I’m frequently asked if Rio is dangerous. While understandable, this question always bothers me. I have friends living in Rio who take all sides on the issue of safety. Their positions range from panic to mild paranoia. Mild is about as good as it gets. It can be thought of as the normal urban dweller’s awareness and caution. People check out their surroundings, do not venture into certain areas, avoid exposing themselves to perceived danger and make sure that everything that might attract a criminal is dealt with in a fairly rational way. For example, people lock their cars and drive with the windows up. Women protect themselves as they see fit given the situation, which might mean not going out alone. On the mild paranoia side, this is standard behavior for any big city.
On the other end of the scale, I know people in Rio (Cariocas) who avoid going out at all costs. When they do go out, they have to engage in very strategic planning to make sure they are safe. This typically involves only using safe transportation, i.e. a personal car (the car may be armored) with a professional driver and advising friends and relatives of their plans and scheduled arrival and departure times in addition to using a cell phone with GPS locations, communication and emergency resources.
What passes for mild paranoia or panic is of course subjective. Some people, especially the young and sometimes the very poorest, have little fear either because they are fool hardy and feel invincible or have absolutely nothing to lose. The rest of us are somewhere in between. Fear often comes from lack of information, information overflow or sensationalism. Here is a link to the sensationalist Daily Mail (UK) that picked up this quite impressive and scary video: http://dailym.ai/1K5IZJu
The video is not staged but it is edited for its sensationalist effect. The reality is that yes there is street crime perpetrated typically by minors or young men and that awareness is needed. While bump, rob and run and theft of valuables are common, it is still the exception.
Here are some crime statistics and recommendations:
First, the good news: Intentional homicides per 100,000 are falling. The graph from Rio’s Institute of Public Safety (Instituto de Seguranca Publica) shows a decline in intentional homicides over the past 7 years. This information is for the state of Rio while the city of Rio de Janeiro shows a fairly constant rate of something over 1200 killings a year for the last 4 years.
The US Department of State has a division dedicated to “Diplomatic Safety” that produces a summary covering different risks in the city of Rio de Janeiro including public safety, cyber crime and road safety. Here is the link: https://www.osac.gov/pages/ContentReportDetails.aspx?cid=19071
This report describes Rio’s overall crime rate as “Critical” and further states that “Crime is the principal threat to visitors in Brazil” and “ Low-level criminal activity continues to plague visitors and businesses alike. Drug-dealing, petty theft, and vehicle break-ins are common.” It also notes that assaults are common in beaches or parks especially after dark.
While the objective statistics and the US government evaluation do not paint an encouraging situation, the actual victimization of tourists during the Olympics may actually be less serious. There are a couple of reasons.
First, there will be enhanced security. Second people are being warned and often will be in groups. Third, many Brazilians will help tourists avoid trouble and have a good time. Obviously, if you want the excitement, it can be found. Here is a Brazilian App that is similar to Waze for crime. It can be downloaded to track crime: http://www.ondefuiroubado.com.br/rio-de-janeiro/RJ/
There are a couple of other things to take into account. Zika, Dengue and other mosquito-driven diseases are prevalent and one needs to be educated and informed.
The other great unknown is the possibility in today’s world of a terrorist shooting, bombing or assault of some kind. Brazil’s security apparatus has been collaborating with US and international agencies for a long time and are certainly aware of the potential of terrorism at a major event like the Summer Olympics. I trust nothing will happen and that perhaps as the Brazilian jokes goes: there are too many bureaucratic and infrastructure problems that impede business and terror alike.
Safe travels and enjoy the Games! Hope to see you there.
Photo credit: DelsonSilvaAgnew