Safe in São Paulo: Stats & Tatts

For more insights into Sao Paulo, see American Exbrat in São Paulo.

As a grand finale to our Safe in São Paulo series, Brazil in My Eyes and I are bringing you some of the statistics of crime in São Paulo, as well as Brazil overall, and giving you some tools to find out about crime in your own neighborhood. And just for fun, we’ll show you some of the tattoos that may help identify someone with a criminal background.

But first, let’s take a look at some data on the 190 emergency number. Dialing 190 on your phone in the event of an emergency or a crime will get you directly to the police. If your Portuguese is not equipped with the vocabulary you need to describe something serious, let them know and they will direct you to an English or Spanish-speaking agent. Also, you can dial the emergency code from your home country (e.g., 911 in the US) and it should automatically connect you to the 190 office.

About 190:

  • 43.2 mil 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)

Crime statistics nationwide

In 2010, there were 26 homicides per 100,000 residents in Brazil. This is up from 11 per 100K in 1980. Depending on where you live, the numbers are worse, such as the Northeast of Brazil.


In some regions of Alagoas, the homicide rate reached 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. Just as a comparison, Pakistan has a population similar to Brazil (185 million) and its homicide rate is around 7.5 per 100K. 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.

Other interesting yet sobering statistics include:

  • 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 the Centro Brasileiro de Estudos Latino-Americanos’ site Mapa da Violencia.

Crime statistics for São Paulo

But there is good news. 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 accomplished? There was an initiative to focus on security over the last decade and a half.

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

Outside of homicide, there are the usual thefts and robberies to worry about. You can find updated statistics on a trimestral basis at the Governo do Estado de São Paulo’s Secretaria da Segurança Pública site.

Here is a summary of crimes that occurred during the first trimester in São Paulo capital:

  • 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 to know your neighbor. If you are really interested in making sure your neighborhood is as safe as possible, 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 (+ neighborhood).  Two of the most active communities are in Pinheiros and Morumbi where residents quickly relate any crime activity in the area.

You can also take a look at your neighborhood’s crime statistics at Onde Fui Roubado. Take your concerns to your CONSEG meeting or your local police station.


Did you know that certain tattoos are made to identify the crimes of the bearer? Criminals often get these types of tattoos in prison and the art is not necessarily professional (needle into paint, needle into arm, repeat).  Note: not everyone with a tattoo is a bad guy.

Here are some examples of crime related tattoos:

Hands: Tattoos on the inside of the index finger/thumb (the meaty part).


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) means murder.

PCC symbols: The bearer of the number 1533 means that person is a member of the PCC. P is the 15th letter in the alphabet, C is the third.

Not only is this information important in identifying someone who has robbed you (never look them in the face – you don’t want the criminal to think you are trying to remember their features), but also important if you are hiring someone. Perhaps ask them to show up for the interview in a tank top! There is an enormous document available online for download called Tatuagem Desvendando Segredos that shows the details for each tattoo in Brazil if you do need to refer to one or if you are just interested.

We hope that our series on safety was helpful. Remember, the best strategy is crime avoidance, but if you do find yourself in a bad situation – nothing – not your iPhone, car or purse – is worth your life.

This entry was posted in Foreigner Insights, Living in Sao Paulo, Safe in Sao Paulo, Tourist Info, Travel, What the h*ll is that? and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Safe in São Paulo: Stats & Tatts

  1. Jenner Cruz says:

    As I told your mate, it would help the safety conscious reader to compare murder rates between Sao Paulo and some American cities, like Oakland, Detroit, New Orleans, Atlanta, Newark, Saint Louis, Miami, Kansas City etc.

  2. Heath says:

    As this article is 9 months old, have you seen further decrease in crime? My company is looking to send me to work at our office in Sao Bernardo within the year, and I am researching crime for my wife and 3 little ones. Many thanks in advance! (And if inclined, any safe neighborhoods close to work?)

    • Hi Heath. No decrease in crime, but it is important to remember that Sao Paulo is not even in the top 50 of dangerous cities. It is more important to understand how to avoid crime and what do to if you are a victim than to worry about crime rates. How you manage crime is different in Brazil. I don’t know much about Sao Bernardo, but I know people who do, so I’ll ask around.

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