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Crime and Safety

Panama - Crime and Safety

In comparison with some other central and southern American countries, crime is relatively low, although in recent years it has risen. The most densely populated areas have higher crime rates than the rural areas and an increase in drug related and gun crimes has been reported. Areas close to the borders with Costa Rica and Colombia are considered to be high risk areas due to the rise in smuggling and organized crime is high in the area. In response to this the Panamanian police have organized more patrols in the border regions. The road between Panama and Colombia is considered to be one of the most dangerous routes in the Central American region and using it as a way to get from one country to the other is not recommended.

Burglaries are not high, although they do occur, particularly in more affluent neighbourhoods. There is not a high incidence of people being attacked in their homes while a burglary is taking place although it does occur. Most thieves will only strike if they know the house is empty. Petty crimes such as pick pocketing and thefts from cars are common, but no more so than anywhere else in the world.

Expats have reported being the victim of express kidnappings, where they have been grabbed from the street and taken to an ATM so that they can hand over money immediately. It is very rare that victims are harmed during this type of crime. Credit card fraud is on the increase, so it is advised that people use their cards with caution. People are also advised to be careful when they are out having a drink as another common scam is for drinks to be spiked so that a person can be robbed.

In order to keep a high profile, the police conduct regular checkpoints of cars at key points in the cities. This helps to keep track of criminal movements. High crime areas in Panama City are San Miguel, Cabo Verde, Curundu, Veracruz Beach, Panama Viejo and Rio Abajo, among others. Safer areas tend to be wealthier areas of the cities and smaller towns. Tourist attractions tend to attract thieves and pickpockets as they are aware that people will be carrying more money and valuables such as cameras with them.

The Panamanian National Police have a section for dealing specifically with crimes against tourists and visitors from abroad. There are police stations located in all the major urban areas of the country and Panama City in particular has several. They generally respond quickly to incidents and look after foreign visitors well. They can be contacted by dialing 104, but it is unlikely that you will get an operator that speaks English and most police officers do not speak much English. A member of the team which deals with tourist crime is more likely to speak good English. If you are in a situation where you need the police but you do not believe that your Spanish is fluent enough, have someone with you who can speak the language well. This can save time and help to get matters resolved much more quickly.

If you are involved in a road accident while you are in Panama, somebody involved should call for the police. Cars are left where they are until the police arrive to deal with the situation instead of being moved to the side of the road.

The government is taking action to help to curb increases in crime. Measures include curfews for the under 18s. Those who need to be out after a certain time, such as students who need to attend lectures, must have an ID card supplied by the university. Those who are out without the ID card may be detained at a police station until a responsible adult collects them. The guardians are fined on the first occasion. This has helped to reduce the number of youths who hang around the streets at night. Gangs are on the increase in poorer areas and the police are taking measures to deal with the situation.

The police are armed and have been since they were established.

Useful Resources

Alto al Crimen
For emergencies in Boquete you can dial 6477 6662 for bilingual assistance (crime, medical, fire etc). This is a free service of Alto al Crimen, a not for profit foundation working to reduce crime in Boquete.

Read more about this country

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