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Brazil 2019 Crime & Safety Report: Porto Alegre

Western Hemisphere > Brazil; Western Hemisphere > Brazil > Porto Alegre

The current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication assesses Brazil at Level 2, indicating travelers should exercise increased caution due to crime. Do not travel to:

  • Any areas within 150 km of Brazil's land borders with Venezuela, Colombia, Peru, Bolivia, Guyana, Suriname, French Guiana, and Paraguay due to crime; (Note: This does not apply to the Foz do Iguacu National Park or Pantanal National Park.) or
  • Informal housing developments (commonly referred to in Brazil as favelas, vilas, communidades, and/or conglomerados), at any time of day due to crime.

 

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

The U.S. Consulate in Porto Alegre 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.

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

Crime Threats

There is serious risk from crime in Porto Alegre. Street crime incidents such as mugging, pickpocketing, and armed robbery are indicative of Brazil’s elevated levels of violence, and are the greatest risk to Consulate employees as well as visitors to south Brazil. Porto Alegre, the capital of the state of Rio Grande do Sul, ranks as one of the most dangerous cities in the world, with higher than normal incidence of violent crime – most notably, murder and armed robbery.

According to the Citizen Council for Public Security and Criminal Justice, 17 of the 50 large cities (population 300,000+) in the world with the highest homicide rate are in Brazil including nine State capitals. Those capital cities with their respective rankings are: #48 Teresina, #39 Porto Alegre (40.96 homicides per 100,000), #30 João Pessoa, #25 Salvador, #22 Recife, #18 Aracaju, #14 Maceio, #7 Fortaleza, and #4 Natal.

In January 2019, the website Numbeo released its independent Crime Index Rate report. The report listed Porto Alegre as the 11th most dangerous city in the world. Numbeo’s indices are web-based user surveys that ask participant’s questions related to crime and safety, rather than using published criminal statistics.

Brazil’s criminal justice system has low conviction rates. An acute shortage of jail space and resulting prisoner furloughs contribute to the cycle of violence. Despite laws that regulate firearms, criminals frequently use handguns, rifles, military grade weapons, blades, and improvised weapons. Crimes can include gratuitous violence.

Local police stations and jails are often overflowing with criminals. Some criminals have reportedly waited for initial booking and arraignment while handcuffed in recycle bins or inside police cars due to lack of jail space.

Despite the very high violent crime rate, petty street crime is the greatest risk in Porto Alegre. Although the risk is greater at night, street crime also occurs during the day. Incidents of theft on city buses are frequent, making taxis and other car companies the safest method of travel. 

Brazil’s street criminals often use motorcycles to evade police. A common street crime involves motorcycle-riding thieves driving alongside stopped cars and robbing the driver. In most cases, the thieves simply depart after taking the driver’s belongings; sometimes, the criminals also injure victims. Comply with demands for valuables and do not resist; doing so increases the likelihood of serious bodily harm.

In the Porto Alegre metropolitan area, there are currently over 1,000 surveillance cameras to monitor and deter crime, controlled and monitored by Centro Integrado de Comando (Integrated Command Center or CIC). In neighborhoods such as Bela Vista, Higienopolis, Auxiliadora, and Petrópolis (where U.S. Consulate housing is located), static guards patrol the main access points. Larger apartments and commercial sites often employ 24/7 onsite private unarmed security guard services. 

In 2018, the state government of Rio Grande do Sul moved forward with “Operation Forward” (Operacão Avante), developing strategies to decrease crime rates. The new First Responder Force (Força Gaúcha de Pronta Resposta, FGPR), which combines the efforts of the Fire Department (Corpo de Bombeiros), Civil Police (Policia Civil), Penitentiary Services (SUSEPE), Forensics (IGP) and Military Police (BM), will attempt to mirror the standards of the (National Public Security Force (Força Nacional de Segurança Pública, FNSP), the Federal Government led police entity.

The Secretariat for Public Security (Secretaria de Segurança Pública) invested resources to combat high crime rates in Rio Grande do Sul and, according to recent statistics, it has succeeded in decreasing some key rates in the past year: Homicide has decreased 21.8%, theft by 9%, and carjacking by 14.9%. Despite these successes, the crime rates overall for Rio Grande do Sul are still disproportionately high.

Additionally, civilians have contributed to the combat of crime through direct police support. A group of local businesspersons and investors created the Floresta Cultural Institute (Instituto Cultural Floresta, ICF) to discuss security concerns and to have a voice in law enforcement agencies through donations of equipment. In 2018, ICF donated 46 SUVs and 10 assault rifles to the Military and Civil Police, 49 assault rifles to Civil Police, and 1,200 Glock pistols to various Law Enforcement Agencies in the State.

Cybersecurity Issues

A growing area of concern is the rise of cybercrime. Brazilians are frequent victims of stolen identity involving credit/debit cards. Police report that merchants are sometimes involved in the theft of credit/debit card account information. Recent investigations reveal that hackers compromised bank security measures, resulting in the theft of thousands of account numbers.

Other Areas of Concern

Bank robberies and criminal gang assaults on ATMs by remain a great concern in Rio Grande do Sul, including Porto Alegre. These incidents can involve the use of heavy weaponry and explosives. Police, particularly in rural interior towns, have reported overwhelming criminal firepower. The use of explosives against ATMs has increased. Heavily armed gang attacks on armored money trucks coincide with this alarming trend.

Gangs have attacked bank branches during day and night. In small cities, where the security is not as omnipresent as in Porto Alegre, thieves have used explosives to assault banks, and have also used innocent victims as “human shields,” creating a barrier to allow a safe escape.

The incidence of crime against tourists is greater in areas surrounding the airport, hotels, bars, nightclubs, the Porto Alegre Centro Historico, public transportation, and other establishments that cater to visitors. Do not wear expensive jewelry in public. Stay alert when using your cell phone in public.

Although there have been no reports of residential burglary against Consulate employees, residential burglaries pose a constant concern. In October 2018, robbers targeted two apartments located in the same building as a Consulate employee. The Consulate manages a robust residential security program to ensure that its residences have enhanced security countermeasures.

Mass robberies (Arrastões) occur when a gang of criminals sweep through public places and rob pedestrians, beachgoers, patrons, customers, and vehicle drivers/occupants stuck in traffic. It is frequent in cities near Rio de Janeiro. An arrastão can occur randomly, day or night, regardless of location. Police struggle to react and capture the criminals. Comply with demands for valuables, and not resist. In Rio Grande do Sul, this type of crime is very rare, but has occurred in bars and restaurants, and on public transportation.

There is significant and sustained organized criminal activity throughout Brazil, particularly in major cities. Avoid all slum neighborhoods (favelas or vilas), especially those that do not have around-the-clock police presence.  

Transportation-Safety Situation

For more information, review OSAC’s report, Security in Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.

Road Safety and Road Conditions

Most roads in large cities are paved, but many outside urban areas are in very poor condition, with large potholes. Some roads may become impassable during the rainy season. Porto Alegre has poor drainage systems that clog easily. Potholes appear suddenly, and remain for weeks. Many unpaved rural roads can be impassable during the season (September – March).

Defensive driving is a requirement, as traffic can be aggressive and unpredictable. The level of driver training and safety awareness does not reach minimum U.S. standards.

Crime on the roads remains a problem, especially during nighttime travel, when stuck in traffic jams, and in rural areas. Drivers must pay attention to their surroundings, and keep doors locked, windows closed, and valuables out of sight when stopped in traffic. Avoid public transportation because of a high threat of crime.

Other Travel Conditions

Street lighting is unpredictable, vehicle accidents are common, and accidents involving motorcycles, pedestrians, and bicyclists are frequent. In Porto Alegre, a severe lack of parking results in informal parking that blocks roads and sidewalks. Peddlers and beggars create a further hazard.

Brazil has zero tolerance for drinking and driving. The state government sets up frequent unannounced checkpoints in strategic places, with the intent to catch drunk drivers. This approach mirrors that of most Brazilian cities. Additionally, Brazil uses automatic photo-ticketing systems and speed traps to discourage speeding, with tickets mailed to the owner of the vehicle.  

Although there have been no reports of carjacking incidents by Consulate employees in Porto Alegre, this type of crime poses a constant concern because perpetrators are armed and may quickly escalate the violence. Numerous carjackings have occurred in the immediate vicinities where official Consulate employees reside.

Terrorism Threat

Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns

There is minimal risk from terrorism in Porto Alegre. There are no known indigenous terrorist groups operating in Brazil. Brazil is a non-aligned country with no significant enemies and is not the target of any known radical groups.

Anti-U.S./Anti-Western Sentiment

Most Brazilians regard U.S. travelers in a positive manner, and are friendly to foreigners.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

Civil Unrest

There is moderate risk from political violence in Porto Alegre. Protestors occasionally conduct acts of civil disobedience, and may enter into violent confrontation with police. Avoid large crowds or ongoing protests.

Federal and State elections in 2018 increased discussions among civilians, becoming a polarized debate between the political right and left wings. In the State of Rio Grande do Sul, budgetary issues are still a concern. State employees have not received their full salaries in a timely manner for the past three years. Decisions like reform of labor and retirement laws have resulted in low state government approval ratings. Now that the election has passed, expect protests and turmoil to continue as debate touches changes to previously announced measures regarding human rights, the right to bear arms, labor laws, and social security reform.

Post-specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

Flooding and mudslides are a seasonal problem in Porto Alegre. Monitor weather conditions, especially during the rainy season. Many streets and neighborhoods lack drainage systems, exacerbating flooding, especially during the spring and summer. Roads closures and excessive flooding issues are frequent during these seasons, in both urban and rural areas.

Kidnappings

While kidnappings for ransom have become less common in recent years, these incidents continue. One tactic of organized gangs is to target individuals observed withdrawing money from ATMs or exiting banks. Using ATMs in secure locations such as shopping malls or major hotels reduce the chances of criminal targeting.  

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.

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical and mental disabilities in employment, transportation, education, and access to health care; the federal government generally enforces these standards. It is common for the elderly, pregnant women, and disabled individuals to receive priority treatment at public and private establishments

Drug-related Crimes

Brazil is the number two consumer of cocaine in the world, behind the United States. Brazil is a heavy importer of cocaine, and is an integral part of international drug routes to Europe and Africa. Trafficked cocaine and marijuana is mostly produced locally; routes between Bolivia, Argentina, and Paraguay are the most common pathways into and out of Brazil. According to local police contacts, marijuana is the main drug of choice in Porto Alegre. Cocaine, ecstasy, and crack are also common, with crack being very popular with poorer people due to easy access and low cost. In Porto Alegre, the gang called “Bullet in the face” (Bala na Cara) controls cocaine distribution via connections to one of Brazil’s powerful prison gangs, the First Capital Command (Primeiro Comando da Capital, PCC).  

Economic Concerns

In light of the frequent reports of suspicious credit/debit card activity, fraudulent charges, and the brazenness of cyber criminals, use extreme caution when using a credit/debit card; use cash whenever possible. Cyber criminals can install corrupt point of sale (PoS) card readers (commonly called chupacabras) at stores, restaurants, ATMs, etc. These devices can steal card information wirelessly or with the help of an employee accomplice. Establish strict rules for using credit/debit card and monitor transactions on a daily basis. In addition to using only trusted ATMs at major banks, hotels, or shopping malls, exchange dollars only at banks or other reputable money exchanging services.

Cargo theft remains a major security issue on roads throughout Brazil; many companies employ countermeasures, including armed security escorts for high-value loads and satellites to track truck movements.

Police Response

Police response varies in Porto Alegre. Police officials frequently cite lack of resources, unpaid wages, staffing shortages, lack of basic equipment, and low morale as reasons for widely varying response times and unsolved crimes. When police do respond, victims must go to the police station to file a report and complete other investigative formalities. In general, public confidence in police is not very high due to perception of heavy handedness, ineffectiveness, and corruption. However, confidence has increased somewhat in the past few years. 

How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment

Request assistance from the U.S. Consulate General American Citizens Services (ACS) unit in the event you encounter problems while traveling in Brazil, including police detainment or arrest: (+55)(51) 3445-6105 during business hours; (+55)(51) 98293-0446 after hours and on weekends.

Crime Victim Assistance

  • Tourist Police Station (Delegacia do Turista): (+55) (51) 3371-2703
  • Civil Police (Polícia Civil): 197
  • Federal Police (Polícia Federal): 194
  • Traffic Police – EPTC: 156
  • Transit Department – DETRAN: 0800-510-3311
  • Airport (Salgado Filho): (+55) (51) 3358-2000
  • Military Police (Polícia Militar): 190

    Medical Emergencies

  • Medical Emergency Ambulance (SAMU): 192
  • Fire Service/Sea Rescue: 193

Medical care at private clinics in Porto Alegre is quite good. Private facilities normally require advance cash payment for medical care. Public hospitals provide a lower standard of care and are often overcrowded and understaffed, but generally do not require pre-payment and are experienced at dealing with medical emergencies, including trauma injuries.

Contact Information for Available Medical Services

For medical assistance, refer to the Consulate’s Medical Assistance webpage.

Available Air Ambulance Services

For air medical evacuation services, consider purchasing private air medical evacuation (medevac) insurance before travel.

Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance

Bring prescription medicine sufficient for your length of stay. Brazil's humid climate may affect some medicines. Some prescription medicines (mainly generic) are available. Consult with medical providers regarding immunization and vaccination requirements prior to travel. Carry a documented yellow fever card.

Mosquito-borne viral infection is a significant health risk throughout Brazil. Such infections include chikungunya, dengue fever, yellow fever, malaria, and Zika. While chikungunya and dengue fever have become endemic countrywide, yellow fever and malaria are more prevalent in non-urban areas. All U.S. government personnel obtain yellow fever vaccination prior to travel. There are no prophylactic therapies for dengue and chikungunya; the most prudent strategy is to prevent mosquito bites through repellants, treated bed nets, window screens, and air-conditioning.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has issued a Level 2 travel notice for countries affected by the Zika virus. Zika is a mosquito-borne virus that causes ‘flu-like’ symptoms (e.g. fever, headache, joint pain, and rash) for two to seven days. Latin America and the Caribbean are the newest regions affected by the virus. Because of concerns about an association of Zika virus infection during pregnancy with microcephaly, a congenital brain deformity, the travel alert recommends pregnant women and those who may become pregnant avoid unnecessary travel to the region or take special precautions.  

Incidences of water-borne diseases increase during periods of flooding. Only consume bottled or purified water, and take special precautions when eating fruits and vegetables, especially during the rainy seasons.

Leptospirosis, while not common, is a bacterial infection spread via rodent droppings and waste. Given the limitations of the sanitation system in non-urban areas of Brazil, exercise caution including vigilant hand washing after outdoor contact, and vaccinate pets that may contract the disease from food bowls and other exposed surfaces rodents may traverse. Early manifestations of the disease present as flu-like symptoms.

Pay special attention to HIV/AIDS. In addition to elevated infection rates among high-risk populations such as commercial sex workers and mobile populations such as miners or loggers, data from the World Health Organization shows that Brazil has among the highest prevalence of HIV in Latin America and the Caribbean. WHO recommends preventive sexual practices, to include of use of condoms.

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

OSAC Country Council Information

Porto Alegre has recently started an OSAC Country Council Program. Other OSAC Country Councils in Brazil are located in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo. Interested private-sector security managers should contact OSAC’s Latin America team with any questions or to join. 

U.S. Consulate Location and Contact Information

Consulate Address and Hours of Operation

Av Assis Brasil 1889, Passo d’Areia, Porto Alegre, Rio Grande do Sul, 91010-0004

0800-1700, Monday - Friday, closed on weekends and holidays

Consulate Contact Numbers

Regional Security Officer (RSO): (+55) (51) 3345-6197

American Citizen Services (ACS): (+55) (51) 3345-6105

After-hours Duty Officer: (+55) (51) 98293-0446 (ACS)

Post One Brasilia: (+55) (61) 3312-7400.

Website: https://br.usembassy.gov/embassy-consulates/american-presence-post-porto-alegre/

Nearby Posts: Embassy Brasilia, Consulate General Rio de Janeiro, Consulate General Recife, Presence Post Belo Horizonte

Consulate Guidance

U.S. citizens traveling to Brazil should register with the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to ensure they receive pertinent security updates and notices.

Additional Resource: Brazil Country Information Sheet