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Violent Crime in Brazil

January 22, 2009
Murder rates in Brazil and Sao Paulo (The Economist)

Murder rates in Brazil and São Paulo (The Economist, 2008)

Most people tend to think of Brazilian cities as divided and violent, with especially high rates of gang-related gun deaths in and around the favelas. Certainly that was the impression I was starting to get. However, there was an excellent piece last year in The Economist on falling murder rates in Brazilian cities. Yes, that´s right, I said falling murder rates. And not just falling, plummeting.

However, as the article points out, the decline is largely due to a halving of the murder rate in Brazil´s second city, São Paulo. The Economist put this down to a combination of: tighter gun control; better policing (including community policing initiatives and a large new Murder Squad, which ¨uses computer profiling to spot patterns and to act preventively¨); and, a relative decline in the youth demographic as the baby-boom cohort of children born after the mass immigration from the 1970s ages – the gangsters are getting older and getting out of crime, and there are slightly fewer young recruits to replace them. But one note of caution is that this may all be the temporary result of one particular gang gaining a dominant and unchallengable position. My view (not The Economist´s) is that if this latter development is a genuinely long-term trend, it could either result in a move to more legal community development activities by the gang (as has happened in some US cities) or a more stable but persistant pattern of criminality such as that in exhibited by the endemic gang-cultures of Southern Italy or in Japan…

Of course, I should also note that these figures are official ones from the Ministry of Health and I have no idea yet how reliable are the collection or categorisation methods for crime statistics used by the Brazilian authorities.

(thanks to Rodrigo Firmino for this one)

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Konrad permalink
    January 23, 2009 6:22 pm

    My colleague, Konrad Miciukiewicz, writes:

    “I would also add one of world’s highest GDP growth rates in Sao Paulo State and Lula’s welfare flagship Bolsa Familia bringing children back to schools from streets to the list of factors pulling down the homicide rate in the 40M Sao Paulo State.

    However, if you look at other regions than South and South East (the biggest beneficiaries of world’s economic prosperity in the period) the situation does not look so promising. The curve for Brazil excluding Sao Paulo is quite stable.

    The article from The Economist is also opposing another stereotype about violence in Brazil – that violence is a phenomenon of metropolitan areas where the drug business is accumulated wheras smaller municipalities in the interior are relatively safe.

    Please look at this article. I wouldn’t stick to the numbers…. the methodology and source is not so reliable, but the general picture is interesting. As you can see only one of Brazilian big cities – Recife – can be found in the violence ‘Top 20’ whreas Rio and Sao Paulo are out of top 100.”

  2. David permalink
    January 23, 2009 6:33 pm

    Interesing report, thanks Konrad – I have just got hold of the original study conducted for the Bazilian office of the Organização dos Estados Ibero-americanos (OEI) – I will report back on what I think later…

  3. Konrad permalink
    January 24, 2009 11:52 pm

    Hi David,
    please also look at the bunch of World Bank’s resources on Bolsa Familia – Brazilian Welfare Product which has already been exported to 20 other countries incl the US,,contentMDK:21447054~pagePK:141137~piPK:141127~theSitePK:322341,00.html

    It would be very interesting to find out if/how Bolsa Familia has influenced street crime among children.

  4. David permalink
    January 26, 2009 11:59 am

    Thanks, Konrad. I have also found some very interesting research on the relationship between spending on security and crime rates. I´ll be posting something about that later today or tomorrow.

  5. January 27, 2009 5:38 pm

    My colleague, Rodrigo Firmino, has posted a counterpoint to my musings – he notes that crime rates have been the number one reason for the growth in popularity of condominiums amongst the rich in Brazilian cities.

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