Violent Crime in Brazil

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)