By Ben Tavener, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Levels of violent crime reported in Rio de Janeiro state have fallen significantly in three target areas, according to figures for the first seven months of 2011 released by the state’s Instituto de Segurança Pública, the ISP (Institute of Public Security). The statistics show that cases of lethal violence, encompassing any crime which led to or was followed by a death, were down by 13.2 percent: 3,559 incidents registered in 2010 dropped to 3,088 for the same period this year.
This includes “death in confrontation with police,” a figure the state has been keen to improve on, which fell some 27.4 percent in the first half of the year.
Vehicle theft down was by 15.3 percent – from 12,522 in 2010 to 10,605 this year – the state’s best result since 2000 – and a reduction of 14.3 percent was seen in street robberies (including mobile phone theft), decreasing from 47,337 (2010) to 40,556 for the same period this year.
This means targets set for crime reduction in the state this year have already been met. It was also reported that arrests were up 19.6 percent.
These three main figures are seen as important as they are used together to define targets for the police, and lead to awards for divisions that reduce crime the most.
Rio State Security Secretary José Mariano Beltrame seized on the results as proof the state’s security policy is on track and working, saying: “Now it’s time to invest in further police training.”
The drop in violent crime is being attributed to the success of Rio’s UPP (Police Pacification Units) program, and fewer fatal armed encounters with police: “One of the important components that has been involved with this decline was the drastic reduction in deaths during confrontations with police. With the decrease in fighting, because of the UPPs, this rate is also falling,” said ISP chief Colonel Augusto Souza Paulo Teixeira.
The colonel also pointed out that Rio was now bucking the trend of one of Brazil’s vehicle theft hotspots and is approaching the national average, adding that for insurers the news could mean a “reduction in prices.”
But although the drop is undoubtedly encouraging, the statistics are still high when comparing internationally.
For example, the results include a ten percent drop in homicides, now representing 2,587 cases in the seven months reported in 2011. To compare, New York State (slightly bigger population than Rio state) saw 337 homicides in the period between January-June 2011, and Greater London (about half the population of Rio state) witnessed 131 in the twelve months to September.
As for Rio, resident Santiago Oliveira says he thinks the security situation is getting better. “In my 23 years here I’ve never been mugged or robbed, but you knew it was happening to others and the situation was bad up to a couple of years ago. Now the city feels safer.”
Security in Rio has been under heightened intense scrutiny since November 2010 when Rio came under city-wide attacks. Police and politicians in Rio are all too aware that the city has to be seen as safe enough to welcome the increasing number of visitors to the city, particularly with the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics approaching.