to Bolivian members - advice when confronted by uniform?

Travel Forums Central/South America & The Caribbean to Bolivian members - advice when confronted by uniform?

Last Post This thread is marked as being about Bolivia
1. Posted by Belize Me (Full Member 137 posts) 12y Star this if you like it!

Are there any Bolivian members who live in La Paz at the present time on this forum? Sorry, I haven't been a member long so I don't know.

Keeping in mind that we know there is a gang of thugs operating around La Paz who are impersonating police officers, can you give any suggestions/advice on what a person should do if confronted by someone in uniform? Is there a way to tell if they are 'the real deal'? Is it approriate to ask them for more id? Should visitors cause a disturbance if they are in doubt?

Given the number of disappearances lately, I thought these questions might be appropriate.

Thanks in advance,
Belize Me...(I should have picked a better username...I keep wanting to shorten this one to BM but it doesn't have the same ring)

2. Posted by Isadora (Travel Guru 13926 posts) 12y Star this if you like it!

Quoting Belize Me

(I should have picked a better username...I keep wanting to shorten this one to BM but it doesn't have the same ring)

If you do that, they may confuse you with Beerman and think you're a brew master!! ;)

On a serious note, I think it's a great question and hopefully some of our members will have some input on the situation in La Paz.

3. Posted by dbloom (Respected Member 586 posts) 12y Star this if you like it!

CRIME: The U.S. Department of State currently classifies Bolivia as a medium to high crime threat country. Street crime, such as pick pocketing and theft from parked vehicles, occurs with some frequency in Bolivia. Theft of cars and car parts, particularly late-model four-wheel-drive vehicles, is common. Hijacking of vehicles has occurred, and travelers should take appropriate precautions to avoid being victimized. In November 2003, an American citizen was murdered during an attempted carjacking in Santa Cruz.

There have been reports of “false police” -- persons using police uniforms, identification, and even buildings modified to resemble police stations -- intercepting and robbing foreign tourists. Under Bolivian law, police need a warrant from the “fiscal” or prosecutor to detain a suspect. Any searches or seizures must occur at a bona fide police station in the presence of the fiscal. The warrant requirement also applies to suspected drug trafficking cases, although such searches and seizures may occur without a fiscal present. If detained, U.S. citizens should request to see the warrant and demand immediate contact with the nearest U.S. Consular Office (in La Paz, Cochabamba or Santa Cruz).

According to press reports, criminals using the “false police” method focus on foreigners in areas frequented by tourists including bus terminals and tourist markets such as Sagarnaga Street in La Paz. The perpetrators will identify a potential victim and have an accomplice typically driving a white taxi offer taxi services to the potential victim. A few blocks after the potential victim boards the taxi another accomplice, pretending to be a recently arrived tourist, boards the taxi with the potential victim. With all the accomplices then in place, the “false police” stop the taxi, “search” the passengers, and rob the victim. As part of this scam, the false police may take the victim to a “false police” station.

Two Austrian citizens reportedly fell victim to this scam, had their bank accounts emptied through use of their ATM card, and have been missing in Bolivia since January 26, 2006.

Thefts of bags, wallets and backpacks are a problem throughout Bolivia, but especially in the tourist areas of downtown La Paz and the Altiplano. Most thefts involve two or three people who spot a potential victim and wait until the bag or backpack is placed on the ground, often at a restaurant, bus terminal, Internet café, etc. In other cases, the thief places a disagreeable substance on the clothes or backpack of the intended victim, and then offers to assist the victim with the removal of the substance. While the person is distracted, the thief or an accomplice grabs the bag or backpack and flees. In such a situation, the visitor should decline assistance, secure the bag/backpack, and walk briskly from the area. To steal wallets and bags, thieves may spray water on the victim's neck, and while the person is distracted, an accomplice takes the wallet or bag. At times the thief poses as a policeman, and requests that the person accompany him to the police station, using a nearby taxi. The visitor should indicate a desire to contact the U.S. Embassy and not enter the taxi. Under no circumstances should you surrender ATM or credit cards, or release a PIN number. While most thefts do not involve violence, in some instances the victim has been physically harmed and forcibly searched for hidden valuables. Visitors should avoid being alone on the streets, especially at night and in isolated areas.

Five years ago female tourists reported being drugged and raped by a tourist guide in the city of Rurrenabaque in the Beni region. Visitors should be careful when choosing a tour operator and should not accept any type of medication or drugs from unreliable sources. The Embassy has received reports of sexual assaults against female hikers in the Yungas Valley, near the town of Coroico. Visitors to Coroico are advised to avoid hiking alone or in small groups.

INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME: The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance. The Embassy/Consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends and explain how funds may be transferred. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.

SAFETY AND SECURITY: The countrywide emergency number for the police, including highway patrol, is 110. The corresponding number for the fire department is 119. The National Tourism Police has an office in La Paz, with plans to expand to Cochabamba and Santa Cruz, providing free assistance to tourists 24 hours a day. These services include English-speaking officials who may assist tourists in filing police reports of lost/stolen documents or other valuables. The La Paz office is located at Plaza del Stadium, Edificio Olympia, planta baja, Miraflores, telephone number 222-0516.


If you are not a US Citizen, go onto the travel advisory website of your own country or contact your own Consulate or Embassy in La Paz if residing or volunteering in Bolivia now.

If walking around cities carry only a copy of your passport, leaving original or valuables at home or in hotel safe, when going to ATM machines never go alone and try one in an area that is guarded. when leaving the building with a large amount of money and your card, take a taxi, or have friend with a car waiting to take you home or hotel. At night take taxis to and from destinations. If you feel you are being shaken down, don't act afraid, be forceful and indicate you wish to call uniformed police in a patrulla, hopefully you speak some Spanish. What they want is your credit or debit cards, cash and your PIN number. Never tell strangers where you are staying and for how long.

4. Posted by dbloom (Respected Member 586 posts) 12y Star this if you like it!

Remember, the shock effect of the planted drugs, then the uniforms, then there is usually the "deal" after the "arrest" that the drug charges will be forgotten if only you'll pay us so much money, etc. Travelers in a strange city who'll pay just to get out of a jam. Remember the embassies and the actual police force know what is going on in Bolivia by now, so if it happens cause a commotion and try to get away unless you have a gun pointed right at you. Another thing most travelers in Latin America do not realize is the proliferation of cellphones, years ago few people could afford a land line and in recent years cellphones have gotten to be reasonably priced and are charged with pre paid cards, no credit required, and the theives use them as well, spotting you heading into the market or out the bus terminals they'll call their partners. This happens at international borders when someone changes a lot of cash, then the bus gets robbed on the other side. The most dangerous theives are ex-military and ex-police who have been fired for corruption (Cops generally have to buy their own uniforms in L.A.)uniformed, armed and familiar with procedure. Bus terminals, large outdoor markets and borders are generally the most dangerous places to stay around most anywhere in Latin America. I hear travellers complaining about the "Americanized" shopping malls here in San Salvador, yet a good safe place, guarded, to go to ATM machine and great for sitting in a relaxing cafe, very few natives and less of us residents go Downtown to the Centro unless necessary, as it is dirty, polluted and very dangerous, the same in every major Central American City, even San José in Costa rica becoming very dangerous in some areas. I'll pay a few cents more for safety and security. I love the outdoor markets its just too much to go there often anymore.

5. Posted by HereICome (Full Member 67 posts) 12y Star this if you like it!

We are two women from Australia currently in Cusco. We spent 2 days in Lima and both of us had our camers stolen and I was hit in the face as well on our very first day. We spent the next 48 hrs too scared and upset to do very much at all. Our experience with the police did nothing to comfort us. The most scary day of my life so far.
Ive been following the info about the 2 Austrians missing in Bolivia and was distressed to hear their bodies were found. The whole process used by the gangs is unnerving as just being careful is not enough to help you it seems. When you cant find safety in police or taxis, where do you turn????
We had planned to go to La Paz and Copacabana next but now are seriously rethinking it.
Can anyone tell me anything trhat will convince us either way? I would be disappointed to skip La Paz, but one bad experience in Lima is enough for this trip.
We are on our way to the Pantanal on the border of Brazil.

6. Posted by dbloom (Respected Member 586 posts) 12y Star this if you like it!

Lima, like any big city is very dangerous, never carry cameras or other valuables in plain sight in cities and crowded market areas until you get oriented, especially in the large cities dress conservatively and try to blend in, never walk around with backpack, fanny pack, camera and shorts until you get to a tourist/travel destination. Invite you to join our project (non profit)where you will be able to "Surf" or stay with locals upon advance to join..I've been in "hospitality clubs" since the early 1980s and has enhanced my travel experiences just view when you are able.

7. Posted by Belize Me (Full Member 137 posts) 12y Star this if you like it!

Quoting Isadora

[quote=Belize Me](I should have picked a better username...I keep wanting to shorten this one to BM but it doesn't have the same ring)

If you do that, they may confuse you with Beerman and think you're a brew master!! ;)


Thanks for the tip! I'll remain a longform...and leave the shortform to BM
...don't want to be accused of identity theft, and I certainly don't want it to look like I'm trying to steal anyone else's thunder...especially a Beerman's
Belize Me!