Tisha Thompson, Rick Yarborough
The News4 I-Team looked into those travel warnings issued by the State Department and found they don't include street crime statistics.
When Susan Connor and her husband, Timothy, traveled to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, for a romantic getaway in 2009, she had no idea it would be their last trip together.
"We knew there were dangers there,” Connor said. “We had no idea it was that bad there."
In the middle of the night, a robber broke into their rented condo and stabbed Timothy as he fought off the attacker, Susan said.
"I watched him die,” she said. “I watched him take his very last breath, and there was absolutely nothing I could do about it."
A year later, the U.S. State Department issued an initial "travel warning" to Americans visiting Mexico.
"I don't know if it would have prevented what happened to us,” Connor said. “But I think we might have chosen a different place to stay."
The number of murdered U.S. citizens in Mexico has risen from 35 in 2007 to 120 in 2011.
This year, for the first time, the State Department issued specific advisories for 18 of Mexico's 31 states with warnings ranging from traveling at night and increased violence among rival drug cartels.
"The way we will determine we've arrived at a level that requires a travel warning is by monitoring a lot of different sources," the State Department’s Hugo Rodriguez explained.
Rodriguez said travel warnings are based on chronic threats, like terrorism in Afghanistan or the deadly drug war in Mexico, using guidance from embassies and local contacts.
"If we are aware of information and that makes us restrict the movement of our own employees in a foreign country, we definitely want to share that with the traveling public," he said.
But the News4 I-Team learned those warnings are not related to common street crime, like the recent robbery of 22 cruise line passengers in Puerto Vallarta.
"We're not looking to get above a certain bar to trigger a travel alert or travel warning," Rodriguez said.
"The State Department has a big challenge," Criminology Professor John Dussich said.
Dussich specializes in crime in Mexico and said the problem is getting accurate statistics from foreign governments. "A lot of the actual crimes in the first instance don't get reported by the victim,” he explained. “The fear of the police, the fear of retaliation by the offenders is very high."
Some critics worry the State Department is too influenced by the tourism industry, which might discourage the release of crime stats.
The State Department said it is sensitive to the travel industry but said its main priority is keeping Americans safe.
It doesn’t, however, publicly release reported crime stats from other countries because it says it can't guarantee their accuracy.
"In some countries we get very good statistics,” Rodriquez explained. “It's real time. It's solid information. And others you have to do a little inferring about the local conditions."
Dussich countered, “They should be telling them up front how many people have been lost in those countries."
Connor agrees, saying any information about street crime, especially involving Americans, should be released if it could prevent what happened to her husband.
Police never caught the person who killed her husband.
"I miss him every second of every day and I will for the rest of my life."