Thursday, September 17, 2009

Crime in Peru

We’re frequently contacted by people who are considering a visit or perhaps even moving to Peru. Early on the questions revolve around what to see, where to stay, what clothing to bring, etc., but sometime during the communication the questions will be asked…”What about all the crime in Peru? Is it safe?” All of the travel guide books and websites respond to these questions with vague statements about “some areas are safer than others,” and advising “taking normal precautions.” In my opinion these comments don’t say anything. After living in the Lambayeque region for some 14 months let me share my perceptions and experience with you, but be aware there are many expats and Peruvians who would disagree with what I am about to write.

When you talk crime in Peru you’re talking about theft. Murder, assault, rape, child molestation, spousal abuse and any other form of violent crime are virtually non-existent. The occasional homicide that does happen is normally drug or corruption related. Break-in robberies occur much less often than they do in Milwaukee.

Theft is a big problem. It is normally of the pickpocket or purse snatching variety, though there is some occasional strong arm stuff. I could take you to Avenue Balta North right now and point out thieves working the crowded streets. After awhile you’d be able to recognize them yourselves. They’ll be young guys working either singly or in pairs; walking with the traffic but slightly faster and diagonally. They’ll be wearing baseball caps and bright colored T-shirts. If they have to run, the cap and T-shirt will be tossed to reveal a neutral colored shirt underneath. While walking through the crowd they are looking for jewelry that can be easily removed; a purse that is partially open or can be grabbed quickly, and any bulges in pockets indicating a wallet or cell phone. The solution is not to provide them with these conditions. Women generally carry money in their bras. Men carry money in the front pants pocket. I don’t carry a wallet. I have my credit card, identification and minimum amount of money in my front pocket.

You will be automatically looked at as a potential target if you’re a gringo, and especially if you’ve just come out of a store, or used an ATM, or changed money on the street with a cambista (money changer). In these cases simply follow the precautions I’ve outlined above and travel to wherever you’re going by a well traveled route. They won’t attempt the strong arm stuff in a crowd. If you take a taxi, walk several blocks from the cambista or ATM to insure the taxi driver was not watching you.

After living here awhile it becomes second nature to scan your surroundings as you travel. It’s no big deal, and the fact is I feel much safer here than I did in Milwaukee or Chicago. I have been targeted twice that I know of, and both times it was just a matter of me stopping and staring at them. They quickly changed direction and melted into the crowd.

And finally, it also helps if you can avoid the confused tourist look. In that case both thieves and scammers will be all over you. If you walk confidently and have an ‘I can take care of myself’ look in your eyes, they are less likely to try anything. On the other hand, if you have an exceptionally long neck; bounce on your toes when you walk, and tend to say ‘golly gee’ a lot, there is no hope for you. Kiss your money goodbye.


1 comment:

  1. Well, this writing is faithful at 90 %, that is very good for you being only 14 months in the place. From the other side, Chiclayo has an urban life that you have adapted very well. It must be an adventure every day. Some people arrive to have halloween parties there.