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Brazil 2017 Crime & Safety Report: Rio de Janeiro

Western Hemisphere > Brazil; Western Hemisphere > Brazil > Rio de Janeiro

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

U.S. Consulate General Rio de Janeiro does not assume responsibility for the professional ability or integrity of the persons or firms appearing in this report. The ACS Unit cannot recommend a particular individual or location and assumes no responsibility for the quality of service provided.

THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE HAS ASSESSED RIO DE JANEIRO AS BEING A CRITICAL-THREAT LOCATION FOR CRIME DIRECTED AT OR AFFECTING OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT INTERESTS.

Please review OSAC’s Brazil-specific webpage for proprietary analytic reports, Consular Messages, and contact information.

Crime Threats

The critical rating means the level and frequency of crime has a major impact on the work and life of the community. There is no indication that Americans or U.S. government employees are being directly targeted for any criminal activity in Rio de Janeiro.

Violent crimes (murder, armed robbery, carjackings, assaults, kidnappings) are a frequent occurrence. Opportunistic street crime (pickpocketing, purse snatching, smash-and-grab thefts from vehicles and storefronts) is a constant concern. These acts take place in all areas of the city, at any time, and year-round. Foreign visitors, including American citizens, have been victims, often targeted due to their perceived wealth and lack of awareness. Do not walk and use a mobile phone. If you need to make/answer a call, go into a store, bank, or other secure location. Smartphones are a highly desirable target for thieves.

Most criminals are armed and will not hesitate to use violence if they encounter resistance. In the majority of incidents, victims were unharmed when compliant. Do not physically resist any robbery attempt. While this is a personal decision, statistics show that resistance can lead to injury or death.

Traveling in groups of two or more persons appears to have a positive effect on deterring criminals. Do not walk on beaches or in parks during hours of darkness. Assaults are common in these areas.

Be careful of cash transactions on the street. A hurried transaction for merchandise often leaves the customer with shoddy/counterfeit goods or with counterfeit money.

Do not accept drinks from strangers and always watch your drink. Scopolamine, or a similar drug, may be added to your drink. People have woken up robbed or sexually assaulted after accepting a spiked drink.

Organized crime is controlled by major drug gangs, operating mainly in the favelas and in the prison system. The crime in Rio’s favelas is certainly a product of organized crime, mostly centered on narcotics trafficking. In Rio de Janeiro, a “favela pacification program” was begun by the state government to bring favelas under government and police control and have occupied over 30 favelas to date (mostly in the southern area). There have been recent instances of large-scale gun battles in/around the favelas during some of the police operations. In 2016, there were incidents of specific targeting of police officers by criminal elements in certain favelas.

The RSO recommends residences provide solid-core entry doors with quality deadbolts and a peephole, security grilles on all lower floor windows, 24-7 doorman for apartments, adequate external lighting, and a monitored alarm system. Family members and household help should not allow anyone to enter the residential grounds without identification and prearranged appointments. Suspicious persons or activities in the neighborhood should be reported to the police immediately.

Cybersecurity Issues

Brazil continues to rank among the most pervasive cybercrime environments worldwide. Brazilian cybercriminals are becoming more sophisticated, stealing billions of dollars annually despite government efforts to stop malicious activity online. The banking sector has been the primary target of these operations, and anecdotal information suggests insider access. However, cybercrime also affects daily Internet users, private sector organizations, and short-term travelers. OSAC constituents should maintain awareness of popular schemes to avoid becoming victims.

Rio de Janeiro has major security concerns in regards to credit/debit card fraud. The use of credit card cloning devices and radio frequency interception (RFI) at restaurants, bars, and public areas is epidemic. The World Bank reports that Brazil has one of the highest concentrations of ATM terminals worldwide. Cybercriminals are known to target hardware in an effort to obtain credit card and banking information. This includes attacking portable point-of-sale systems to obtain the information stored in the magnetic strip of a credit card as it is swiped for payment. Because this scheme often requires access to the payment hardware, researchers note it requires insider access. Cybersecurity companies often note that, while still vulnerable, chip-and-PIN cards are more secure and harder to clone than magnetic swipe cards. All visitors should be aware of the increased risk to their credit/debit card information and carefully monitor their accounts for suspicious activity.

Other Areas of Concern

The tri-border area (Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay) is known as a regional hub for the transit of illicit goods (narcotics, firearms). No known incidents directed against Americans have occurred in this area. But, it is recommended that American visitors to the area, including Foz de Iguazu, remain especially vigilant and maintain a low profile.

Transportation-Safety Situation

Road Safety and Road Conditions

Visitors driving in Rio de Janeiro should expect traffic congestion and delays. Due to the topography of Rio de Janeiro (mountain ranges surrounding the southern part of the city), tunnels cause multiple vehicular chokepoints throughout the city. Many drivers are not sufficiently trained or properly licensed/insured, leading to stressful driving conditions. Major roadways can run through or next to favelas (poor communities that grew organically without government control or support), which have the potential for violent crime to spill out onto the roadways, causing potentially significant traffic delays.

All visitors are encouraged to drive defensively. Road conditions range from extremely poor to good, and accidents are always a concern outside of major cities. Brazil uses automatic photo-ticketing systems to discourage speeding, and tickets are mailed to the owner of the vehicle. While traveling through rural areas, drivers also must pay close attention to pot holes and speed humps. Lighting, traffic signals, and road markings vary from good to poor. For more information on self-driving, please review OSAC’s Report “Driving Overseas: Best Practices.”

Public Transportation Conditions

Rio de Janeiro offers a municipal bus system, taxis, and an underground railway (metro) system. While none are off limits, RSO advises that, especially in the northern zone, they are utilized as little as possible in order to reduce the possibility of being a victim of crime.

Although buses are plentiful and generally keep to a regular schedule, RSO advises avoiding city buses. Protests and demonstrations targeting the bus and mass transit systems often leave passengers vulnerable to violence; buses have been set ablaze or robbed while in transit.

While taxis are plentiful, there are still high rates of illegal/pirate taxis. There are unmarked cars and vans operating as private transportation used by the local populace. These cabs have had numerous criminal issues, are not regulated, and are not recommended. Only use legitimate, well-marked taxis, which are yellow with blue stripe and possess state-issued red livery license plates within Rio de Janeiro. Taxis and private vehicles are recommended for use when moving within Rio de Janeiro. Even while driving, motorists can be vulnerable to armed bandits on motorcycles who prey on potential victims waiting at traffic lights or in traffic. Only use legitimate, well-marked taxis at taxi stands, arranged via smart phone apps, or have your hotel call one for you.

App-based car services (Uber) also provide a relatively safe option for travelers. It is advised to verify the driver and vehicle information sent to your mobile device before getting in to a car. Take note of the information before you step onto the street instead of standing curbside with your phone in plain view.

The metro system is efficient and keeps a regular schedule. However, the metro system is often crowded, and there have been reports of citizens suffering loss of personal items and of females being touched inappropriately. The metro system offers women-only rail cars during morning and evening rush hours on most operating lines.

Aviation/Airport Conditions

Incidents of cargo theft, from overland shipments and from storage facilities, occur frequently. Airports inaugurated supplemental security measures, in part to thwart criminal activity targeting aviation facilities. 

Terrorism Threat

THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE HAS ASSESSED RIO DE JANEIRO AS BEING A LOW-THREAT LOCATION FOR TERRORIST ACTIVITY DIRECTED AT OR AFFECTING OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT INTERESTS.

Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns

There are no known indigenous terrorist groups operating in Brazil. Brazil is a non-aligned country with no significant enemies and is not targeted by any known radical groups.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE HAS ASSESSED RIO DE JANEIRO AS BEING A MEDIUM-THREAT LOCATION FOR POLITICAL VIOLENCE DIRECTED AT OR AFFECTING OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT INTERESTS.

Civil Unrest 

Protests occurs throughout Brazil -- especially in the capital and major cities. These protests are held for various reasons: poor work conditions and wages, public corruption, social inclusion. While protests are generally non-violent, some have escalated into violence. In Rio de Janeiro, several protests in 2016 turned violent and resulted in property damage and minor injuries. Protests tend to increase in numbers and intensity during periods of political transition, the visits of high-profile foreigners, and coinciding with major events.

Economic conditions in Rio de Janeiro, coupled with a large-scale investigation into public corruption, have contributed to civil unrest, protests, and strikes as Brazil continues to experience its longest and deepest recession since the 1930s. In 2016, official unemployment reached 11.09%. Inflation has risen above 7.15%, and with additional austerity measures proposed by the government to resolve the national budget deficit, the middle class and other economically vulnerable groups will continue to experience greater economic stress in 2017. Projected spending limits on public security, public health, and education are likely to have a negative impact on the local populace. There were large, nationwide protests in 2016 in Brasilia, Recife, Rio de Janeiro, and Sao Paulo. While the majority of these protests were peaceful, sporadic violence did occur. All visitors should avoid areas where large crowds are gathering or protests are on-going.

Police labor unions advocate and frequently organize strikes that result in absences of police personnel in key areas.

Post-specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

Significant flooding does occur during the rainy season. Flooding, and associated mudslides, have been a serious problem in the state of Rio de Janeiro.

Major bodies of water in the city of Rio de Janeiro have been tested and shown to be extremely polluted. Tourist areas (Lagoa, Ipanema, Copacabana beaches) and Guanabara Bay have shown extreme contamination.

Critical Infrastructure

Brazil is one of Latin America’s leading digital nations. Over 50% of Brazilians are active Internet users, and Brazilian financial institutions were early adopters of online services. Cybersecurity and online fraud are major concerns, with annual losses reaching billions of dollars. Government websites have been defaced and taken offline by "hacktivists" in recent years. The Brazilian army is responsible for defending critical cyber infrastructure, and Brazil’s Computer Emergency Response Team monitors and addresses general cybersecurity incidents. Given Brazil’s highly networked economy and the fact that authorities are still developing cyber doctrine and capabilities, analysts note critical infrastructure risks.

Economic Concerns

The risk of economic espionage is not particularly high in Brazil, but other intellectual property rights (IPR) issues continue to challenge U.S. companies. Brazil remained on the U.S. Trade Representative’s Special 301 “Watch List” in 2016 due to high levels of counterfeiting and piracy, including online piracy. Illicit goods enter Brazil over its extensive land and sea borders, with the tri-border area of particular concern. Some local police forces make concerted efforts to combat sales of counterfeit and pirated goods, but offenders frequently are let off with minimal penalties. Concerns also persist with respect to Brazil’s inadequate protection against unfair commercial use of undisclosed test and other data generated to obtain marketing approval for pharmaceutical products.

Personal Identity Concerns

Brazil’s federal law does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, but several states and municipalities have administrative regulations that prohibit such discrimination and provide for equal access to government services. Social discrimination remains a concern, especially against the transgender population. Violence against LGBT individuals remains a serious concern.

Over half of the population identified itself as belonging to categories other than white. The law prohibits racial discrimination, specifically the denial of public/private facilities, employment, or housing. The law also prohibits the incitement of racial discrimination or prejudice and the dissemination of racially offensive symbols/epithets and stipulates prison terms for such acts. Despite laws and a high representation within the general population, darker skinned citizens, particularly Afro-Brazilians, frequently encounter discrimination and are underrepresented in local and national government positions.

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical/mental disabilities in employment, air travel and other transportation, education, and access to health care, and the federal government generally enforced these.

Drug-related Crimes

The majority of the city’s drug-related crimes are based upon the illicit drug trade and those persons addicted to illicit drugs. Street assaults, robberies, and other criminal activity generate proceeds to support their addictions. Brazil is the number two consumer of cocaine in the world, behind the U.S. As such, a large proportion of crime is drug-related.

Kidnapping Threat

While kidnappings for ransom in Rio are less common than other violent crimes, these incidents do occur. One tactic of organized gangs is to target individuals observed withdrawing money from ATMs or exiting banks after making a withdrawal. These gangs frequently operate in teams.

Another version of this is the quicknapping or express kidnapping, an ongoing criminal activity in which ATM users are kidnapped at gun point and taken to several ATMs to withdraw cash. While Brazilians are most often targeted, foreigners are also vulnerable to this crime.

Police Response

Police response from the military and civil police varies greatly. Police officials frequently cite a lack of resources, staffing shortages, lack of basic equipment, and morale as reasons for widely varying response times and unsolved crime. Law enforcement entities continue to look for creative policing strategies (community policing, cops on motorcycles, implementation of surveillance cameras) to overcome financial and infrastructure challenges to crime prevention. The recent implementation of “Operation Presence” to increase the overt law enforcement presence in certain heavily-populated areas of the city has yielded some positive results.

How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment

Visitors should inform the nearest U.S. Embassy/Consulate in the event they encounter problems while traveling in Brazil, including detainment or arrest by the police.

Crime Victim Assistance

Medical Emergency (ambulância): 192

Fire Service (Corpo de Bombeiros): 193

Military Police of Rio de Janeiro (Polícia Militar do Estado de Rio de Janeiro): 190

Police/Security Agencies

The Military Police of the State of Rio de Janeiro (Policia Militar) are not associated with the Brazilian Armed Forces but are rather the U.S. equivalent of uniformed state police officers. The Policia Militar have their own formations, rules, and uniforms and are responsible for maintaining public order across the state. Deployed solely to respond to or to act as a deterrent against the commission of crime, these units do not conduct criminal investigations.

Detective work, forensics, and prosecutions are undertaken by the state's Civil Police (Policia Civil). Each state has its own Civil Police Department, which carries out criminal investigative work, forensics, and internal investigation; it acts as the state bureau of investigation. 

The Federal Police (Policia Federal, DPF) are responsible for crimes against federal institutions, to include international drug trafficking, terrorism, cybercrime, organized crime, public corruption, white-collar crime, money laundering, immigration, border control, airport security, and maritime policing. It is subordinate to the federal Ministry of Justice.

Medical Emergencies

Two pharmacies are: Farmacia do Leme (Rua Prado Junior, 237, Copacabana, Zona Sul), Tel: (21) 2275-3847 and Farmacia Cristal (Rua Marques de Abrantes, 27, Flamengo, Zona Sul), Tel: (21) 2265-3444.

Contact Information for Available Medical Services

            Hospital Samaritano

            Rua Bambina, 98, Botafogo, Zona Sul

            Tel: (21) 2537-9722

 

            Hospital Copa D’Or

            Rua Figueiredo de Magalhaes, 875, Copacabana, Zona Sul

            Tel: (21) 2545-3600

 

            Centro Pediatrico da Lagoa

            Rua Jardim Botanico, 448, Jardim Botanico, Zona Sul

            Tel: (21) 2535-7932

Available Air Ambulance Services

For air medical evacuation services, the Consulate advises visitors to purchase private air medical evacuation insurance before traveling to Brazil. The Consulate can assist visitors with further information about obtaining services available.

Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance

Brazil is undergoing an ongoing threat of mosquito-borne illnesses in 2017.

The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for Brazil.

OSAC Country Council Information

The Rio de Janeiro Country Council currently meets quarterly during the year and has approximately 50 members. Please contact OSAC’s Western Hemisphere team with any questions or to join.  

U.S. Consulate Location and Contact Information

Consulate Address and Hours of Operation

The American Consulate General in Rio de Janeiro is located at Avenida Presidente Wilson, 147, Castelo.

Consulate Contact Numbers

Switchboard: +55 (21) 3823-2000

Emergencies and calls after normal business hours may be directed to Post One at +55 (21) 3823-2029.

RSO: extension 2908

Fax: +55 (21) 3823-2003

Website: http://riodejaneiro.usconsulate.gov

Nearby Posts

Embassy Brasilia: http://brazil.usembassy.gov/

Consulate General Recife: http://recife.usconsulate.gov/

Consulate General Sao Paulo: http://saopaulo.usconsulate.gov/

Embassy Guidance

U.S. companies are encouraged to contact the RSO for specific inquiries concerning the local security situation. Information is also readily available from the American Chamber of Commerce, and from the active OSAC Country Council operating in Rio de Janeiro. Information is also available from the Regional Security Offices in Brasilia, Sao Paulo, and Recife.

For updated information, please consult the website of the Consular Bureau of the Department of State.

Additional Resources

Brazil Country Information Sheet