Violence in Rio de Janeiro is real and it is an issue that worries both inhabitants and visitors. The city has a history of traumatic and sad incidents, which contribute to its reputation of being a violent and a dangerous place. Although the city has many problems and particularities that make the safety issue a complex and controversial one, the tourist circuit in Rio is generally safe because the seashore is usually the focus of increased policing and more attention from authorities with regards to security in general. But the city as a whole still suffers from poor security, due to social and economic circumstances combined with the continuing lack of adequate government presence.
It’s recommended, both in Rio and everywhere else, that tourists always observe basic safety rules. Walking through places they know and being accompanied by guides or residents reduces the chances of something bad happening. Even those who may be unfamiliar with any part of the city or its occupants may have a smooth holiday by making sure they are well informed about the city and the safest places to go. We have gathered some statistics below from the Public Security Institute on events that often victimize tourists in Rio. Learn more about them to reduce the chances of these things happening to you.
It’s important to know, however, that many cases of violence and crimes in Rio are not reported, especially those where it’s not necessary to register the occurrence for matters such as getting a copy of documents and cancelling credit cards. Theft of necklaces, earrings, money and even bicycles are often not reported, because the chances of recovering the stolen objects are close to none.
Another quite distinctive situation is the occurrence of scams, without the use of violence in Rio de Janeiro. Regarding these situations, which show very specific features in Rio de Janeiro, we recommend reading the guide that addresses Tourist Scams in Rio de Janeiro.
Above all, it’s important to know that there is a police station that specializes in handling issues related to tourists, whose phone number is +55 21 2232 2924; the address is Afrânio de Melo Franco Avenue, 159, Leblon. Also, the emergency phone number for the police in Rio de Janeiro is 190.
Theft Without the Use of Violence in Rio
Lapa district, in downtown Rio, was the location with the highest number of thefts recorded in 2015 in the city. Police stations located at Praça da República and Mem de Sá Avenue have recorded 5,362 and 5,254 crimes of that kind, respectively, an average of 29 thefts a day in the neighborhood of Lapa. Copacabana, in the Southern area of the city, also stands out among the districts with a large number of thefts. There were 5,015 cases reported there last year, an average of approximately 14 thefts a day. More than 4,600 people sought the police station in Leblon to report theft incidents, and 2,277 went to the precinct in Ipanema for the same reason.
It’s also important to remember that authorities have set up the so-called Lapa Legal Program, which operates differently in the region and has achieved very good results in reducing crime and violence locally.
The large number of cases of theft in areas often visited by tourists should be cause for attention to vacationers in the city. The ideal is to walk around in groups, preferably only during the day, and to always remain alert to any suspicious movement.
Another important tip to avoid violence in Rio, although it may seem unusual, is trying not to look like a tourist; that is, not drawing attention to yourself by wearing fancy clothes or needlessly displaying cameras and smart phones or maps.
If you feel in danger or realize that you have been a victim of theft, seek help from law enforcement authorities, city police officers or local merchants before going to a police station to report the crime. That is important for security statistic purposes, in addition to serving as proof of theft for situations like getting a copy of documents and cancelling credit cards. It also allows the police to better plan how they will act in different parts of the city.
Robbery Against Passers-by and Violence in Rio
More than 60,000 cases of robbery against passers-by were registered in the State of Rio in 2015. The neighborhood of Bangu was the one with the highest number of records: 2,159. Madureira ranked second, with 1,839 cases. Vicente de Carvalho, with 1,799 robberies, came third. The three locations are far away from the city’s tourist circuit, where the number of incidents was much lower. Some 500 robberies were registered at the police station in Leblon, plus 253 in Copacabana and 158 in Ipanema. There’s no information on the type of violence used by the criminals.
The first three months of the year were those with the highest number of reports of robberies against passers-by. There were 6,928 cases in January, 6,421 in February and 6,145 in March. The period coincides with the summer, a time when a large number of tourists are in the city. It’s recommended that victims of robberies with guns never react during the crime and remain calm. Many times, the criminal is as nervous as the victim and any kind of reaction can trigger violence in Rio de Janeiro. In addition to that, no goods that may be stolen are worth a life. After the event, the person who has been robbed must go to a police station in order to report the crime.
Cell Phone Theft and Violence in Rio
The theft of cell phones is a type of crime that has become increasingly common in Rio in recent years. A simple and efficient way to avoid it is to onlyuse the device in safe environments, such as shopping centers and shops. Anyone who wants to use it in open areas must be attentive to the movement around them in order not to fall victim to nasty surprises. More than 12,000 phones were stolen in the State of Rio in 2015.
Bangu was the area with the highest number of incidents recorded in the capital. There were 598 cases. Realengo, with 377 cases, and Meier, with 369 records, are also worth mentioning. The three locations are far from Rio’s tourist circuit, where the number of stolen cell phones is much lower. Around 120 cases were recorded in Leblon last year. The numbers were even less significant in Copacabana and Ipanema, where fewer than 80 people have sought the police to complain about that kind of crime. But it’s important to remember that many of these robberies, as well as thefts, are not reported, and the actual figures may be much higher.
Vehicle Theft and Violence in Rio
Driving in Rio is naturally an adventure on its own. Locals have an aggressive style behind the wheel, which amazes those who come from abroad and bother the good drivers in the city. But that’s not the only risk to drivers in the city, which also has a worrying number of vehicle thefts. The neighborhood of Vicente de Carvalho recorded more than 1,200 cases of that type of crime in 2015, with or without violence in Rio de Janeiro. In the district of Honorio Gurgel, there were 1,182 vehicles stolen. More than 1,100 incidents were reported at the police station in Pavuna. The three locations are in the Northern part of the city, far from the most popular city sights, where vehicle theft is less common.
Leblon recorded 16 cases of vehicle theft last year. Eleven cases were recorded by the police stations of Copacabana and Ipanema. The months of December, January and March were those with the highest number of cases. There were 3,140, 2,874 and 2,861 reported cases, respectively.
Robbery, Murder and Violence in Rio
Argentine tourist Laura Pamela Viana was stabbed to death on Copacabana Beach after being the victim of a robbery on February 18th, 2016. The case has been added to the robbery and murder statistics, and left locals quite saddened. It’s a kind of rare incident in the tourist circuit, where crime of this kind didn’t happen at all in 2015. The neighborhood of Vicente de Carvalho was the one with the highest number of robberies and murders reported last year, with 5 cases. Bangu, Campo Grande and Pavuna accounted for 4 cases each in 2015. These places are located kilometers away from the city’s shoreline.
The months of April, June and March have had the highest figures of robberies and murders reported in the state, with 21, 16 and 15 cases respectively. Over 130 robberies and murders were recorded throughout Rio in 2015, providing sad evidence of the violence in the State.
There was a period during 2015 and early 2016 when the use of knives and other sharp objects, such as broken bottles, was featured in the newspapers of Rio de Janeiro, and violence frightened not only tourists and visitors, but also, and especially, the locals. You must pay attention to the movement around you when walking around the city, even in places that seem to be safe and are busy, such as downtown, and especially in places with less movement of people, like Aterro do Flamengo and Lagoa, where criminals may hide among the trees and then approach and rob passers-by.
Violence in Rio and Steaming
Another problem at the beaches of Rio are the collective thefts known as arrastões (steaming, or gang looting), when a mob of people running among beachgoers take necklaces, cell phones, wallets and whatever else of value they can lay their hands on, with some episodes of violence being reported. The tourist who suspects that something is about to happen can talk to street vendors, which are a good barometer on these occasions. Furthermore, you should get out of the sand and seek shelter in shops, kiosks or buildings nearby, in order to avoid the risk.
Places to Avoid in Rio
You must be aware of which locations you can go to, since some neighborhoods are quite violent, and so are some communities (slums), with frequent clashes between rival gangs and between them and the police. Residents in these communities are the ones who suffer the most from violence in Rio and the stigma that falls on them, for sharing the space in which they live with criminal organizations linked mainly to drug trafficking.
The peculiarity of Rio de Janeiro is that tourist and also prime areas live side by side with the communities, also known as favelas. Ipanema, Copacabana and Leblon have many communities. However, it’s difficult to find them, as they are hidden behind the large buildings in the area.
Many of these communities are occupied by organized crime, and therefore conflicts between different groups and the police occur frequently. The locations are usually accessible only to residents, and it’s not safe to go there alone. That’s why we don’t recommend the tour called Favelatour. Although it is a widespread idea, there is no appeal or charm in living in slums, as life is especially difficult in these places.
Please understand very clearly that the criminality attributed to the slums is not carried out by most people living there, but by the organized crime that seeps into people’s lives, and because of government omission they have no other option than to learn to live with this terrible situation.
Therefore, it’s not possible to ping on a map which places are safe and which aren’t; even places in the tourist circuit are dangerous, depending on the time of day or night. The assessment should be made case by case. Always ask someone you trust and who lives in the city. In the absence of such a person, ask the hotel, your travel agency or a nearby merchant. In this circumstance, locals are usually quite supportive, as violence and crime are common enemies to all good people.
Violence in Rio and Sexual Crimes
Tourists should also be aware of ways to prevent sex crimes, which we believe often cause more harm than death crimes. The country’s statistics are frightening, because it’s believed that over 500,000 rapes occur every year, although only 35% of the cases end up being reported. The State of Rio de Janeiro accounts for 12% (data from 2014) of the all the rapes reported in the country.
The tourist circuit is safe in general, but caution is needed. When in doubt about the safety in any location, do research on it, ask someone you trust or get information from travel and tourism agencies, which may indicate safe places and routes to explore the city without fear and while avoiding violence. The false impression that Rio de Janeiro is a permissive and welcoming city leads many women to believe that they are essentially safe there, but that’s not entirely true. Local parents are usually very concerned about their daughters and wives.
The city has a very macho male culture, which promotes a kind of sexual harassment that is often not at all concealed. Unfortunately, many locals often direct jokes and naughty praise to unaccompanied women. The situation will rarely develop into a sexual crime, but can be quite unpleasant in the case of confrontation. Therefore, we suggest you do not confront this kind of attitude; seek protection and remove yourself from the situation without risk. Please understand that it’s not about being passive. Faced with a threat or concrete excess, if someone touches or holds you, you should react proportionally. The ideal for women, however, is to walk on the streets accompanied, since the audacity of such behavior dramatically decreases when they are together with a man; a very sexist and unfortunate situation, but it does happen.
A good strategy to prevent unpleasant situations in general in Rio is not to expose yourself. Therefore, it’s important to use reliable transport means and walk in groups, whenever possible.
Local parents ask their children to let them know when they use taxis, saying loud and clear that they are on their way home and asking them to wait for them. Very few people in the city speak openly about the violence issues in Rio, but they do exist and must be respected.
Credits for the used images in this Violence in Rio de Janeiro article: André Gomes Melo, Rj.gov.br, Tânia Rêgo.