By Sarah de Sainte Croix, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – Rio’s reputation for violent crime precedes it. Films such as ‘City of God’ and ‘Tropa de Elite’ (Elite Troop) have only compounded this image in the eyes of the world, and the city is frequently cited as one of the most dangerous places on earth. When looking to uncover the statistics behind the claims however, the waters are somewhat muddy.
A quick Google search for ‘the world’s most dangerous cities’ turns up a number of lists based on unofficial and incomplete information. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime fails to include Brazil in its most recent available crime trend statistics, but it does list the number of homicides in the country in 2008 at 22 per 100,000 population, making it only the sixth most murderous country in Latin America, falling in well below both Venezuela and Colombia who scored 52 and 38.8 respectively.
Within Rio de Janeiro itself, public opinion is divided over the state of security. It depends heavily upon who you ask as to how safe you might imagine yourself to be in the city. Those with a vested interest in improving the image of Rio in the eyes of foreigners, like tour operators and investment agents, tend to claim that the city is getting safer. On the other hand, stories of theft and assault are rife amongst the backpacking communities in Copacabana and Ipanema, with this year’s Carnival once again provoking a wave of tourist-targeted crime and hostel-storming.
The Government’s official Olympic proposal outlines twelve key initiatives designed to improve security in Rio in advance of the 2016 games. Most of these focus on improving training and structure within the police force, but they also promise to increase the military police headcount and expand CCTV systems within the metropolitan area.
In addition to this, the proposal talks about, “significant community based crime reduction strategies such as the PRONASCI program,” (an US$3.35 billion Federal Government homicide prevention project,) but fails to mention any others.
The proposal also highlights new laws introduced in 2003 which tightened the restrictions on the private ownership of firearms, stating that the changes have led to, “A considerable reduction in gun-related crime.”
The statistics show a mixed story. According to the most recent data available from the Instituto de Segurança Pública (Institute of Public Security) or ISP, the total number of homicides in metropolitan Rio was up by 86 from 2,069 in 2008, to 2,155 in 2009.
Attempted murder and actual bodily harm were also up by 24.13 percent and 8.41 percent respectively, and reported incidences of rape rose by an alarming 38.53 percent. Thefts on the other hand, showed a general decrease.
The reality is that many tourists go home with a story to tell, more often than not, one of petty theft. Copacabana remains a hot-spot for tourist-targeted crime and vigilance and awareness should be top priorities for any visitor exploring the city.