistance.

For more information, please review OSAC’s Report, “Kidnapping: The Basics.”

Police Response

The ability of police varies, but there have been strides made in recent years, especially in Tijuana. Police response and confidence generally continues to improve in Tijuana, although corruption still exists. The Tijuana police continue to demonstrate a desire to gain the trust of the populace and continue to pursue outreach activities. The general perception was that the majority of crime victims do not report crimes due to fear of reprisals by the police, the belief that police are corrupt, or the feeling that nothing would come from such reports. This is slowly changing, and Tijuana’s increased reliance on technology and anonymous reporting may serve to improve people’s confidence in law enforcement.

You can minimize your vulnerability by obeying Mexican law. You can be arrested for: disturbing the peace or being a public nuisance; drinking in public; fighting; nudity or immoral conduct; use, production, or sale of false documents; possession, introduction, or use of any weapon (including pocket knives); possession, introduction, or consumption of restricted drugs including medical marijuana (most drugs that are restricted in the U.S. are also restricted in Mexico); drunk driving or driving under the influence of drugs; and causing an auto accident or injuring someone.

How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment

U.S. citizens are advised to cooperate with the police if stopped or questioned. Police they cannot accept cash payments for fines, and offering a bribe to an officer is a serious crime. In addition, tourists should be wary of persons representing themselves as police officers or other officials. When in doubt, ask for identification.

The U.S. Consulate General will sometimes receive reports of extortion by supposed police officers in Baja California and Baja California Sur. Sometimes, the perpetrators are actual police officers, and sometimes they are criminals using fake police uniforms and credentials. If you are the victim of police extortion, please contact the U.S. Consulate. If you file a complaint, Consulate staff will assist you. To file a complaint, it is helpful, but not absolutely necessary, to have the officer’s name, badge number, and patrol car number. If you are not able to obtain those, it may still be possible to identify the officer based on physical appearance and the time/place that the event occurred.

Crime Victim Assistance

The national emergency telephone number is 911. Callers can report criminal activity from anywhere in Mexico or the U.S. Interested parties can call 1-866-201-5060 24/7/365 to report any crime-related information to bilingual operators who will forward the report to the proper authorities for action. This hotline was set up by the Baja California Secretary of Public Safety so that anyone wishing to report criminal activity in Mexico can do so anonymously from anywhere in the U.S. and Puerto Rico. A similar tip line 089 has been available since 2005 in Mexico to make an anonymous tip and enjoys a sizable call volume.

U.S. Consulate General Tijuana’s American Citizen Services provides assistance to American citizen’s in the consular district. The Consulate’s business hours are 0730 to 1600, Mon-Fri.

In case of an after-hours emergency involving U.S. citizens, please contact the Duty Officer. From Mexico dial 001 (619) 692-2154, from the U.S., call (619) 692-2154. This number is for emergencies only. Travelers may contact the Consular Section at the U.S. Consulate General Tijuana for assistance in dealing with the local police. If involved in a traffic accident or victimized by crime, one may be required to accompany the investigating 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.

Police/Security Agencies

The Tijuana Municipal Police Department is the largest police force in Baja California. They serve a preventive police role, patrolling and handling immediate response to criminal incidents. The Baja California State Preventive Police (PEP) serves a similar role for the entire state. Similarly, the Federal Police (PF), and to an extent the Mexican Army (SEDENA) and Mexican Marines (SEMAR), patrol more broadly, including public highways, airports, and the border regions.

Recently, some public security leadership in Baja California Sur was replaced by members of the Mexican Marines (SEMAR). The new leadership has established a unified command structure that incorporates SEMAR, federal, state, and local police to establish public order. Despite these recent changes, the Consulate expects the violence to continue to increase as cartels compete for dominance in the area.

In both states, the Attorney General’s Office at the federal level (PGR) and state level (PGJE) are responsible for the investigation and prosecution of crimes that fall under the jurisdiction of federal and state courts respectively.

Medical Emergencies

Useful information on medical emergencies abroad, including overseas insurance programs, is provided in the Department of States Bureau of Consular Affairs brochure, "Medical Information for Americans Traveling Abroad," available on the Bureau of Consular Affairs home page.

Emergency Services 911

Red Cross (Cruz Roja) Ambulance 608-6700

Contact Information for Available Medical Services

For medical assistance, please refer to the Consulate’s Medical Assistance page.

Available Air Ambulance Services

Baja California.

U.S.-BASED

Aeromedevac, Inc.

Gillespie Field, 681 Kenney Street, El Cajon, CA 92020

Toll Free from USA: 1-800-462-0911

Call Collect: 619/284-7910

Fax: 619/284-791

www.aeromedevac.com

e-mail: flightrequest@aeromedevac.com

MEXICO-BASED

TransMedic

Ensenada, BC, Mexico

Tel: 1-800-026-3342 or 646/178-1400

Fax 646/178-2891

Recommended Insurance Posture

For international treatment and medical insurance: International SOS, LA Office, 310-893-5280.

CDC Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance

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

OSAC Country Council Information

The Tijuana Country Council meets quarterly between Tijuana, southern California, and Baja California Sur. Interested private-sector security managers should contact OSAC’s Western Hemisphere team with any questions.  

U.S. Consulate Location and Contact Information

Consulate Address and Hours of Operation

U.S. Consulate Tijuana Address:

Consulado Americano

Paseo de las Culturas s/n Mesa de Otay Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico 22425

Hours of Operation: 0730 – 1600, Mon-Fri

Consulate Contact Numbers

Mexico country code: 52

Tijuana area code: 664

Consulate switchboard: 664-977-2000 (from the U.S., dial 011-52-664-977-2000)

After-hours emergency Duty Officer cellular phone: 619-692-2154 (US), 664-628-1762 (Mex)

Website: http://tijuana.usconsulate.gov/

Nearby Posts

Embassy Mexico City: http://mexico.usembassy.gov/

Consulate Ciudad Juarez: http://ciudadjuarez.usconsulate.gov/

Consulate Guadalajara: http://guadalajara.usconsulate.gov/

Consulate Hermosillo: http://hermosillo.usconsulate.gov/

Consulate Matamoros: http://matamoros.usconsulate.gov/

Consulate Merida: http://merida.usconsulate.gov/

Consulate Monterrey: http://monterrey.usconsulate.gov/

Consulate Nogales: http://nogales.usconsulate.gov/

Consulate Nuevo Laredo: http://nuevolaredo.usconsulate.gov/

Consulate Guidance

If you are going to reside in or visit Mexico, please take the time to tell our Embassy about your presence in-country. If you enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP), we can keep you up-to-date with important safety and security announcements. It will also help your friends and family get in touch with you in an emergency.

Additional Resources

Mexico Country Information Sheet