República Dominicana / Dominican Republic Democracia y Seguridad Ciudadana Democracy and Citizen Security

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General Overview

In a similar pattern of other countries in the Caribbean region, the Dominican Republic increasingly struggles with rising criminality and violence. A corridor for the transshipment of drugs from South America to the US, the island witnessed a growing number of youth gangs, fire arms smuggling, robberies and also a general sense of insecurity.

The number of homicides has also increased. In 2005, for example, the homicide rate reported by Dominican Republican National Police was 26.41 per 100.000, as high as those in very violent countries such as Brazil[1] and double the island's homicide rate in the year 2000[2]. Although the increase in homicide rates cannot be linked to one specific cause, psychologist Mayra Brea de Cabral argues that there is a strong connection between the number of homicides and the number of fire arms in the hands of civilians in the country. In a study published in 2006[3], she shows that 58% of all the homicides committed between January 2000 and September 2005 have been caused by fire arms. That means an average of 2 homicides by fire arms per day. If considering the first nine months of the year 2005, the percentage of homicides caused by fire arms jumps to 68% of all the registered homicides.

A big proportion of the weapons in civilians' hands in Dominican Republic enter the country through smuggling, especially in the porous frontier with Haiti. Nevertheless, the 1965 legislation that regulates the use of fire arms in Dominican Republic do not impose severe limitations to the use of fire arms. According to this legislation, civilians are able to legally carry guns as long as they can justify their need to protect themselves and meet some requirements determined by law[4]. The result has been an incredible amount of fire arms licenses granted to civilians. Between September 2003 and June 2005, for example, the Interior and Police Secretariat granted 178.193 licenses for the possession and carrying of fire arms. Of this amount, 93.4% were private licenses and only 6.5% official[5].

As Cabral explains, many people feel compelled to carry their own guns because the distrust in the institutions responsible for citizen security. However, an increased amount of persons, especially youngsters, are seduced by the symbolism of power and status that a gun has acquired in societies marked by deep social and economic inequalities such as those of Latin America. As a study by Ismael Guerrero, from the University of Caribe shows, between 2001 and 2004 there were 404 fire arms apprehensions from teenagers under 18 years old[6]. According to the study, crime amongst young people has grown so intensively in Dominican Republic that every three hours one teenager is submitted to the judicial system for committing an infraction to the penal law. They are, for example, the largest group committing robberies in the country. As showed by Guerrero in his study, between 2001 and 2004, teenagers accounted for 45% of all the robberies registered in Dominican Republic.

Their participation in drug trafficking is growing rapidly in recent years too. As pointed out by a recent World Bank study[7], because Dominican Republic's criminal justice system does not allow arrest or incarceration of youth under 13 years old[8], drug lords and gangues are increasingly using these minors to carry out crimes. As a result the number of youngsters both perpetrating crimes and being murdered in Dominican Republic has been on the rise. While in 2000 the homicide deaths for minors between 12 and 15 years old was close to 2%, in 2005 this percentage had jumped to almost 20%[9]. The arrests of minors followed a similar trend, having tripled between 2000 and 2003. And although arrests of minors started to decline in 2004 and 2005, those related to illegal drugs and arms have showed no sign of decrease.

In face of the increased crime and violence, the Dominican Republic government has taken important steps to reinforce and better the security offered to its citizenry. In 2005, the launch of the Democratic Security Plan put emphasis on preventive policing and set a series of programs directed to education, sports and housing in areas of high vulnerability. In the legislative area, there were also improvements. Since 1998, there are no legislative bars to the extradition of Dominican nationals to the US, where they are tried mostly for involvement in drug trafficking. Also, the promulgation of a new money laundering legislation in 2002 imposes more restrictive conditions for money deposits and other transactions, thus making it more difficult to invest drug money.

Another progress has been made in the police sector, where a new leadership has expelled officials involved with murder, rape and torture and promoted a new culture centered in human rights. Also, the recent arrest of a Dominican Vice Consul assigned to Haiti for transporting firearms and almost 90 pounds of illegal drugs into the Dominican Republic not only represents a significant improvement in the border security but also a tremendous step towards cracking down on official corruption.

While there is much to do to guarantee a safe Dominican Republic to all its citizens (and visitors), the efforts made in the citizen security sector seem to be heading in the right direction - that of respect and partnership with the citizenry.

[1] The homicide rate for Brazil according to its Ministry of Health was 28.9 in 2003.
[2] In 2000, the homicide rate for Dominican Republic was 13.09 per 100.000 inhabitants as reported by the National Police.
[3] Cabral, Mayra Brea de Cabral y Edylberto Cabral Ramírez, "Homicidios y Armas de fuego en República Dominicana", Psicología Cientifica, mayo 2006. Available at:
[4] The exceptions for acquiring and carrying gun include people under 18 years old, mentally insane, drug addicts and alcoholics, as well as those condemned by the Justice or facing a trial. The requirements are the payment of corresponding fees, medical exams (anti doping proof and mental sanity), insurance payment and a certification of the solicitant's participation in a theoretical workshop for using a gun as well as in practices of shooting. A project intended to better control the emission of guns licenses has already been introduced to Congress and awaits vote.
[5] Taken from "Homicidios y armas de fuego en Republica Dominicana" and based in official data from the Interior and Police Secretariat.
[6] Guerrero, Ismael, "Delincuencia Juvenil en la Republica Dominicana", Universidad del Caribe, n/d.
[7] United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and Latin American and the Caribbean Region of the World Bank, "Crime, Violence and Development: Trends, Costs, and Policy Options in the Caribbean", 2007.
[8] This prohibition is established in the Law 136/03 (Código para el Sistema de Protección y los Derechos de Niños, Niñas y Adolescentes), article 223 which states that children under the age 13
[9] United Nations Office on Drugs, 2007, 65.



Last Update: February 27 , 2007