Crime Trends

Transportation Strikes

Transportation Strikes 700 394 Greg Ellifritz

If you travel in the developing world, you’ll know that taxi and transportation strikes are stunningly common.  Have you prepared for one?  These travelers had to walk more than two miles from the airport to a location that wasn’t blockaded by striking taxi drivers in order to get to their hotels.  Can you carry your bags that far?  If not, you overpacked.


When I travel, I carry the Osprey Sojourner as my luggage.  It has very sturdy wheels as well as a set of hidden backpack straps and a hip belt in the event I am on rough terrain where the wheels won’t roll.


It’s not cheap, but it’s bulletproof and I can hike with it if necessary.

Brazilian tourist dies in taxi drivers’ blockade of Chilean airport

Bribery in Bangladesh

Bribery in Bangladesh 336 68 Greg Ellifritz

An article that explains the basis for some of the third world police corruption that you’ll see if you travel. Americans get all worked up over this, but I suggest you deal with it like the locals. Try to avoid the cops at all costs. If accosted, give a small bribe.

It’s important to know what the local bribery rate is so you don’t get overcharged as a foreigner. I find this information out by asking my first taxi driver. “Are the police corrupt here?” Inevitably, they will answer “yes.” My next question is “How much money do they ask for if you are stopped?” Taxi drivers know the drill and will give you the information you need.

Most of the time it’s easier just to give up the $5-$20 rather than fight or argue with the cop for hours and risk the chance of getting arrested if he plants some drugs in your car or on your person.


How The Police Make Money In Bangladesh (And Most Other Countries)



Airport Security

Airport Security 113 300 Greg Ellifritz

A look at some of the varied security practices in airports around the world.  Not surprisingly, it concludes that more security doesn’t always keep you safer.


Does More Security at Airports Make Us Safer or Just Move the Targets?


If you are interested in airport security, you may also want to read Seven Ways to Stay Safe in Airports.

Travel Theft

Travel Theft 880 643 Greg Ellifritz

A fairly in-depth article about the way that thieves operate in foreign countries.


Read it thoroughly.


Top 10 types of travel theft (and how to be safe)

Understanding the “Collective Mood”

Understanding the “Collective Mood” 300 139 Greg Ellifritz

I occasionally am asked how I assess the relative safety of the areas I inhabit when I travel to third world countries.


Different customs and language change societal norms, but these factors remain relatively constant no matter where you are in the world.


Take a look at this article and learn how to assess the baseline.  It will help you make  good decisions.


The techniques are recommended by the authors of Left of Bang, an excellent book to check out if you want to learn more about baseline behavior profiling.


The Collective Mood and You




Safest South American Destinations?

Safest South American Destinations? 1024 683 Greg Ellifritz

The article below has a lot of good information.


Safest countries in South America to visit: 6 places to travel stress-free


I’ve personally traveled to all of the countries (and most of the sites/cities listed as well) and generally agree with their assessment.


With that said, I would exercise caution in two places mentioned.  The first is Buenos Aires, Argentina.  It’s a big city in a country suffering an economic collapse.  While most areas are probably OK, I’m hesitant to give the entire city a “safe” rating.


The second is Ciudad del Este in Paraguay.  On the border of three countries, this city has a lot of drug trafficking, human trafficking, and stolen goods.  Be exceptionally careful here.



The Philippine Bullet Scam

The Philippine Bullet Scam 1263 500 Greg Ellifritz

Headed to the Philippines?


There is a high dollar bribery scam that has been executed against tourists at the Manila airport.  It doesn’t say so in the article, but I would guess that shooters might be seeing the brunt of it.  If you have bags with shooting logo or shooting gear, it might not be a far stretch for some customs official to plant some illegal bullets in your bag.  Be the gray man when you travel.  Don’t have any gun-related attire or gear anywhere on your person or in your bags.


How to Protect Yourself from the Airport Bullet Scam


And with regard to the Philippines, watch this nasty method used by criminals there to steal your phone (opens to Facebook video).

Assessing Neighborhood Safety- Gang Graffiti

Assessing Neighborhood Safety- Gang Graffiti 480 640 Greg Ellifritz

In my book Choose Adventure- Safe Travel in Dangerous Places I have a section of advice discussing how to assess whether an area is “safe” or not in a foreign country.  I wrote:


“Given the massive differences in culture, customs, and income, how can you tell if the neighborhood you are visiting is safe or not?  These guidelines may be pretty basic, but using them will give you a quick assessment of your relative safety in any neighborhood in the world:

            1) Are there lots of armed guards?

2) Do the properties seem to be run down or uncared for?

3) Are people in the area walking in pairs or small groups rather than walking alone?

4) Is there a lot of graffiti present on the walls?

5) Are there obvious security measures (like broken glass embedded atop walls, electric fences, barbed wire, etc.) present?

6) Are there lots of people are aimlessly “hanging out” in the street?


If you answer “yes” to most of these questions, you may not be in the world’s safest place.  It’s time to move on.


Beyond looking at these six factors, take a second and observe your environment to get a subjective “feel” for the location.  Is there more order or disorder?  Broken windows, graffiti, trash, fireworks, and items out of place are all signs of disorder.  Recent criminological studies have shown that there is a corresponding increase in crime as disorder increases.”


I’m living in Mexico right now.  I was reminded of this passage as I was walking around my neighborhood.


I’m renting a condo in a very nice and secure building in Playa del Carmen.  My neighborhood is fine, but I’m right on the boundary between the “tourist area” and the area where the locals live.


I’ve discussed transitional areas before.  One block away from my condo is the transitional area between high dollar tourists and economically disadvantaged locals.  It’s far from a dangerous place, but if you aren’t paying attention, you could quickly find yourself in a bad neighborhood.


Yesterday, I was running sprints at a local track that was maybe 10 blocks away from my condo.  As I walked to and from the track, I noticed a lot of graffiti.  As noted above, graffiti is generally a sign of disorder and a likely indicator that you may be in an unsafe area.  But context matters as well.  That’s what inspired this article.  Not all the graffiti I saw was a danger sign.  How does one know the difference?


I am far from an expert on gangs.  We didn’t have any gang violence in the town where I worked as a cop for 25 years.  That being said, I’ve always been curious about gang communications and I’ve been to quite a few gang-related police training classes over the years.


I’ve read lots of books on deciphering gang graffiti as well.  I’ve concentrated much of my research on the Latin gangs as I spend so much time in South and Central America.  I’ll use some pictures I took along my walk to help you understand some things about graffiti.


Here’s the first gang tag I saw on my walk.



If you can’t read it, it says “Sur 13 Pacas.


Sur” indicates “Sureno,” meaning “Southerner” one of the big Mexican gang confederations.  They are rivals with “Nortenos” or “Northerners.”


The number 13 indicates the group’s affiliation with the Mexican Mafia gang.  The Mexican Mafia is called “Eme” (the letter M) for short.  M is the thirteenth letter of the alphabet.


“Pacas” is Spanish for “bales” as in bales of marijuana.  I’m only guessing here, but I’ll go ahead and make the assumption that this particular set runs in the neighborhood and that they might be involved in drug dealing.


One of the other factors that helps identify gang graffiti from more innocuous “tagging” is the presence of certain stylized words or letters that form a symbol recognized by gang members.  It’s like a secret gang language.  See how the letter P has a dot that looks like an eye?  I don’t know what that means, but I can make a guess.  Turning letters into symbols like an eye, a crown, a star, an arrow, or some other object is indicative of gang graffiti.


When the particular neighborhood is jointly claimed by more than one gang, you will often see one gang sign crossed out and overwritten by another gang’s symbol or name.  Nothing like that here.  No other gang names anywhere around and this one appears to have been there awhile without being defaced.  That most likely means that the Sur13Pacas have reasonable control over the territory.


I saw a lot more graffiti on my walk.  None of it was gang related and wasn’t indicative of anything other than the fact that the police don’t likely patrol the area a lot at night and the property owners don’t really care about their property.  How can you tell the difference?


Take a look at these two photos.




See how these are bigger, more colorful, and more ornate?  Notice how they are individual names or nicknames and not names of a group?  Notice how they are adjacent to one another without being crossed out or defaced?


These are most likely not gang graffiti.  This is probably the work of teen graffiti artists known as “taggers.”  Some taggers do artwork for gangs, but many of them are independent street artists.  They are the same kind of people who paint their names on water towers, walls, and train cars in your hometown.  These indicate that a neighborhood doesn’t get much police contact at night, but aren’t necessarily indicative of danger.


On the same wall I saw this piece of graffiti.  I couldn’t figure it out.  Any guesses?



Remember how I stated “context matters?”  The context became clear when I walked the same route home after my run.  Here’s what I saw.


That was the normal parking location of the local French Fry truck.  The “gang graffiti” was merely an advertisement painted by the truck owners to stake out their territory and keep other food trucks from parking in the area.  Graffiti may be about territory, but it’s not always about gang territory.


More contextual stuff.  What would you think if you saw this?



Doesn’t look good, does it?


But in context, as part of this large mural, do you feel the same way?  Does this look more like disordered and random graffiti or more like a public art project?



I did some research.  This is a wall surrounding an elementary school playground.



According to the locals I spoke with, a group of local taggers and artists (represented in the photo above) got together and artistically decorated the walls of the school playground as a public service to make the area more fun for the children and less unsightly for the residents.


Spray painting school walls may not be a common thing in America, but different cultures have different ideas about what is appropriate.  This mural had widespread public support and no other tagger would dare deface it.


This is a sign of neighborhood cohesion, not neighborhood disorder.


Many times graffiti is a sign that bad things are happening in a neighborhood.  Sometimes it’s the exact opposite.  A skillful and informed traveler will understand the difference.






International Active Killer Attacks

International Active Killer Attacks 631 311 Greg Ellifritz

Stratfor is one of the large outfits providing intelligence and analysis of international terrorist attacks.  When digging through some old articles, I found their advice about dealing with an active killer attack while on foreign soil.


It’s exceptional advice.  Read it at the link below.



How to Counter Armed Assaults

Subway Platform Safety

Subway Platform Safety 1200 600 Greg Ellifritz

Living in a city without a subway, I had no idea about the crime trend where people push victims onto the tracks.


Read about this kind of crime and how to prevent it in the article below.  And be careful on subway platforms.


My Somewhat Freakish Travel Habit Might Just Save Your Life