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Mexico 2018 Crime & Safety Report: Nogales

Western Hemisphere > Mexico > Nogales



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. The state of Sonora has been assessed as Level 3: reconsider travel. 

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

U.S. Consulate General Nogales does not assume responsibility for the professional ability or integrity of the persons or firms appearing in this report. The American Citizens’ Services unit (ACS) 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 Nogales 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 original OSAC reporting, consular messages, and contact information, some of which may be available only to private-sector representatives with an OSAC password.

Crime Threats

Although in 2017 the overall level of crime in Sonora showed a slight increase, crime levels in northern Sonora, where the Nogales Consular District is located, significantly decreased. This information has been corroborated by official statistics from the government of Mexico. The majority of murders and other violent crimes committed in Sonora occurred in the southern part of the state near the Sonora/Sinaloa border. However, northern Sonora is without crime. Drug cartel-related (narco-related) violence continues to dominate as the motive behind many of the homicides and violent crimes in the Nogales district. The majority of cartel-related violence has occurred in other cities, such as Caborca, Altar, Agua Prieta, and Sonoyta, but not at the same level as in southern Sonora. Between 2012 and 2014, some drug cartel in-fighting occurred throughout the consular district in areas like Agua Prieta and Caborca. The consular district has not seen this level of violence since.

Non-drug cartel related street crime (armed robberies, assaults, burglaries, etc.) continues to occur in the Nogales Consular District, but the numbers have not shown a significant change between 2016-2017. In 2017, petty theft and muggings not associated with DTOs occurred with similar frequency as past years, but with a slight decrease from 2016. No area of Nogales is immune from violent crimes. However, the area between El Periferico highway and Avenida Obregon is considered safer than the outlying suburban areas of the city. The violent crimes that do occur in this area generally happen after dark. Travel throughout the city is only advised during daylight hours. Walking after dark in Nogales is not recommended. Most businesses close by 2200 hours. Bars and nightclubs provide a dangerous mix of guns, drugs, and cartel personnel and are not recommended. 

There is also no evidence that criminal elements are specifically targeting U.S. citizens or foreign visitors. Anyone who projects the perception of wealth and is unfamiliar with the area can easily become a target of opportunity by being in the “wrong place at the wrong time.”

Organized crime occurs on almost a daily basis involving Drug Trafficking Organizations (DTOs), but there is no evidence that American citizens are specifically targets of these organizations for political or economic gain.

Mexican laws prohibit ownership of personal firearms. The vast majority of firearms present in the consular district belong to Mexican law enforcement and military via legitimate means and narco-trafficking criminal elements via illegitimate means. The majority of narco-trafficking elements possess firearms of various magnitude, including assault rifles, grenades, and belt-fed machine guns. However, the most common calibers of weapons used in narco-related crimes are 9mm pistols and 7.62 caliber assault rifles. During the 2016-2017 period, the majority of gun violence in the consular district took place in more remote parts of town and/or in the late night hours.

Residential burglaries in Nogales, to include in the more affluent neighborhoods, occur often and are most common during the day and on weekends or holidays when houses are vacant. Thieves often gain entry through unsecured entryways, by tricking domestic employees, or using force to access homes that appear to be vacant. 

The theft of vehicles, carjackings, and theft of parts from parked vehicles are common crimes. Although since 2014, vehicle thefts have drop, it remains the most prevalent crime in the Nogales consular district. In the city of Nogales, there were 178 reported vehicle thefts in 2017. This is a slight drop from over 223 reported vehicle thefts in 2016. DTOs look to steal heavy-duty pick-up trucks and SUVs. These vehicles are used extensively by DTOs for their ability to carry heavy loads at high speed across the difficult terrain. 

Transportation-Safety Situation

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

Road Safety and Road Conditions

Driving in Nogales requires vigilance, a defensive attitude, and Mexican insurance. Local drivers are generally not very experienced and often have cars that are poorly maintained or in disrepair. Be alert for vehicles moving slower than the rest of the traffic, and for vehicles speeding through traffic signals at the last minute. Poor lighting, unclear road makings, and signage contribute to hazardous driving conditions. Drivers should give a wide berth to public buses, which are not known for their safe driving practices. Pedestrians, to include small children, jaywalk often with disregard for personal safety. 

Travel on highways can be precarious, due to the safety and security situation, especially at night. Because many drivers may not have functioning headlights, and because after dark the probability of crime increases, travelers should avoid nighttime travel. Drivers are encouraged to use inter-city toll highways whenever possible during daylight hours. For more information on self-driving, please review OSAC’s Report “Driving Overseas: Best Practices.”

During the rainy summer (July-September), localized flash flooding may occur on many of the main and side streets, primarily in Nogales. Flash floods leave many vehicles stalled in the middle of streets and intersections. Cars swept into deeper water is one of the most common dangers of the rainy season. During heavy rainstorms drivers should avoid driving and walking in flooded streets. Additionally, during the rainy season, flooding of residential areas and city streets can occur in all areas of the consular district. In Nogales, Blvd. Tecnologico is notorious for flooding. It can experience rushing water up to two/three feet deep in places, making the street inaccessible. Due to the rapid onset of flash flooding, city emergency workers rarely place road closure signs. During each rainy season, large sinkholes have occurred throughout the city; bridges have washed out, and individuals have been trapped or injured by flash floods. Resulting road damage is not always quickly repaired leaving potholes that can damage your car, cause drivers to swerve into your lane, or brake unexpectedly. Visitors should be wary when traveling roadways during the rainy season and pay attention to weather forecasts.

Public Transportation Condition

Public transportation services are not advised for use in the Nogales Consular District. This is based on the lack of viable security vetting and the depth of narco-trafficking influence over the taxis. Taxi-like services such as Uber do exist in Nogales. However, the same security and safety concerns exist with those services as with the traditional taxis. For more information on ride-sharing, please review OSAC’s Annual Briefing Report “Safety and Security in the Share Economy.”

Terrorism Threat

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Nogales 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 international terrorist groups active in Mexico, lax immigration controls, the ease with which fake Mexican travel documents can be obtained, and Mexico's geographic location to the U.S. make Mexico an attractive transit point for potential transnational terrorists.   

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

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

Civil Unrest

Over the past several years, there have been several peaceful demonstrations in the Nogales area, taking place at or near the Deconcini Port of Entry or the fiscal corridor heading to the Mariposa Port of Entry. These demonstrations are generally orderly, peaceful, and comply with the police.

However, in January 2017, there were several large scaled demonstrations, in some case with over 2,000 individuals, protesting the government of Mexico’s policy on fuel prices. On several occasions, the protestors interfered with the flow of traffic into Mexico, prompting authorities in the U.S. and Mexico to temporarily close the DeConcini Border crossing and redirect traffic to Mariposa. In one case, the protests at the DeConcini border crossing turned violent and clashed with police. Police quelled the situations and restored order within hours, with no loss of life or serious injuries.   

Post-specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

During the rainy season (July-September), flooding of residential areas and city streets can occur in all areas of the consular district.

Critical Infrastructure

Given the large number of corporations and manufacturing plants in Nogales, mishandling of hazardous materials is a viable possibility. Although there have been no reported incidents between 2014-2017, it remains a potential that the local government and the private sector monitor closely. In June 2017, the cities of Nogales, Arizona, and Sonora practiced a joint citywide hazardous material response drill. The drill involved the railroad and showed that the region does have adequate HAZMAT response capabilities. 

Privacy Concerns

Given the reported rise in hacking and violations to cyber security globally, Nogales falls well below the global average for privacy violations and cyber intrusions. 

Drug-related Crimes

In 2007, military personnel began counter-drug cartel operations along the smuggling routes of both Mexican coasts. Accordingly, the routes out of Mexico and into the U.S. market have shifted to the land routes including the three ports of entry in Nogales. As a result, drug cartel-related violence in Nogales increased exponentially in 2009 as the Sinaloa cartel and the remnants of the Beltran Leyva cartel fought for drug routes. While nearly all the violence has been between warring cartels, there have been innocent people caught in the crossfire.

  • According to media reports, in 2014, there was an increase in violence in Nogales and 74 murders.

  • However, 2015 saw a noted decrease of 51 media-reported homicides.

  • With the apprehension of ‘El Chapo” Guzman in 2016, a similar but less violent battle for control of the Nogales took place, resulting in 61 homicides for 2016.

The Cartel De Sinaloa has been able to remain the dominant Cartel in the Nogales area to date.

Kidnapping Threat

Kidnapping for ransom is an established criminal activity in Mexico. Over the past few years, cartel-related kidnappings have occurred in Nogales and throughout the state of Sonora. Victims of these kidnappings include U.S. and Mexican citizens who are involved in the drug trade. Overall, the number of kidnapping in Nogales and Sonora is very small compared to other cities in Mexico.

  • In 2016, Nogales police reported 12 kidnappings. It was later discovered that all 12 were narco-on-narco related.

  • In 2017, that number rose to 24, with the same narco-on-narco parameters. The rise was attributed to a change in DTO tactics from shooting targeted victims in the populated city areas, to kidnapping the victim first and taking them to more remote locations before killing them.

In Mexico, express kidnappings are a common type of abduction and are based on the 24-hour withdrawal limit placed on ATM cards industry-wide. The victim is generally held for 24-48 hours and is forced to withdraw funds from a series of ATMs. The term "express kidnapping" is also applied to the kidnapping for ransom of victims held for brief periods where only small ransom amounts are demanded. A typical scenario may last for several hours and be settled for the peso-equivalent of a few thousand dollars. Although common in other parts of Mexico, there were no reports of express kidnappings in Nogales in 2015, 2016, or 2017.

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

Police Response

Police response to emergencies in Nogales is generally timely; however, in other cities in the consular district, the response time may not be as quick. A degree of narco-trafficking influence and complicity to criminal activity does affect police forces throughout Mexico. With the exclusion of several special units, Mexican law enforcement, especially at the local levels, is still developing professionally in comparison with U.S. standards. Many police are eager to serve, but they do not have the training and equipment to carry out their duties effectively. In addition, given that many of the local police grew up and live in the area with their families, they commonly acquiesce to threats of narco-trafficking violence. With low morale, poor pay, and narco-trafficking threats, local police typically have an overall negative perception with the populace in and with visitors to Sonora. The high number of arrests and the low rate of criminal convictions also contribute to low police morale.

For the most part, law enforcement agencies in Sonora have been responsive to the U.S. Consulate’s and commercial ventures’ requests for assistance when needed. In May 2014, the Consulate received credible information concerning threats made by the local cartel plaza leader to Americans traveling in Nogales or surrounding areas. Additionally in May 2014, the Consulate received credible information concerning threats against its employees made by the local cartel and a few municipal police officers. The Consulate worked with local authorities to investigate and prevent such actions. Neither 2015, 2016, nor 2017 saw any threats directed at Consulate personnel or the U.S. government.

However, in 2015, Sonora began a major change to its criminal justice system. Mexican courts are in the process of switching from the written correspondence-based system to the much faster U.S.-style Oral Adversarial System (courtroom hearings). Sonora was the last state in Mexico to transition to this new judicial system. This transition should streamline the Mexican judicial/criminal justice system. 

American citizens are advised to cooperate with police officials if detained and/or questioned.

How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment

Visitors to the Nogales Consular District may contact the Consular American Citizens Section (ACS) at U.S Consulate General Nogales if they encounter problems with police. Reports of police corruption in the form of grafting, or the “shake-downs” of tourists for an illegal fee, are very uncommon. There have not been any reports of police grafting against tourists in the Nogales Consular District since 2015. If you experience this form of corruption, please contact the U.S. Consulate General’s office of ACS.

Crime Victim Assistance

To contact police anywhere in the Nogales Consular District, dial 911. Nogales runs a 24-hour emergency dispatcher center (called C-4) with solid communications capability. The Nogales C-4 station tries to have at least one English speaker on duty.

If involved in a crime, a visit to the local police facility with the investigating officer may be required to file a complaint or for further information. Do not be surprised if you are asked to return the next day to receive a copy of an official police report. The review process for an official report can take a few days to complete.

Police/Security Agencies

Federal Police: Their primary function is highway patrolling and airport policing. Special units exist to investigate federal crimes and conduct counter narcotics activities.

Sonora State Police (Policia Estatal Investigadora, PEI): serves as the primary criminal investigative agency in the state. They have specialized groups that work with the U.S. FBI on kidnapping and other sensitive investigations.  

Municipal Police (Policia Municipal): They mainly patrol and conduct crime prevention. They are the primary responders when summoned through 911 in the Nogales area to include traditional police calls like traffic violations and incidents in the residential communities.

The Sinaloa cartel has infiltrated many levels of society in Nogales. Conducting periodic personnel background checks on employees is a very good practice. However, given the size and population of Nogales and the state of Sonora as a whole, it would be difficult to hire a sizable workforce that is completely insulated from DTOs. Best practice calls for the use of periodic employee interviews and initial/periodic background checks.   

Medical Emergencies

For any medical emergency in the Nogales Consular District, dial 911. Ambulance service in Nogales is reasonably reliable, although ambulance personnel are not as well trained as those in the U.S. The Cruz Roja de Mexico (Red Cross) also provides ambulance service.

Contact Information for Available Medical Services

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

Available Air Ambulance Services

In serious medical situations, drive across the border to Nogales, Arizona, and go to Holy Cross Hospital: 1171 W. Target Range Road, Nogales, AZ 85621

Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance

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

OSAC Country Council Information

The Nogales Country Council is active and meets quarterly. 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 Nogales,

Calle San Jose s/n

Fraccionamiento Los Alamos

Nogales, Sonora, Mexico

0800 to 1700pm, Monday thru Fridau

Consulate Contact Numbers

631-311-8150 (within Mexico)

011-52-631-311-8150 (from the United States)

Nearby Posts

Embassy Mexico City:

Consulate Ciudad Juárez:

Consulate Guadalajara:

Consulate Hermosillo:

Consulate Matamoros:

Consulate Mérida:

Consulate Monterrey:

Consulate Nuevo Laredo:

Consulate Tijuana:

Consulate Guidance

U.S. citizens traveling to Mexico should register with the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to ensure they receive pertinent security updates and notices.

Additional Resources

Mexico Country Information Sheet