Although there are certain areas of the world that might be considered more dangerous than others, the seasoned traveler knows that you simply must be cautious and aware wherever you go. The same is true in Panama. Though there have been thefts and even occasional home invasions, most foreigners here will tell you they feel safer here than they do in their home countries, and the biggest thing you have to be careful about are the no-see-ums, which will bite the heck out of your legs and leave you itching for days.
That said, living here is more joyful and less concerning when you take basic precautions -- like you would do anywhere else in the world: lock your doors, bar your windows if you live in a house, don't carry huge amounts of cash, don't flaunt your wealth, be aware of your surroundings, and so on. Vecinos Vigilantes is a neighborhood watch group in Gorgona, established in order to teach foreign residents to look out for each other and themselves.
We attended a meeting of this neighborhood watch right after a particularly brazen and shocking robbery at a restaurant -- while the restaurant was open -- in a nearby town. The group was founded by an ex-cop from the United States, and this meeting was attended by many members of the community as well as local police officers.
Other ex-police officers from the US gave advice on staying safe, and the local police shared information on what to do if you find yourself a victim of a crime (how to report it and so on) as well as what the process is after a crime has been reported. The meeting lasted quite a long time, and we left before it was over, but its main focus was on how to stay safe in the first place.
I love that this group exists and that people are banding together to watch out for one another. Even though I, too, feel safer here than I do in most areas of the United States and in other large cities throughout the world, it's good to know that there is great support here among the ex-pats, and people willing to share their time and expertise -- even though they are often retired! -- to keep everyone living happily and safely in Panama.