Is Pedasi Safe?
My Interview with the Police: How safe is Pedasi, really?
In Pedasi, expat and local children play unattended in the neighborhood. They come home for food just like “the olden days”. They come home dirty and full of bruises and sweat. And hungry! I could be wrong, but I think regardless of what is said or written, the truest test of community safety is to look at the children. At the first sign of danger, a mother will protect her children by keeping them close, and a father will put bars on the windows and barbed wire around the house.
Pedasi has a reputation nationwide as a calm, happy, and safe place. If you ask Panamanians in the City what they know of Pedasi, they will mention the beaches, the tranquility and the security. That is a large part of why we chose this area for our family, and why many other people we know personally made the same decision. But, rather than share only my opinion, I wanted to verify by interviewing people who live here as well as the local police. Here are the results of that meeting:
Recently, I spent about an hour with Señor Rigoberto, First Sergeant in Pedasi’s police force. Panama as a country is not immune to thugs, gangs, robberies, drug trafficking and gang violence. When I asked Sr. Rigoberto about the presence of these types of violence in Pedasi, he said that in his experience here, there have been no recent instances of violent crimes and the area is much safer than nearby smaller cities like Chitre and Santiago. According to him, there were three fatalities in the past two years outside of natural causes. One was a suicide, another a traffic accident and the third, and very sad passing of a local fisherman who was struck by lightning. Over the past year, a police officer was attacked when responding to a domestic violence call.
Fighting among the population is extremely rare, and always the talk of the town the few times it does happen. We were surprised that even during Carnival and other holidays with excessive drinking over long periods of time, people are generally relaxed and happy! As a female, it is always wise to have a male companion, but I have never personally felt unsafe at any event.
Pedasi is not immune to home invasion thefts or “crimes of opportunity”. Earlier this year, there was a small string of about five non-violent home invasion thefts. It seemed that all or most were situations where homes had low visibility and the perpetrators entered through open doors or windows when they knew no one was home. The police were not able to apprehend any suspects, although town gossip had identified a few possible perpetrators. A few years past there was a more serious string of thefts carried out by a visiting gang and in conjunction with help from some locals who were acting as lookouts. It was a huge concern for the expat community, and resulted in the foundation of additional security measures and neighborhood watch programs to act as a supplement to the police force. Letters were written to governing authorities and town hall type meetings were common. After Pedasi regained a sense of calm, these neighborhood watch groups seemed to die out. However, recently, a new group met to re-energize the movement. Hopefully this is the beginning of a new initiative to be proactive against home invasion type crimes.
According to Sr Rigoberto, there are always two National Police cars in patrol. They perform regular roadside stops checking for illegal immigration, suspects and drugs. They also enforce the curfew for youths under the age of 18. Occasionally you will see roadside stops carried out by the National Aeronaval Service, a more military-like police force that fights drug trafficking and violent crime. You will often see them in their camouflage uniforms riding on motorcycles. Their presence is reassuring and yet at the same time keeps you alert that no place in the world is completely without its problems.
Recently, a vacant home in an upscale neighborhood was vandalized by a few young teens. The whole thing was caught on video camera and the footage circulated quickly on private channels. It was amazing to me the responses in both the expat and local community. The locals practice public shaming and really make a huge deal about these incidents in the community as a disgrace to the town and the family involved. There are no laws that protect the identities of children involved in crime, but there also are no punishments for them other than a few scary meetings with the Police. Because Pedasi is such a small and tight-knit community, even small crimes are quickly addressed by the “village”.
I asked the First Sergeant what we as an expat community could to to help keep crime low, and his response was that homes should be occupied year round as a deterrent to home invaders looking for an easy target. Expats who live here only in winter should strongly consider a full time caretaker or tenant that you trust to protect your assets here.
One area of danger is the road between Pedasi and Playa Venao, especially in rainy season. I have personally seen several accidents and two semi trucks spilled over. It seems strange that with so much tourism in Playa Venao, the road would continue to be so unsafe for the area tourists. There are rumors of bureaucracy red tape, and a lot of finger pointing. Hopefully, a solution is presented soon either privately or through the government for the safety of the truckers, the tourists and to those who use the road for the enjoyment of the great surfing and restaurants!
Natural dangers are found globally, and Pedasi is no exception. The ocean is as strong a force as any, and beachgoers need to be careful for the tides and currents. There are some beaches better suited for a casual swim than others. Even experienced surfers and bodyboarders have found themselves in life-threatening situations. Always enter the water with a friend, especially as a tourist or newcomer, and follow the lead of the locals. The area also has some poisonous snakes and spiders to keep an eye out for.
In medical emergencies, there is now a functioning hospital and emergency room in Pedasi. The nearby city of Chitre offers most necessary medical treatments with English speaking doctors available. Pedasi’s Mayor, Miguel Batista, is leading a committee of community members who are working together to improve the response time to emergencies with additional ambulance service and specialized paramedics.
Poco a poco Pedasi is getting better, stronger and even safer! Of course, this article does not promise that you will live to one hundred with nothing ever occurring to jeopardize your safety. Safety also is an issue of perspective, and the standards you personally hold as a measure. As a real estate broker, I always recommend that you do your own due diligence and research when selecting a place to live. Before making a decision, come, visit, talk to people, walk the streets at all times of the day and really get your own sense of safety.
General Safety in Panama
According to the risk assessment database, the uniform risk level is in the low range. We always encourage people to research and understand the climate and natural risks.
- Hurricanes: Outside the Atlantic hurricane belt.
- Volcanoes: No actively erupting volcanoes.
- Earthquakes: See earthquake activity in Panama here Updated Jan 2018. Until recently, the area did not experience earth quakes. The recent tremors felt very mild, and some did not even notice the event when it was happening. There was no effect to the safety of our community, but it gave us something to talk about!
- Force of water: Excessive rain and resulting water damage are the two most fatal natural disasters. Mudslides, falling rock, contaminated water and shaken dwellings have caused mortality. During rainy season, be careful on roads that are prone to damage, and watch alerts on local facebook and whatsapp groups.
Panama Has a Peaceful Democratic Government and is Friendly to Immigrants
Some of the countries we seriously considered had to be excluded because their government structure had not showed enough stability over time. While it is possible to find a cheaper economy in these areas, for us, the risk factor was too high. We needed to know that our immigration status and financial investments are safe. Additionally, we did not want to be in an area where tensions are at a tipping point. The last major riot event leading in mass casualties was July 9, 1964. On our first mission to Panama, we arrived on July 9th and enjoyed our first night in Casco Viejo. We were surprised to find that no alcoholic beverages were served on that reverent day of mourning for the students who were shot in an uprising over the respect of the Panamanian flag and the ownership interest of the canal zone. Regardless of the involvement of our country in the event, the people were very gracious, and we did not perceive any tensions. Panama does not have a military, although they do have military police. They use their position as the gateway of the Canal to create a neutral zone for international trade and are vigilant in the protection of foreign relations despite the drug and human trafficking challenges that the canal presents. Perfect, no. But, find me a perfect government with no corruption.
Terrorism is a very real concern in many areas of the world today. The United States, England, France and Spain have all had recent terrorism events which are designed to make people feel unsafe and cause division. Without entering into debate as to who or what the culprit is, I think we can all agree that the problem exists in the heart. While not all Panamanians are super thrilled about expats, and some are angry about mistakes we have made, there is a definite general air of peace and harmony among people of all backgrounds and races. Panama just is not on the radar of extremists and they are generally unoffensive on a global political and social scale. In the past, Panama experienced terrorism on the border with Colombia and continues to be vigilant with the vulnerability of the canal.
We lived in Colorado which, for some reason seems to attract crazy deranged people who want to do mass harm to innocent people. This includes the infamous Colombine high school shooting and the more recent mass shooting at the Aurora theater. In our affluent district, there were several instances of active shooters, school lock downs and plans to commit mass murder by teens. Just this month, there was the largest mass shooting in decades in Las Vegas where the lives of peaceful concert goers were forever changed and a peaceful church was disrupted in deadly gunfire. People in Panama are happy and much less dramatic about everything in general. In Pedasi the climate is extremely laid back with an attitude more similar to the 1950’s. We send our kids to school without concern.
In my own opinion, Pedasi is incredibly safe for couples, singles and families with children. Pedasi is not perfect, but in comparison with other parts of the world, I think Pedasi stacks up nicely. Of course, be careful and use your head.