Brazil: Alcohol Policy to Reduce Homicide

Over 1,060,000 Brazilians have fallen victim to homicide since 2000. Nevertheless, the Brazilian government is failing to adopt a comprehensive strategy and launch a federal agenda to reduce and prevent crime and corruption. However, best and promising practices exist at subnational level where efforts offer hints into what works – including alcohol policy solutions.

Example Sao Paulo

The state of São Paulo, for instance, saw sharp reductions in murder rates in recent years. Between 2001 and 2018 the state homicide rate plummeted from 33.1 per 100,000 to 6.4 per 100,000. Metropolitan São Paulo’s homicide rate saw an even more dramatic fall, from 49.2 per 100,000 in 2001 to just 5.5 per 100,000, making it one of the safest big cities in Brazil.

These reductions coincided with a determined focus on reducing homicides across the state. Strategies included police reform to improve data collection, real-time crime mapping, police training, and coordination between the civil and military police forces. Other priorities included mitigating secondary factors that influence violence, such as limiting late-night licenses for alcohol sales.

Other structural factors also likely played a role in São Paulo’s violent crime drop. Researchers have pointed to the state’s declining youth population and falling unemployment as potentially important variables, as well as the “pax mafiosa” exerted by the most powerful drug trafficking faction in Brazil, the Primeiro Comando da Capital (PCC).

Example Diadema

In 2000, a new local security plan was implemented in the municipality of Diadema. The initiative was innovative for its time, involving better collaboration between municipal authorities (including the civil guard), military police and local communities, a series of educational programs, youth-based activities, and firearm and alcohol controls.

After an analysis of crime data showed how most violent incidents occurred in the early morning hours and in close proximity to bars (typically associated with alcohol-inflamed brawls and disputes), municipal authorities introduced new laws to regulate alcohol sales in bars after 11pm, monitored alcohol vendors, installed public lighting and security cameras, and introduced changes in public safety management procedures.

By 2002, the homicide rate in Diadema had declined by 44% and assaults against women had dropped by 56%. The initiative was received with a high level of public support. However, like other programs that are prematurely determined to be successful, it started running out of steam and some residents questioned what they saw as excessive restrictions on recreation and commerce. Also, people learned how to circumvent the rules for alcohol sales with the emergence of street parties (bringing new crime problems) that could not be influenced by the new regulations.

Learning lessons

Several lessons stand out from these and other homicide-reduction programs such as Fica Vivo in Belo Horizonte and Estado Presente in Espírito Santo.

Broadly, the homicide reduction strategies that had the biggest impact were guided by unambiguous priorities and restricted their activities to those with a demonstrated track-record of success. Violence reduction plans with clear targets and performance indicators, effective data harvesting systems to track trends, investment in in-house monitoring and analytical capacities to interpret results, routine supervision, ongoing training and professional development, and constant evaluation all stand out.

In Brazil, the most effective homicide reduction interventions also had a strong personal dimension. A necessary ingredient of success was the presence of strong leaders, including both governors and mayors, who could captain efforts and lead from the front. Also important were engaged business people, academic specialists and civil society groups who could serve as a brain trust and drive the process forward.

Effective homicide reduction also required the adoption of comprehensive approaches, combining specific adaptations in policing practice with prevention measures targeted to at-risk places and people. This demands the creation of partnerships across institutional silos – between state and city authorities, but also across different government agencies. Central to success are strong partnerships with universities and think tanks that can help identify evidence-based pathways for improvement.

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