As Brazil approaches two highly significant dates, the 2014 Soccer World Cup, and the 2016 Olympic Games, attention focuses on various aspects that will influence these events, and their impact on both residents and visitors. Probably the most important aspects of consideration are security and safety.

TAL Global has obtained the most up-to-date crime statistics for Brazil’s two major cities: São Paulo and Rio De Janeiro.

São Paulo – Crime Statistics

The bad news is that major crimes all have shown an increase in the Brazilian city of São Paulo during the first half of 2013.

Major crimes include homicides, felony deaths (robbery followed by or resulting in death), robberies, vehicular robberies and thefts, bank robberies, armed assaults on restaurants, bars and apartment buildings (known as “Arrastoes” or Big Sweeps), and rape.

The U.S. Department of State rates the criminal threat for São Paulo as “critical.”

The following is an overview of crime statistics for the city of São Paulo over the period of January-June, 2013. The statistics were issued by São Paulo State Government.


brazil crime - 1Over the past few months, crime activity in São Paulo (SÃO) has risen to the extent that it now ranks as the highest-risk city in Brazil. The São Paulo State Secretariat for Public Safety has published the results for the period of January-June, 2013, and these lend credence to that dubious title.  This is not an alarmist note, but rather a note of alert – drawing the attention of visiting and resident executives, their families and colleagues to the facts – that on the ground, concrete measures can be taken to reduce the risk of becoming a crime victim.

The Numbers

The following table presents the crime statistics for São Paulo State Capital – Jan-Jun 2013 (compared with the comparable period in 2012):

Crime Mode




Felonious Homicide 586 615 5.0
Felony Death 57 79 38.6
Robberies 58,217 60,101 3.2
Vehicle Robberies 23,028 24,113 4.7
Vehicle Thefts 22,293 23,982 7.6
Bank Robberies 53 59 11.3
“Arrastoes” 48 68 41.7
Rape 1,473 1,621 10.0



Homicide rates showed an 11.54% decline in June 2013. The State Secretariat attributes this decline to efforts by the police to address this crime mode.  It is important to note that about half of all homicides are domestically related, a domain that is not significantly impacted by policing activities. The other half reflects drug-related activities, an area that does not show any downward trend.

Felony Deaths:

brazil crime - 2This is one of the city’s major crime concerns.  While this is not a large number when compared to homicides, it is a crime mode which has shown a marked increase in SÃO, and reflects an increased tendency to carry out gratuitous, cold-blooded killings. This crime mode is very difficult to anticipate and mitigate against.  It may reflect a sense of impunity on the part of the city’s criminals.  Every day there are many examples of hardened criminals who are released from custody using some legal loophole that are later caught committing the same or similar crimes for which they have been detained in the first place.

Robberies, Vehicular Robberies and Thefts, and “Arrastoes”:

These are the type offences that affect the public the most. “Arrastoes” (armed assaults), while small in number, have a significant impact on society. More than half of these assaults have taken place in bars and restaurants, initially occurring in outer regions, but recently migrating to high-end neighborhoods, especially in the western and southern districts of the Capital.  The Modus Operandi (M.O.) is for a gang of four to eight armed men to arrive on foot, rush in, grab as many valuables as possible from the patrons and the cash register, and run away into the night.  These assaults last no more than 2-5 minutes. The most common time for such attacks is Mondays after 10:30p.m. The police have managed to solve 37 of these cases, but this has not acted as a definite deterrent yet.

It is difficult to pinpoint specific “danger zones” where such assaults are more likely to take place.  One mitigating measure that executives can take is to congregate and seek entertainment in places which have good physical security (guards, cameras), are not isolated and are close to other similar establishments – safety in numbers.

Recently pizza houses became targets of such assaults, and such attacks have occurred throughout the city, from the outskirts to high-end neighborhoods.

Express Kidnappings

Express Kidnappings is a major concern in SÃO. This crime mode involves an assault on the victim or victims in their car whilst stuck in traffic or at stop lights. The attackers then take the victim(s) on a round of ATMs to max out cash withdrawals, and / or to stores, under duress, to make purchases with the victim using their own credit cards.  The victim is usually dumped after a few hours and when the assailants have decided they have maximized the returns.  In almost all cases, the victim loses the car as well. There are specific mitigating measures that potential victims may take to help reduce the risk of becoming victims of such a crime mode.


brazil crime - 3The media pays a lot of attention to this criminal mode.  Recently, there has been a change in the Brazilian Penal Code, expanding the range of acts that are considered rape.  The definition of rape now includes physical molestation (groping) and other forms of non-consensual contact.  This has enabled more women and men to report such crimes to the authorities.

The Impact

Robberies, thefts, car-jacking, kidnappings, and felony killings are an unfortunate but frequent occurrence in SÃO. Locals and visitors should be made aware of the specific and general risks and exercise proper caution when in public. It is important to stress that, despite such crimes, life goes on in SÃO, with shopping, drinking, dining and commerce continuing at full steam. There is no siege mentality, except that local residences have been converted to mini-fortresses.


Being aware of the potential for criminal events, using common sense precautions and being alert in public will assist the executive, his or her family and colleagues in mitigating the risk of becoming crime victims in SÃO. There is certainly no let-up in demand for risk assessment and support services from the professional sector, and visiting or expatriated executives would do well to seek professional assistance in such matters. 

Click here for detailed emergency services contact numbers in São Paulo.

Rio de Janeiro (RIO) Crime Statistics


Rio de Janeiro has been rated “Critical” for crime by the State Department for the past 25 years.

brazil crime - 4The city of Rio de Janeiro accounts for about 47% of all reported crimes for this period within the state of Rio de Janeiro.

Unlike São Paulo, the city of Rio de Janeiro (RIO) has not yet provided complete crime report statistics for the first half of 2013. The data presented here refers to the period of January-May 2013.  The following review is based on the data available from the State Government, as well as on privately-collected data and analysis.

The Numbers

Crime Mode



% variation

Felonious Homicide



(-)  9.8

Felony Death (robbery resulting in or followed by death)



(-) 63.6

Robberies (including: businesses residences, pedestrians on public transport, mobile phones)




Vehicle – Robberies



(-)  9.2

Vehicle – Thefts



(-) 10.0

Bank Robberies



(-) 25.0

“Saidinha” assaults at ATM or exiting banks




“Arrastoes” (big sweeps on bars, restaurants, in apartment buildings)

There are no published statistics at this time for this mode




(-)  9.2.


Almost all crime modes in RIO have shown a decline compared with last year’s numbers. This may be a result of several factors including:

      (a) The establishment of the UPP (Pacification Police Units) in the favelas (slums), increasing internal security for residents and reducing the ability of local criminal elements to act inside and outside the favelas.
      (b)   The general increase in the number and frequency of police patrols, particularly during major events in RIO.

Although showing a reduction of nearly 10%, the number of homicides in RIO is nearly the same as the number in SÃO , which has a far greater municipal population (6.3 million vs. 11.2 million correspondingly). This reflects to some extent the history of drug wars and slums’ power struggles in RIO, much of which has changed today.  It is important to note that young males continue to make up the majority of homicide victims, in all major cities throughout Brazil.

Felony Deaths:

This important crime statistics shows a marked improvement in RIO (as opposed to a marked increase in SÃO). This improvement is probably a reflection of the greater presence of police in terms of numbers and frequency of patrols.


This figure remains basically constant, and represents an unfortunate feature of everyday life in RIO. Mobile phone robbery is becoming a major area of concern, involving both organized crime gangs and drug addicts.

RIO is also now facing a crime mode which is prevalent in SÃO: Express Kidnappings. Recently there have been several cases of Express Kidnapping in the region of the Barra, on the principal avenue and in front of one of the major shopping malls.

Bank robberies and “Saidinha” or armed assaults on victims after exiting banks:

This is a constant crime mode, and has been discussed in previous reports and overviews. This year, there has been an increase of 11.1% nationally in deaths caused during bank and “saidinha” assaults.   SÃO leads the pack in this unfortunate statistics with 14 deaths, followed by RIO with 5 deaths, Bahia (3), and Rio Grande do Sul (03).

Note: This crime mode was not specifically outlined in the SÃO Overview due to variance in data sourcing.

While most bank robberies occur after hours, often at night and using explosives, therefore involving less direct public exposure, “Saidinha” attacks are a very serious risk to the public.

brazil crime - 5In trying to curb this mode, many banks do not permit persons to enter banks wearing crash helmets or using mobile phones.  So today the criminal spotter will enter the bank, unarmed, and watch for a likely victim.  This is usually a solo victim seen to draw a quantity of cash from the teller (amounts can vary from as little as a few hundred Reals, to large amounts – certainly not recommended without suitable security accompaniment).  Once the victim leaves the bank the spotter calls his accomplice, usually on a motorbike in close proximity, who then follows the victim, and carries out the assault, always armed and using violence in many cases to reduce the contact time.

An Update on Firearms

In an effort to curb the growing use of diverse firearms in the commission of crimes, the federal government established rules designed to greatly restrict the use and carrying of firearms.  The new law and norms targeted the honest citizen, and today with very few exceptions, a private citizen no longer has the right to bear arms (carrying permit). Those that do probably purchased firearms prior to the new measures, and have them re-registered.  Even private security companies, which are registered and controlled by the Federal Police, and which provide armed security guards, are restricted in the type of weapons they are allowed to deploy.

However, criminals do not abide by these rules. They use sophisticated weaponry, and are often better equipped than law enforcement. There is a constant flow of illegal weapons from countries bordering Brazil. In fact, people can purchase firearms in Paraguay and have them delivered in Brazil, thus avoiding the risk of being caught on the official border crossings.

Over a period of two-decades it is estimated that up to 800,000 people died in Brazil as a result of the use of firearms, some through accidents, some through suicide, but the vast majority through felonious homicide or in confrontation with law enforcement, with many of the victims being young males.


How do the above statistics and data affect or concern the public and the business executive? As with SÃO, life goes on normally. Today, RIO has been overtaken by SÃO as the highest risk capital in Brazil.  This can be explained in part by the fact that the major areas of risk and danger in RIO can be mapped out and identified, and thus avoided, unlike SÃO where there are no “safe” neighborhoods. RIO is still a charming “Carioca” city, but there are also many criminal elements to contend with.

However, if executives, their families and their corporate management understand the risks, learn how to detect them and take proper mitigating measures, then the risk, although continuing to be significant, can be managed and disruptions avoided.

RIO has been under the global microscope due to the Pope’s very recent visit, and the Confederations Cup last June. Coming up are WC14 and the Olympics in 2016.  Once again RIO will be host to the world.  It is important, however, that the state and municipal authorities have in place all the facilities and public services to attend, not just for the duration of these events, but also on an ongoing basis so that the general population and visitors alike can enjoy the  “Marvelous City” as it really should be, and not as it is at present.

Major Areas of Concern

Vehicular Robberies and Express Kidnappings

In both cities, vehicular robbery incidents outnumbered vehicular theft. That means that one is more likely to suffer the personal trauma of being attacked while in one’s car, than just wake up in the morning and discover that the car was stolen from its parking spot.

Express Kidnapping is a particularly harrowing experience; mitigating against it requires specific instructions (sometimes even training) by a professional.


Crimes of sexual violence remain a major area of risk and concern in large Brazilian cities. Locals and visitors alike should exercise proper mitigating actions (e.g., travel in groups, travel with male escorts, travel with physical security).


6 Responses to São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro – How Dangerous Are These Cities?

  1. AndyR says:

    I moved to Rio at the beginning of January 2013, and to be honest, this was a big mistake. Brazil is a banana republic, and the crime rate has really gone up. I used to live in Brazil back in the 1970′s. The country was already violent then, but it is much worse now. The criminals are not punished in this country, especially the “under-aged” ones.Most barbaric crimes here are committed by kids younger than 18 years of age, because they know that they will walk free in the streets to commit more murders. Life is not worth anything here, and the population seems to accept that – this is a completely different culture. You can get killed for nothing. If you are unlucky and get robbed in the streets without carrying any money on you or credit cards, they might kill you for having nothing. Even if you have something and you give it all to the criminals, they might still kill you. This happens everyday in the streets here. The corrupted government here don’t care, and they will do nothing for your security. The streets stinks sewage, are dirty, the people are uneducated and ignorant. Beware: Don’t travel to Brazil, unless you really need to do so. Because I work here for a foreign company, I will only stay here for the minimum time necessary, and move back to my country in Europe. This country is a lost country.

    • TAL Global says:

      Brazil like all counties is having to deal with the challenges of urban crime. The fact is that currently there is a serious crime problem in the major cities and as opined out in this comment and in our posts, this is not going away soon. Having said that, the risks can be mitigated and Brazil is a significant and important regional and global powerhouse. Travelers to Brazil should not write off this amazing place because of crime. The government and law enforcement together with legal system will, in our assessment, prevail but until then, travel with caution and be aware of the risks and steps you should take to mitigate it and not become a victim. There are millions of great, warm, hospitable people in Brazil, they all want crime to go away and they will prevail at some point.

    • Manda Chuva says:

      In Brazil, abortion is illegal. Brazil is a pro-life country. The chances that you will get killed on the streets of a 15 million population city is very small. Do your statistics. It is not a developed country though, but it is not like developed countries where more than a million babies are killed every year before they are born, by abortion. So, there are a lot of kids on the streets. Most kids a poor, but happy. Some kids become marginal and do crime, kill for money, for drugs, but it is not like the end of the world. The media is bias and creates panic to sell their news. There is a lot of corruption, yes. But, so what? There are 200 million people living in Brazil and if they all decide to live the country because of corruption and crime, and go to Europe! For those going to Brazil, enjoy, and don’t listen to extremists.

  2. PDS says:

    I’ve been to brazil twice, to São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Recife and many other cities along the way. My wife is Brazilian and comes from an amazing civilized family as most people that I met in Brazil. While in Brazil I never experienced or witnessed any sort of crime and never felt myself in danger. I’ve lived in Montreal Canada all my life, a relatively safe city, and I have been robbed and even physically attacked here. Violence and corruption could be found anywhere in the world. Keep in mind that Brazil is a country with close to 200 million inhabitants so crime may seem to be much higher than a country with a smaller population. Brazil is a country in growth with a lot of potential and amazing welcoming people. If you go looking for trouble you will most certainly find it… If you have a bit of street smarts, you will not have any problem.

  3. harley says:

    with all those that commit robbery with with violence, allow all shops top have automatic weapons and gun dow the robbers, those not shot have their right hand amputated

  4. Gus says:

    The homicide rate is lower in São Paulo and Rio than it is in Baltimore, Detroit, Miami, Philadelphia, Saint Louis, Memphis, Atlanta, Chicago and Washington DC. Do the math.

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