Homicides down 21.2 percent. Rape cases, 13.6 percent. Vehicle theft, 27.5 percent. These are just some of the latest numbers from Brazil’s National Public Security Information System (Sinesp), which shows falling figures in nine types of crime across the first four months of 2019. While results are contested, they come as a much-needed image boost for the current administration.

</p> <p>In comparison to January–April 2018, Sinesp data shows falls of over one-fifth in homicides, 8.6 percent in attempted murders, and 5.3 percent in serious bodily injuries resulting in death. Instances of other violent crime have also dropped, as we see below:</p> <div class="flourish-embed" data-src="visualisation/595448"></div><script src="https://public.flourish.studio/resources/embed.js"></script> <p>The news will come as some relief to the Jair Bolsonaro administration, which has projected itself as tough on crime, but has as of yet been unable to point to many successful results in this first year in office.</p> <h2>Questioning the numbers</h2> <p>The numbers come from Sinesp, an information system created in 2012 by the Dilma Rousseff government. State security departments submit data on the police reports filed under their jurisdiction, and the Sinesp system tabulates these results.</p> <p>While the Ministry of Justice calls the system &#8220;official and trustworthy,&#8221; other public security researchers disagree.</p> <p>One of the main issues regarding the Sinesp is the lack of standardization in reporting. The system requires state governments to submit data themselves, but many follow diverse protocols and criteria in doing so, which leads to skewed results.</p> <p>As an example, some states may include instances of deaths resulting from police confrontations as homicides, while others may omit them entirely. Furthermore, one of the requirements for states to be involved in the Sinesp is to submit police reports from respective state capitals. Speaking to <em>Folha</em>, Renato Sérgio de Lima, of the Brazilian Forum of Public Security, stated that &#8220;figures from outside big cities might not even be on the system.&#8221;</p> <p>However, while this may skew the absolute numbers, the trends themselves warrant attention, as the decrease in violent crime is corroborated by numbers from the Violence Monitor study, a partnership between news website <em>G1</em>, the Brazilian Forum of Public Security, and the Department of Violence Studies of the University of São Paulo.</p> <h2>Potential explanations</h2> <p>When the Violence Monitor study was released, specialists pointed the finger at settling tensions between organized crime factions to explain the fall in murder rates. Indeed, in both studies, huge decreases in <a href="https://brazilian.report/society/2019/01/05/pcc-prison-faction-ceara-attack/">homicides in the state of Ceará</a> contributed to bring down the national average. According to the Violence Monitor, murders in the state fell 53 percent in the first five months of 2019, in comparison to 2018. Meanwhile, Sinesp shows an even higher drop of 58 percent, albeit only accounting for the first four months of the year.</p> <p>Ceará has three main crime factions operating in the state: the nationwide First Command of the Capital (PCC, from São Paulo) and Red Command (CV, from Rio de Janeiro), and local group Guardians of the State (GDE). After a drawn out and exhausting war between these groups, with the PCC and GDE joining forces to push back against the CV, organized crime gangs in Ceará decided to establish a non-aggression pact in January of this year, in protest against the state government. Since that point, studies have shown murders falling by more than half.</p> <p>In other states, the calming of tensions was not so pacific. In Paraíba, homegrown group Okaida (named after Al-Qaeda) managed to suppress the influence of rival faction Estados Unidos (the United States) and have since exerted increased control over the traditionally more violent parts of the state, reducing homicides in the process.</p> <p>Benjamin Lessing, political science professor at the University of Chicago, recently visited an Okaida-controlled neighborhood and documented some of his findings in a <a href="https://twitter.com/BigBigBLessing/status/1159103640424144896">Twitter thread</a>, noting that the area which was once violent and isolated, was now &#8220;bustling and orderly,&#8221; thanks to the influence of the local faction.</p> <p>However, while these gang-related hypotheses would go some way toward explaining drops in murder rates, the Sinesp data shows reductions for other crimes such as rape and car theft, not typically practices related to conflicts between factions.</p> <p>Consequently, it is too early to draw conclusions because of the freshness of the data, besides the statistical concerns about the figures themselves.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <h2>What is the federal government doing?</h2> <p>Meanwhile, the government will be happy to take credit for the numbers, but it is difficult to point to any significant public security measure carried out by the administration so far.</p> <p>In fact, the Jair Bolsonaro government has spent only 6.5 percent of the year&#8217;s public security budget so far, with only four months left in 2019. Of the funds which have been spent, 80 percent has gone to the National Public Security Force—an emergency troop deployed to assist state police in crisis situations.

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BY Euan Marshall

Euan Marshall is a Scottish journalist living in São Paulo. He is co-author of A to Zico: An Alphabet of Brazilian Football.