Gun Violence in Rio de Janeiro Is So Widespread That People Are Using a Smartphone App to Avoid Dangerous Areas

Gun violence is a very serious issue on the streets of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, so much so that people have begun using a smartphone app similar to the popular “Waze”, only instead of heavy traffic, they’re trying to avoid gun fire.

Rio de Janeiro is facing a crisis of gun violence, as police raids and shootouts between drug gangs echo daily through the streets of Brazil’s second largest city. Civilians are continuously caught and killed in the crossfires, with harrowing stories, such as that of a pregnant woman being shot in the stomach, continually emerging from the beleaguered city. The hardest hit area is the Maré complex of poor favela neighborhoods, the residents of which fear even walking down the street, both at night and during the day.

Photo: Fogo Cruzado

In response to the crisis, Amnesty International Brazil has released a smartphone app called Fogo Cruzado – Portuguese for “crossfire” – to help civilians avoid dangerous areas in Rio de Janeiro. Users can log information that they either hear about or witness into the app, including location and duration, any injuries or fatalities, and whether it was the result of a police operation.

Human Rights Watch reported that the police were responsible for one in five killings last year, mainly in the crossfire of their raids. Activists and civil society groups have loudly denounced the strikes, and in response, a judge has barred officers from searching homes at night, based on the constitutional right that prohibits “violations of the home.” In an interview with Public Radio International local activist and university student Carlos Gonçalves, 25, said, “It’s a tiny step forward that shows it’s possible to demand the government respect our rights.”

Photo: Jeff Belmonte

The introduction of smartphone technology has been invaluable to the activists fighting for public safety, as Rio state authorities do not officially track the number of victims hit by stray bullets. They claim that as there is no such category of crime in Brazil’s legal system, it would be impossible to come up with an accurate measurement. Fogo Cruzado aims to step in where Rio authorities have failed by tracking the data and adding context about which neighborhoods suffer the most and what other damage occurs. The data can help increase political pressure.

“In Rio, there is often media and public outrage when someone is killed in the city’s wealthy South Zone, whereas constant shootouts, killings, and school and hospital closings are normalized for residents of the city’s favelas, where the population is majority working class and black,” Rio Amnesty campaign coordinator Rebeca Lerer said.

Photo: Fogo Cruzado

Despite reform efforts, “the logic of the war on drugs and military control of poor neighborhoods continues,” Lerer  stated, adding that reports from Fogo Cruzado will provide an “X-ray of which populations pay the biggest price.”

“Our job here is not to denounce anyone, we do not have a direct focus on the police or on the drug gangs,” Henrique Coelho Caamaño, a volunteer who helps maintain the free app,told Business Insider. “Our focus is really to get people out of the way of stray bullets.”


Within 24 hours of launching, the app received almost 100 reports of shootouts throughout the city. In the first two months, it registered over 1,100 notification of gunfire in the city, an average of 18 per day.