By Karen Shishiptorova, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – Many Gringos coming to Rio understand the Marvelous City has its share of crime, and are careful to avoid pickpocketing and dangerous places. What many don’t know is that underneath the tourist veneer of postcard-perfect views of mountain, city and sea lies an extremely well-oiled machine.
In Leblon, the Rio Tourism Police Chief Fernando Vilapouca and his well-trained staff work day and night to ensure that visitors have the best possible experience on holiday. The Gringo Times had the pleasure of speaking with Mr. Vilapouca about his role in keeping the city safe for tourists.
All Brazil police chiefs must hold a law degree and all detectives must have a college degree in any area. In addition, all employees must pass a difficult exam, including a written psychological test, and speak one foreign language fluently.
Currently, the station can handle cases in English, Spanish, French, German and Italian. For Asian or eastern European languages, a call is placed to the related consulate which sends an interpreter to this modern, brand new and well equipped police department.
Mr. Vilapouca reported that 80 percent of tourists come in to register theft or robbery. During high season, he receives around twenty complaints a day.
Stolen passports can only be replaced by the relevant consulate if the theft is duly registered at the police station. “Aware that tourists have little time in the city, we try to be as quick as possible,” says Vilapouca, “and in many cases, if the tourist contacts us immediately, we can recover stolen objects.”
The majority of complaints come from the ´adventurer´ type; foreigners who roam the city alone at any time of day or night, sometimes to places not even locals go to. “Those are more at risk” – offers Mr. Vilapouca – “I have yet to see people who come to Rio with tourism agencies run into problems.”
Disorderly conduct between prostitutes and tourists who refuse to pay for services rendered, is among the other 20 percent of miscellaneous cases. “This usually creates a brawl in public places, and the police bring them down to the station,” says Mr. Vilapouca.
Since prostitution is legal – only its commercial exploitation by a third party is illegal – “prostitutes usually get paid and the case is settled”. However, the chief advises tourists to check the prostitute’s ID. If caught with a minor – which according to the law is under 21 – the person will be arrested and charged with pedophilia.
Other cases involve the ´Cinderella´ scheme. Recently, a gay visitor had his coconut water tampered with, waking up in his hotel room to find his valuables stolen by a stranger he had picked up on the beach – a classic everywhere in the world.
Regarding the two British girls arrested recently for insurance fraud after lying about their belongings being stolen, Mr. Vilapouca says it´s ongoing. “The tourists who get away with it pass on the information. Three months ago we had two other cases, both from Australia,” says Vilapouca, “they are usually backpackers from first world countries doing things here they would never do back home, and they don´t take Brazilian police seriously.”
Most cases of theft and robbery take place away from the hub or the locals – visitors who are unknowingly at risk. At Copacabana “the waterline is away from police eyesight, especially during and after sunset”. It is best to avoid it after regular beach hours, with exception to Arpoador beach, considered safe.