Municipal Police of Roatan in their car

Police and crime on Roatan


 

“One moment of patience may ward off a great disaster. One moment of impatience may ruin a whole life.” - Chinese Proverb
 

Security on Roatan 

 

This is a minefield of a chapter as everyone here has their different views on crime. Our views are of course formed from what has happened to each one of us personally. If you have been a victim of a violent crime anywhere in the world your view of that particular place will change. I guarantee it is not only in Honduras. Also if nothing has happened to you then you are apt to say it is perfectly safe. This is called survivor bias  and is a logical error by concentrating on the people, situations, or events that they know of or have experienced and overlooking those that they are typically unaware of because of their lack of knowledge or here usually personal experience

 

Let me give you a simple example. Walking from West Bay beach to West End along the shore. If you ask me I will tell you not to do it. I will warn you that muggings have happened along that stretch as there is a lot of jungle for perpetrators to hide in and it is very difficult to catch them. If you talk to someone else they may tell you with complete honesty they have walked that stretch a hundred times and nothing has ever happened to them. We are both right. However, the person with survivor bias often believes nothing can happen as nothing has happened to them nor has anything happened for several years in that area.

If the tourist listens to the other person and nothing happens to them on their two-week vacation then they can then leave thinking I am spreading fear for no reason, they will then go on to happily tell people that stretch is safe reinforcing the bias. It is not safe, not yet anyway.

I use this story as an example as this happened under a  year ago. I even got some nasty messages from some of the new hotel owners along that stretch. 

 

However, I have been here for 17 years and I am one of the Admins of Roatan Crime Watch on Facebook which is the largest private group that tries to help the community solve and prevent crime. Membership is only available to those who live here. It is there to help us try to solve, prevent crime, share knowledge of known issues and pressure the police and government where we can to handle known situations. 

 

Sadly I can confidently tell you robberies do happen on that stretch.  One actually happened two days after I was harassed by certain people. No, it was not me trying to win an argument by robbing someone. It was the first time in a long time and I have only heard of one since.  If you are one of those that have had their camera, wallet, etc. taken then you have a very different viewpoint than those who will tell people it is perfectly safe.

 

My intention is not to scare people, only to make them aware of the possibilities. To make them think before going places that they do not know about or have been recommended.  Think before they walk down a dark street at night instead of waiting for a taxi. Think before they take a bunch of cash out of an ATM and then just that is not in a secure location. Common sense will take you a long way. I cannot predict the future. I am just aware of the past. Crime on this island tends to go in cycles as, to be honest, there are not many places for a criminal to hide and with so many cameras and only one major road, eventually, something happens to them.

 

I know this article is going to cause me grief on the island but I tell all my clients exactly the same to their faces and it would be doing a disservice to do otherwise. I am frank and sometimes brutally honest even to my own detriment but you know if you ask me a question you will get an honest and considered opinion.

 

Since I used that section of beach as my example, I will catch hell from the proprietors and business people along that beach, and with fair reason. I am not telling you to keep away from it there are a number of bars and restaurants down there with great music and food. I am going to be hanging out there. That stretch is changing as more hotels are being developed and private security services from the hotels are linking together to help each other out and watch out for their customers. It is getting safer all the time. However, again I will be exercising the same caution I am advocating from you. 

Stay safe

 

My cardinal rule in Honduras is to keep my head down and don't get involved. Think like you are in a big city full of strangers. Yes, that lady was lovely and told you all about her children as she tried to sell you illegal conch shells on the beach. Does that mean your phone is safe if you forget it on your seat when you go into the sea? Of course not. If you are casually negligent with something small and easily hidden that is worth 4 months' pay to people that live on the poverty line I know where the blame lies. Neither am I victim-blaming it is just common sense. Don't flash expensive items around especially after dark, don't hang out with people you don't know, don't wander around areas you are not familiar with, don't wander away from the tourist areas, and don't behave aggressively.

 

 In general when people ask me about crime. I tell them to act and think carefully and take all sensible precautions with that done they can relax, drink and have fun. 

 

There are certain areas where you can live on this island where people don't even lock their doors, I live in one. Areas where crime is practically unheard of but you will pay for that privilege as you are essentially living in an enclave. Most of West Bay, Pristine Bay, Keyhole Bay, Parrot Tree, and various other developments where security is managed by private police are spectacularly safe. Bull Dog security runs the area around Keyhole and West Bay and I feel perfectly safe wherever they are patrolling. I cannot recommend them enough as a private security firm and there are other good ones on the island as well. If I call them they are usually there within 10 mins. When buying a property you need to be made aware of the location and surroundings. I have refused to show houses before as I know the history of the location. If you choose to live in a jungle location with no neighbors then you will need to have dogs or a live-in guard. The house can't be left alone. As the saying goes here. "The jungle has eyes."

 

Also, safety is not just about serious crimes like robbery. How safe do you feel in your day-to-day living? Going to the store, hanging out with friends on the beach, and driving around the island. My answer is I feel extremely safe!  My three children grew up here from kindergarten until they left for university and I had no concerns about them hitching rides or wandering about the island with their friends - often jumping in the back of a stranger's truck to get a ride to a friend's house or local beaches. When I carry on my normal day-to-day routine the worst thing that may happen to me is someone approaching me to beg for money. 

 

The community here is tight and there for you. My daughter at her commencement speech said something along these lines: What I love most about the island is also what I hate most. I know that wherever I am if I have a problem I can ask for help from someone nearby and I will be given it! I also know wherever I am on the island if I do something wrong my father will know about it before I get home. 

 

Of course, there is crime here, sometimes serious crime. There is crime everywhere and you are now thinking about living in a third-world country where the minimum wages are a few hundred dollars a month. So again at the point of being boring and repetitive that iPhone 12 looks enticing, and if you leave it alone on the bar it will not be there when you get back. So be aware and think about your surroundings like you would in any place full of strangers.

 

Roatan is not the mainland

Let's make something really clear Roatan is not the mainland and I have lived there. The things you read and make the news about cities like San Pedro Sula and Tegucigalpa are not true here. This is an English-speaking island with very few roads for criminals to move around on and everyone knows everyone else's business. If you go to the mainland for fun or business you will see the massive difference in security there.

 

In 17 years here I have never personally been in or encountered a serious crime or incident but I certainly know of many. However, they are seldom random and often have some underlying causes such as drugs, land disputes, injured pride (remember the aggression warning), and sour relationships to name a few. This is not the first world and grudges, debts, and affronts are often handled personally.

 

There are two issues most people living here complain about from a security perspective. Disorganization and inaction by the police.  If you call the police for help in an emergency they may turn up in a day or two. The community has WhatsApp groups where we have learned to help ourselves. Secondly, the legal system always seems to favor the criminals the fiscal (public prosecutors), and judges seem to let out criminals the moment they are caught. Diligent security companies like Bulldog security will hunt down perpetrators, file all necessary denuncias (statements), and then watch the court let the criminal they caught "in the act" walk straight out onto the street to repeat the same offense. Only through continued pressure do criminals go to jail, which companies like Bulldog actually handle on your behalf.

 

Yes, it is safe to raise a family!

 

This may seem like a bleak picture but again I will remind you I brought up my three children up as a single parent here from the age of 4 until they left for university and I would do it again. I have lived in New York, San Francisco, and Sydney and I experienced more crime in those places than here. I certainly feel safer here in Roatan than I did growing up in England.

 

Once here we have several Facebook and WhatsApp groups where we report and share crime details to help locate criminals, find lost property, and keep each other aware of anything serious that is happening. The modern equivalent of Neighborhood Watch.

 

To summarize what I have said. I feel safe here. I love it here. Would I recommend living here to friends and family? I have and they do! Just be sensible then you can relax and enjoy yourself.

 

The police

Honduras has several different types of police, and I will briefly explain each service and its responsibility. There are two main times you are going to run into them here. One is at a roadblock. These police officers will generally be dressed in military fatigues and are a mixture of Military Public Order Police (PMOP) and the National Police who wear blue shirts.  Roadblocks are quite common, especially around holidays, at night when leaving the nightclub areas or when important people visit the island. Intriguingly they are not that common when it rains. I have never figured that out. (more sarcasm) 

 

They pull you over to check your ID and see if the paperwork for the car matches the car plates. Then they let you on your way. Be polite, always be polite to the police, I know some people carry around cans of soda or water just to hand them out be extra nice. Bribery? Not in my book. They are underpaid, it can be very hot and if you can put them in a good mood I am all for it.  Communication may be hard as most do not speak English since they are rotated onto the island from the mainland. So if you are pulled over, help them out and take out your driver's license and car matriculation /registration and have it ready for them. Just nod and smile a lot while saying "Turista"  and maybe practice your Spanish. Your terrible accent might make them laugh and brighten their day. Normally they will wave you on quickly. Occasionally they will pull you aside when they check something. Do not lose your temper or get irritated. Otherwise, that 2 min roadblock may turn into a 2-hour wait while they check something out. They have the power to severely ruin your day so be charming. 

 

This is a good point to mention several weird rules in Honduras. It is illegal not to be carrying an ID. Any ID will do but if you only have your passport, you do not want to carry it around. You shouldn't carry your passport it should be somewhere safe. Instead, make sure you carry color copies of it. It is also extremely illegal to carry someone else's ID on you.  You must wear a t-shirt/top when you are driving a car. You must wear seat belts back and front. It is illegal to smoke while driving or in a bar that is covered. You must wear a helmet on a scooter. It's illegal to drink and drive. If you are in a crash you may not move any vehicle until the police arrive. Oh and if you are in a crash you as a foreigner will always be at fault. The last one is not a law, well not a written one.

 

The other place you will see police is just wandering around the tourist areas and beaches. These are usually the municipal police and enforce local codes. Sometimes they even enforce the no parking areas by booting cars. Sometimes.
 

City Police – Municipality 

These officers wear white shirts and black pants (with a red line that runs down on the side of their pants) as part of their uniforms. Municipal police are there to enforce state law and local ordinances and to maintain order in the community. 

You will often see these officers at the beaches of West Bay and West end, mostly when the beaches are full, for example when cruise ships arrive. They walk around ensuring the safety of us all. Yay.

 

National Police  

The Honduran National Police wear blue uniforms, sky blue shirts, and navy-blue pants. These officers attend crimes on the island, such as robbery, assault, etc.  As are most government services in Honduras they are seriously underfunded. Normally they function in urban areas but in Roatan, they attend to serious crimes.

Officers often lack vehicles/fuel to respond to calls for assistance. Police may take hours to arrive at the scene of a violent crime, or may not respond at all. As a result, criminals can operate with a high degree of impunity. More than once I have known people that had to buy gas for officers or give them a ride to help them catch criminals.

 

 

The National Police have been known to help train the Municipal Police on Roatán making a strategic alliance with the municipal mayor's office to create an adequate security climate on the island.


 

Military Public Order Police (PMOP)

 

These officers normally wear green camouflage. You mostly see these officers when there are roadblocks on the island. These officers routinely establish checkpoints and review documentation (e.g. driver’s licenses, vehicle registration). Along with the National Police. 

 

The creation of the Military Police of Public Order, commonly known as PMOP due to its initials in Spanish, followed a law, which also described the measure as temporary (Decreto 168-2013). Today, this body functions as the policing branch of the Armed Forces, with the objective of “maintaining and preserving public order, as well as aiding citizens to safeguard the safety of persons and property in cooperation with the National Police”. 

 

The Cobras and the TIGRES 

The special militarized police unit, TIGRES (Special Comprehensive Governmental Security Response Unit), was created in 2013 (Decree 103-2013). Trained by the US Green Berets, they are responsible for strengthening the State’s institutional actions in combating insecurity. Although this unit forms part of the country’s police, its officers wear camouflage uniforms, carry long-range firearms, and have specialized communications equipment. Civil society organizations report that the TIGRES and PMOP perform hybrid security duties, such as patrolling streets and highways, maintaining order during public protests, and protecting mining and hydroelectric companies in cases of conflict with local communities. These guys are called in to keep the public in order and if they arrive it is best to keep well out of their way.

 

 



 

Denuncias - What to do if you are a victim of a crime

 

If you are a victim of a crime even if you believe there is no hope of catching the criminal or recovering your items, we want you to report it. The government measures crime strictly by the filling of denuncias (complaints/statements) so if you don't file one it quite literally did not happen. The government apportions funding for the police etc. based on these reports so it is important to the community.

 

However, you need to report your crime in person at the office in French Harbor. They do not speak English so it is important if you do not speak Spanish to take someone that does. I have seen people with no Spanish skills turned away at the door. 

 

I have had to report several crimes, losing your ID counts as one. However, my Spanish is now sufficient to get through it with little problem. The first time I filed one was many years ago when I spoke no Spanish. The officer left for his lunch halfway through filling out the form, I sat there for an hour not knowing what was happening. However, as I constantly tell people always remain polite even when pushed with rudeness. If you want to know how a bureaucrat can make your life a misery just ignore my words you will learn eventually. "Karens" don't exist here as they would probably starve to death waiting in some waiting room somewhere.

 

If you are reporting stolen items - photos, serial numbers, receipts, etc are important so make sure you have as much information as possible. These days you should keep copies of every serial number, and any item you travel with including your passport and documentation as photos in the cloud.

 

If you cannot find a translator (try hard - community members are helpful if you ask) then write it out in English in short clear sentences and translate it with google translate. Make sure you have google-translator working on your phone. You may find some of these words helpful.

Vocabulary kindly provided by the Language Loft of Roatan does a class on filing denuncias in their language courses. Highly recommended them.

The Language Loft of Roatan

 

Nombre: First name

Primer Apellido: Last Name

Segundo Apellido: Spanish culture has two last names the mother and father's surname.

Estado Civil: Your marriage states (Soltera, casada, viuda)

Nacionalidad: Where you are from (Estados Unidos, Británico, Canadiense etc.)

País de Residencia: Where you live. See above.

Fecha de Nacimiento: Your date of birth remember they do it the correct way here day/month/year

 

hubo--there was, there were (preterit tense of hay--there was,there were) 

un robo-- a robbery

la delincuencia--crime (as a general concept)

la comisaría--the police station

la policía-- the police

robar--to steal

hurtos--thefts

entrar-- to enter

romper la puerta-- to break the door

perder-- to lose

llevar cosas-- to take things away

¿Qué pasó?-- What happened? 

¿Qué sucedió?-- What took place?

 

el pasaporte--the passport

el ladrón--thief

el delincuente--delinquent, criminal

cartera--wallet

carterista--pick-pocket

engañar-- to fool 

daños-- damages, hurts

suceder-- to occur, to happen

poner una denuncia--to make a police report

reportar el crimen--to report a crime

denunciar--to accuse, report

darse cuenta--to realize, find out

reportar--to report

acusar a alguien--to accuse someone

hacer daño--to cause damage

aprovechar de alguien-to take advantage of someone

pedir ayuda--to requests/ask for help

escribir un reportaje--to write a report

recuperar--to recover, to get something back

darse cuenta--to realize
 

There is no such place as paradise but Roatan comes close in my mind.
Stay safe and have fun. Isn't that why you are here?
Wallet being stolen crime
Roatan Municipal Police Graduating
Hondurran National Police in Roatan being briefed
PMOP hybrid police in Honduras
Honduras TIGRES Special Comprehensive Governmental Security Response Unit
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