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Brazil 2013 Crime and Safety Report: Rio de Janeiro

Western Hemisphere > Brazil > Rio de Janeiro

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

Rio de Janeiro has been rated “Critical” for crime by the State Department for the past 25 years. Crimes statistics for 2012 reflect continued critically high and rising levels of crimes in both the state and city of Rio de Janeiro in the categories of robbery, rape, fraud, and residential thefts. 

While crime rates remain at critical levels, the homicide rate continues to fall. Since 2005, homicides in the state and city of Rio de Janeiro have declined over 50 percent in real numbers and in the homicide rate (homicides per 100,000 inhabitants). Despite this drop, in 2012 there were still 4,041 homicides in Rio de Janeiro state and 1,209 homicides in the city of Rio de Janeiro. The homicide rate in the state and city of Rio de Janeiro has dropped dramatically from 42 homicides per 100,000 in 2005 to 24 homicides per 100,000 in 2012. 

A major factor responsible for the reduction in violence is due to the Favela Pacification Program (FPP). First introduced in November 2008, specially recruited and community police trained officers enter Rio’s favelas (slums), expel drug gang members and other armed criminal elements, and establish a permanent presence, called a Unidade de Policia Pacificadora (UPP). Pacified favelas are those that have a permanent presence of Rio de Janeiro State Military Police. Municipal authorities can then enter the favela and safely deliver social services and economic assistance to residents. The long-term goal of the FPP is to integrate the residents into mainstream society. This is a fluid, ongoing process and continues to exceed expectations. Rio de Janeiro has over 1,000 favelas. Since the early 1980s, nearly every Rio favela was controlled by violent drug gangs or criminal organizations that operated outside the rule of law. Favelas became a de-facto safe haven for criminal elements. Police were prohibited from entering the favelas by order of senior civilian leadership. Criminals filled this power vacuum and ensured that for nearly 30 years criminal organizations controlled swaths of Rio de Janeiro. Armed gang members, many teenagers, openly carried with shoulder weapons with little fear of police action. However, the FPP has changed this paradigm. The FPP is in an advanced stage of completion. There have been 30 pacification operations to instill the rule of law to in Rio’s favelas; 8,000 newly-hired community police trained police officers permanently patrol these favelas. Police have reasserted permanent control in dozens of previously unpacified favelas, which are home to over a million people. The two major Rio de Janeiro drug gangs--the Commando Vermelho and the Amigos dos Amigos--have lost their base of operations in the Complexo do Alemao and Rocinha favelas. The senior leadership of both gangs are in custody or are fugitives. Despite progress, violent incidents do occur in pacified favelas. In the past two years, five UPP police officers, on duty in pacified favelas, have been murdered. ‘Balas perdidas’ (stray bullets) continues to be a threat. This frequently occurs when gun battles erupt between police and drug gang members. In 2012, innocent individuals, including children, were killed by balas perdidas in Rio de Janeiro. Police effectively control every major favela in Rio from the downtown financial district, extending south to the affluent Zona Sul (South Zone) and West to the Barra da Tijuca. This area includes the area near the Maracanã Stadium that will host the 2014 World Cup finals and the Barra Da Tijuca where the 2016 Olympic Games will be based. The goal from now until 2016 is for more than 10 additional pacification efforts, which will require the hiring of thousands of additional police officers, to occur in Rio de Janeiro’s sprawling Zona Norte (North Zone), Zona Oeste (West Zone), and in Niterói, across the Guanabara Bay. This will bring nearly all of Rio’s major favelas under police control for the Olympic Games. Some tour operators in Rio offer favela tours by jeep. 
   
Foreigners, especially those who do not speak Portuguese, may be more at risk for being targeted for crime. Criminals are aware that foreigners frequently do not file a police report and will probably not return to testify against them, making foreigners an attractive target for robbery. 

Street robberies continue at a high rate even in affluent neighborhoods. Cell phones and electronic items--personal laptop computers and electronic tablets--are specifically targeted. 

One tactic of organized gangs is to target individuals observed withdrawing money from ATMs or exiting banks after making a withdraw. These gangs frequently operate in teams and are armed. 

Credit card fraud and credit card cloning are significant and growing problems for banks and financial institutions. Specialized criminal gangs place cloning devices on ATMs that are extremely difficult to detect and record the card number and the PIN. 

If confronted by an assailant displaying a lethal weapon or threatening violence, attempt to de-escalate the situation by turning over your valuables without comment. In two recent high profile cases in Rio de Janeiro, two individuals were shot dead for noncompliance. 

The high level of residential burglary has made most residents opt to reside in apartments where the “porteiro” (doorman) ensures 24/7 access control for the building. Having effective access control is critical. 

Overall Road Safety Situation

Road conditions range from excellent to poor, especially on secondary, rural, and intra-state roads. Brazil has a very high level of vehicle accidents and death rates due to accidents. Always drive within the posted speed limits, exercise caution when near transport trucks, and always wear your seatbelt and require all occupants in your vehicle to wear theirs. Road rage incidents have occurred in Rio de Janeiro. De-escalate any road rage situation immediately. 

Riding the inter-city bus system during daylight hours is usually safe, but beware of pickpockets. Exercise extreme caution if you ride public buses at night. Take extra care with your personal belongings on public buses. Commercial bus service between cities and states is generally safe and efficient. The metro system is clean, efficient, and safe. The small vans should be completely avoided, as many are operated by organized crime. Taxis are generally plentiful and safe. Ensure that the cab has a functional meter after you enter the vehicle and never negotiate a price. Always go by the meter or immediately exit the taxi and find another one. 

Cargo theft (roubo de carga), primarily from trucks transporting finished goods and merchandise, remains a major security issue. In 2012, there were 3,611 incidents of reported cargo thefts in the state of Rio de Janeiro. Organized criminal gangs target trucks and vans carrying finished goods, primarily for resale on the black market. Cargo theft has made many companies employ expensive counter-measures to reduce this type of loss; high value cargo loads typically have armed security escorts and are tracked by satellite systems. 

Another trend for robbery is to target individuals in vehicles stopped at stoplights, especially at night. Areas especially at risk for this type of crime include the Zona Norte (North Zone) and the Centro (downtown) area of Rio, but this can happen anywhere in Rio de Janeiro. If you find yourself in a carjacking situation, you should surrender your vehicle and offer no resistance. If you resist, you put yourself in greater danger. Never give rides to a hitchhiker or accept rides by unknown persons. Women have been murdered and sexually assaulted accepting rides by men purporting to be helpful. 

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

Rio de Janeiro has a relatively low level of political protests. They are generally driven by economic reasons, such as labor strikes, and are generally non-violent. 

Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns

There are no known indigenous terrorist groups in Brazil, and there is no credible evidence to suggest Brazilians are being targeted by foreign terrorists. 

There is significant and sustained organized criminal activity throughout Brazil, especially in major cities. 

The tri-border area, comprised of the border region where Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay merge is home to a large Arab community. To date, no incidents directed against Americans have been reported. While the Embassy does not discourage travel to the area, some anti-American sentiment has been expressed in the region. American visitors to the area, to include Foz do Iguaçu, should remain vigilant and maintain a low profile.
 
Civil Unrest 
 
Extremist groups, such as the Movimento Sem Terra (MST), and other domestic political groups with extremist agendas occasionally conduct acts of civil disobedience and have confronted police violently. The threat of violence is always possible. There have been protests in the past year throughout the country. While the majority of these protests are peaceful, they can become confrontational. 

Post-specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards 

Every year during the summer months (November-March), torrential rains cause flooding and landslides. In January 2011, torrential rain storms in the interior mountains of Rio de Janeiro state killed several hundred people and left several thousand people homeless in one of the worst storms in a century. Heavy rains created massive landslides and left entire towns underwater for weeks. Never attempt to cross rising water, either by foot or vehicle. The city of Rio de Janeiro was essentially shut down for three days in 2009 due to severe flooding. 

Industrial and Transportation Accidents 

Brazil has a very high level of vehicle accidents and death rates due to accidents. Drive with caution and always wear your seatbelt. 

Economic Espionage/Intellectual Property Thefts

This type of threat is considered to be low in Brazil, and the government makes efforts to limit this activity; however, pirated products--music and movie CDs--are readily available on the black market. 

Regional Travel Concerns and Restricted Travel Areas/Zones

All unpacified favelas should be avoided.

Every year, hundreds of people drown in the ocean. Others suffer serious injury as a result of breaking waves and hitting the ocean floor. Ocean currents can be extremely dangerous and unpredictable. Even experienced, strong swimmers can get caught in a riptide. If this occurs, stay calm, float on your back, and let the current take you out. Wait until you are no longer being pulled out, and swim parallel to the beach. Then swim back to the beach. Do not fight a riptide; you will get tired and drown. Lifeguards post a red flag and warning signs to prohibit swimming due to extremely dangerous currents. Respect this warning. Never swim alone in beaches or without lifeguards present. 

Drug-related Crimes 

Rio de Janeiro has significant problems with individuals who consume crack cocaine. Most support this habit by engaging in criminal activities, such as street robbery. The city of Rio de Janeiro inaugurated a new anti-drug program that includes mandatory treatment/confinement for crack users.

Kidnapping Threats

Kidnapping for ransom and express kidnapping (also known as ‘sequestro relampago’ or ‘lighting kidnapping’) were significant threats several years ago. Assailants would target victims based on perceived wealth or sometimes at random and hold victims captive until a ransom was paid. During an express kidnapping, assailants attempt to withdraw the maximum amount of money from an ATM using debit/credit cards until the cards are cancelled or can no longer withdraw money. This type of crime is infrequent in Rio de Janeiro. Similarly, while kidnappings for ransom have been rare in recent years, these incidents continue to occur.

Police Response

Response time for all emergency services--including police, fire, and ambulance--is good in the city of Rio de Janeiro. Response times in rural areas of the state of Rio de Janeiro may take longer.

How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment 

If an American is detained by police, contact American Citizen Services at the nearest U.S. diplomatic facility. Police are obligated to allow the detained individual to make a phone call. 

Where to Turn to for Assistance if you Become a Victim of Crime

National Emergency Services

Phone #

Medical Emergency (Ambulância)

192

Fire Service (Corpo de Bombeiros)

193

Military Police (Polícia Militar)

190

Civil Police (Polícia Civil)

197

Federal Police (Polícia Federal)

194

Civil Defense (Defesa Civil)

199

Sea Rescue (Salmavento Marítimo)

 2332-6541 / 0800 285 6158

Service

Phone #

Drug Abuse / Narcotics Anonymous                                                          (Narcóticos Anônimos)

2533-5015

HIV/AIDS (Disque Saúde)

3184-4425 / 2293-2255

Alcoholics Anonymous (Alcoólicos Anônimos)

2253-4813  / 2253-9283

Child and Juvenile Court (Vara da Infância e da Juventude)

2503-6300

Defense of Abused Women  (Delegacia da Mulher)

180

Suicide/Crisis Line (CVV)

141

Children's Helpline (SOS Criança)

1407

Poison Control/Anti-Poison Center (Centro de Controle de Intoxicações)

2717 0148 - R. 4 / 2717-0521 / 2717-9783

Rio de Janeiro Useful Numbers

Phone #

Rio Guard (Guarda Municipal)

153

Federal Highway Patrol (Polícia Rodoviária Federal)

3503 9000 

Rio Red Cross (Cruz Vermelha)

2508-9090

Report a Crime (Disque Denúncia)

2253-1177

Rio Citizen Center (Serviços ao Cidadão) = Services in general: Funeral Service, Dengue Information line, Vigilância Sanitária, Tourism Secretariat, Urban Sanitation, Traffic, etc.):

1746

Rio Prefeitura

1746

Human Rights Center (Direitos Humanos)

100

Citizen Service (Poupatempo)

3460-4040 / 3460-4041

Lost and Found (achados e perdidos - Correios)

0800 570 01 00

Detran (Department of Motor Vehicles)

3460 4042

Morgue (Instituto Médico Legal)

3399 3840

Bus Terminal (Rodoviária Novo Rio)

3213 1800

Urban Trains (Supervia)

0800 726 9494

International Airport (Aeroporto Internacional Tom Jobim)

3398 5050

Santos Dumont Airport (Aeroporto Santos Dumont)

3814 7070

Subway (Metrô Rio)

0800 595 1111 / 4003-2111

Rio Tourist Police (DEAT)

Av.Afrânio de Melo Franco, 159 – Leblon

2332-2924/2332-2885/2889

Various Police/Security Agencies 

The Rio de Janeiro State Military Police are the uniformed police who actively patrol the streets and the first-responders to calls for assistance and during actual incidents. 

The Rio de Janeiro State Civil Police investigate crimes after the crimes scene have been secured. 

The Federal Police have a mandate for immigration, combating drug trafficking, investigating public corruption cases, combating terrorism, and other national efforts. 

Medical Emergencies

Contact Information for Recommended Local Hospitals and Clinics

Private Hospitals

Hospital Samaritano                                                                                         Rua Bambina, 98, Botafogo

2537-9722

Clínica São Vicente                                                                                          Rua João Borges, 204, Gávea

21-2529-4422

Hospital Barra D'or                                                                                            Av. Airton Senna, 2541, Barra da Tijuca

21-2430-3600

Hospital Copa D'or                                                                                            Rua Figueiredo de Magalhães, 875, Copacabana

2545-3600

Hospital Quinta D'or                                                                                         Rua Almirante Baltazar, 435, São Cristóvão

3461-3600

Public Hospitals

Hospital Municipal Souza Aguiar                                                                Praça da República, 111 - Centro

3111-2600/3111-2729

Hospital Municipal Salgado Filho                                                              Rua Arquias Cordeiro, 370 - Méier

3111-4100/3111-4177

Hospital Municipal Miguel Couto                                                                                                Rua Mário Ribeiro, 117 - Gávea

3111-3600/3111-3610

Hospital Municipal Lourenço Jorge                                                                                                                 Av. Ayrton Senna, 2000 - Barra da Tijuca

3111-4600/3111-4603/3111-4611

Hospital Municipal Paulino Werneck                                                                                                                         Estrada da Cacuia, 745 - Ilha do Governador

3111-7700/3111-7701/3111-7702

CDC Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance

Travelers to Brazil should consult with their medical providers regarding immunization and vaccination requirements prior to traveling to Brazil. Travelers should have a documented yellow fever card. Brazil is also experiencing an uptick, some 200,000 cases, in Dengue fever infections. General mosquito bite defense is the key avoiding all of the mosquito-borne diseases endemic to the region. There is no prophylactic medication that can be taken to prevent Dengue. Avoiding the times of day when mosquitos are most active, wearing long sleeves, adequate sleeping arrangements, and appropriate mosquito repellents on skin and clothing and imbedded in bed nets are the most effective defenses. For specific vaccination and health guidance, please visit the CDC at: http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/brazil.htm.

Tips on How to Avoid Becoming a Victim

Areas to be Avoided and Best Security Practices

It is strongly recommended to only enter pacified favelas and only if you have a compelling need. Entering unpacified favelas is dangerous and unwise. Drug gang members walk openly with weapons, and you will be at their mercy. Police only enter unpacified favelas in large numbers during specific operations. Violent confrontations between the police and drug gangs are common.

It is imperative to maintain the highest level of security awareness at all times and follow special security precautions while visiting Rio. 

While in public, refrain from wearing expensive (or expensive looking) jewelry or watches and anything that contains gold, silver, precious stones, or diamonds. Gangs specifically target people who wear high end (Rolex, Cartier etc.) watches. Wearing any more jewelry than a simple gold wedding band will raise your profile. U.S. government employees have been robbed of their gold wedding bands and very thin gold necklaces. Do not openly display any electronic device, especially expensive cameras, video cameras, laptops, or iPads while in a public setting, on public transportation, or walking on the street. These are high theft items and will quickly attract unwanted attention. Keep a minimal amount of cash with you and limit the number of credit cards you carry. The goal is to lower your profile and blend in.

Stay with a group of people as much as possible and limit the times you venture out alone. Avoid streets not well illuminated at night. Avoid isolated areas on the beach. Never explore the rainforest alone. Always let someone know where you are going. Stay near people/populated areas as much as possible. If you feel uncomfortable for any reason, immediately seek safe haven in a building with people. Trust your instincts.

Using ATMs in discreet locations, especially those in major tourist hotels, reduce the odds of being targeted for crime. You should only use your credit card at major hotels and formal, established restaurants and shops. Secure your credit cards in your hotel room so hotel staff do not have access to them. Never allow your credit card to be taken out of your sight. Check your balance online regularly (daily) and limit the number of cards you use. Request that your financial institution email you immediately when transactions are made on your debit or credit cards. If you make purchases, it is advisable to return to the hotel and secure the items in your hotel room and not walk on the street with the items you just bought. Verify with the front desk who is at your hotel room door before opening it. 

If confronted by an individual who has a weapon, stay calm and simply hand over your valuables. Do not resist or talk back to the assailant. Death may result from resistance. Many muggers have weapons and may be under the effects of crack cocaine. They will not hesitate to harm you if you resist.

Never accept a ride from someone you have met casually, especially if you are a female, even if they seem helpful and friendly. Females have been sexually assaulted this way. Take a taxi to your desired location and return in a taxi. Public buses should be used with extreme caution at night. 

RSO recommends apartments over single family homes, unless a reliable 24/7 guard service is employed. Residences should receive a high level of physical security upgrades, including solid core entry/service doors with high quality locks and sliding deadbolts, installation of a peephole in all entry doors, grilling windows up to the second story, perimeter lighting, monitored alarm systems, and the installation of a safe haven room to retreat to in the event of an emergency. In an apartment, the safe haven is usually a bedroom and is protected by a solid core door, deadbolt lock, and has a viewing device (peephole).

Completely avoid all political rallies or any protests. If you observe a large concentration of people who intend to demonstrate, it would be wise to depart the area immediately. All visitors should avoid large crowds or on-going protests and depart the area immediately.

Call the Consulate at 55 21 3823-2000 for emergency security-related assistance. 

U.S. Embassy/Consulate Location and Contact Information 

Embassy/Consulate Address and Hours of Operation 

U.S. Consulate General Rio de Janeiro
Av. Presidente Wilson, 147 Bairro Castelo

Working hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Friday, except on U.S. and major Brazilian holidays.

Embassy/Consulate Contact Numbers

Telephone number: (011-55) (21) 3823-2000
Emergencies and calls after normal business hours may be directed to U.S. Consulate Rio de Janeiro Post One: (011-55) (21) 3823-2029.
RSO: (011-55) (21) 3823-2908; fax number (011-55) (21) 2524-1356.

OSAC Country Council Information

The Rio de Janeiro Country Council is very active and meets regularly. We have regular meetings where guest speaker(s) are invited. Topics of discussion relate to security issues relevant to the OSAC membership. U.S. organizations are welcome to our group and encouraged to contact the RSO in Rio de Janeiro for specific Country Council questions. Country Council information can be located at the OSAC website at: www.osac.gov/countrycouncils.