Monday, September 23, 2013

Safe in São Paulo - Stats and Tatts - the Last in our Series

In our final post in the Safe in São Paulo series, Born Again Brazilian and I are bringing you some of the statistics of crime in Brazil, São Paulo and in your own neighborhood. And just for "fun," we’ll show you some of the tattoos that may show a criminal background.

Let’s first take a look at some data on the 190 emergency number. Remember that you can dial the emergency code from your home country (e.g., 911 in the US) and get connected to 190. If you do not speak Portuguese, you may ask to be transferred to an English or Spanish-speaking attendant.


43.2 million emergency calls per year

~150,000 calls per day

15,000 dispatches of PMs every day

42,000 interventions

310,000 rescues

120,000 sent to prison

12,300 guns apprehended every year

45 Tons of drugs apprehended every year (this number is double last year’s)              *Source: Policia Militar

Crime statistics nationwide

In 2010, there were 26 homicides per 100,000 residents in Brazil. This is up from 11 per 100K in 1980. Just as  comparisons, Pakistan has a population similar to Brazil (185 million) and its homicide rate is around 7.5 per 100K. The US has about a 4.7/100K rate and Mexico 23.7/100K (Mexico's rate has more than doubled since 2008). Please note that intentional homicide statistics vary from source to source. According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, the Brazil rate is 21.3. Ah, the UNODC is working with 2011, our most recent Brazil-sourced numbers are 2010.

Depending on where you live, the numbers are worse (see state by state numbers copied here). In some regions of Alagoas, the homicide rate reaches 1000 per 100K in the 15-24 age group. It is, as a police captain said, a “massacre.”  The young folks there are being cut down by a rampant war for drug territory. 

The main driver of homicides in the Northeast region is drug wars – gangs trying to mark territories. Traveling from São Paulo to Porto Seguro, Bahia, your chance of death by homicide go up 8 times. Sobering statistics.

Here are a few other interesting statistics:

¤ Age groups: ages 15-24 150% higher chance to die

¤ Race: 139% more blacks die violently than whites

¤ Gender: 91.4% male homicide victims

For more crime statistics, you can go to  

Crime statistics in São Paulo

We are going to get to the good news. Right now. São Paulo state is now the third safest state in the nation. The homicide rate here is around 13.9 per 100K. The news is even better for São Paulo capital where we are the second least violent state capital in Brazil. How was this done? A focus on security over the last decade and a half. (source here)

  1. Security budget increased from $2B to $11.5B
  2. 395K illegal guns off the street
  3. Emphasis on prevention rather than reaction
  4. New police cars and equipment (tablets in each car for real-time help)
  5. Use of crime concentrations – identifying regions/addresses with the most crime and concentrating police forces there.
  6. Register of bad guys – the Policia Civil has a database of 500,000 criminals and 1.4 million photos of these criminals (extras are tattoos and other identifying characteristics)

Outside of homicide, there are the usual thefts and robberies. You can find updated statistics on a trimestral basis at the state’s security site. We have summarized the first trimester 2013 for some São Paulo crimes below:

¤ Crime Stats (trimestral, SP Capital only)

¤ Boletins de ocorrencia: 196,601

¤ Folks sent to jail: 7,500

¤ Robbery (cars): 11,700

¤ Robbery(Bank): 23

¤ Robbery (other): 29,000

¤ Theft: 49,000

¤ Theft of vehicles: 11,543

Crime by Neighborhood

We cannot emphasize enough that part of staying safe in São Paulo is knowing your neighbor. Go to your area’s Conseg meetings and meet your local police force (the head of Policia Militar, Policia Civil and Guarda Municipal as well as the submayor must attend these meetings.) Join Facebook groups that are active in your neighborhood – you can search for them by “Sociedade de Amigos XX (neighborhood)”.  Two of the most active communities are in Pinheiros and Morumbi where residents quickly relate any crime activity in the area.

Take a look at your neighborhood’s crime statistics. Datafolha periodically publishes them, and there is an interesting (though hardly scientific) site called Onde Fui Roubado where people are identifying where they were victims of crime. Take your concerns to your Conseg meeting or your local police station.


Now for some fun. Did you know that certain tattoos show what kind of crime that the person has committed before? No, we're not talking about beautiful tattoos (if you're into that kind of thing) of butterflies and hummingbirds and Chinese proverbs. No, we are talking about tattoos done the hard way, in prison, and probably pretty painfully.

A carp may mean a PCC member
As we have mentioned, the PCC is the state's largest crime organization. Numbers we have seen are that there are 13,000 members of whom 6,000 are in prison. These numbers may be low. As part of your membership, you may get tattooed with identifiers of which crime you have committed. 

For example:

Hands: Tattoos on the inside of the index finger/thumb (the meaty part). One droplet means robbery, two means something else.

Shoulder/bicep: A clown is a PCC symbol (the largest criminal gang in SP)

Back: A huge tattoo of Nossa Senhora Aparecida (the patron saint of Brazil) on your back means murder. Yep.  Which doesn’t mean that you make your pedreiro strip down and show his back. Just be aware.

1533 means PCC. P is the 15th letter in the alphabet, C is the third. Think twice about hiring someone with this tattooed on their hand.

There is an enormous document that shows the details for each tattoo in Brazil. This is more for interest and not because you can memorize all of these. Not only that, but we have to emphasize that you should not discriminate against a person because of a tattoo--unless you are pretty sure that it symbolizes a dangerous style of life. We are not advocating profiling--we are suggesting that it is an additional piece of information in your hiring process.

If you do get held up, one of the best identifiers of a bad guy is to memorize a tattoo on his hand or arm—remember the database of 1.4 million images.  Do not try to memorize someone's facial features, but if you can notice a Chuckie doll tattoo on a forearm, you may have increased the chance of catching the bad guy.

If you are like us, you may find this interesting enough to spend a few minutes looking at all the tattoo types that the police have identified. Surprisingly, a pretty carp is not what it seems. 

Final Words

Thanks for reading our series on staying safe in São Paulo. At no time did we mean to terrify anyone about living or visiting our city. We have both lived here for years and traveled back and forth for upwards of 25 years between us both. We simply provide advice and statistics and information we have ourselves received from the local police, neighborhood associations and other security people. São Paulo provides a rich cultural and gastronomical experience and we hope you will come to visit and stay a while!

Tomorrow Brazil in My Eyes returns to daily views of my life in São Paulo.


  1. You should have displayed US crime statistics so that people could compare Sao Paulo to US cities. Here is a link:
    Notice that Sao Paulo fares better than Detroit, Baltimore, Chicago, Washington, New Orleans, Oakland, Newark, Philadelphia, Memphis, Miami, Saint Louis, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Atlanta...

    1. Yes, anyone traveling to the US and these cities should definitely take a look. Thanks.

    2. And lest you think that I believe the US to be better than Brazil on this feature (death by gun specifically), let me gently disabuse you of that idea. I am even okay with the UN interceding in the US to stop the gun violence (okay, tongue in cheek): I think the US a horror show on gun use.