Shootings in the greater Rio de Janeiro metro area dropped nearly 24 percent in 2019, according to data published Thursday.
There were 7,363 shootings in 2019, down from 9,642 in 2018, according to the Fogo Cruzado organization, which compiled and verified the data.
The group reported 1,517 shooting deaths and 1,357 injuries from gunfire last year, slightly above 2018 levels. Fogo Cruzado doesn't have access to official police registries, meaning total deaths are likely higher.
Shootings declined steadily in Brazil's top tourist destination in the second half of 2019. In December, Fogo Cruzado registered 362 shootings, nearly half the number recorded in the same month a year earlier.
Gov. Wilson Witzel, who campaigned on a platform of zero tolerance for crime, boasted about the decline in shootings.
"Throughout 2019, we acted rigorously in the crackdown on crime, in addition to valuing our police," Witzel tweeted. He has referred to criminals as "narco-terrorists'' and proposed using helicopters as platforms for snipers, who could target anyone carrying large firearms.
Ignacio Cano, a professor at the State University of Rio de Janeiro, says the trend began in 2018 in Rio and other states, before governors were sworn in on Jan. 1, 2019.
Police figures compiled by website G1 show homicides fell 22% to 30,864 cases in the first nine months of the year, compared to the same period in 2018. That may be due to violence between rival drug trafficking gangs falling, Cano said.
Role of militias
The expansion of militias in Rio may also partly explain lower reports of shootouts in Rio. One estimate is that 2.2 million people in the metro area — out of more than 12 million residents — live under the thumb of militias, which were originally made up of former police officers, firefighters and military men who wanted to combat lawlessness in their neighborhoods.
"When militias come in, they expel trafficking from the area,'' said Rafael Alcadipani da Silveira, a public security analyst and professor at the Getulio Vargas Foundation, a university in Sao Paulo. "There is a visceral relationship between militias and police, and you end up seeing the state teaming up with militias to expel crime.''
The paramilitary groups have become, for some experts, Rio's biggest security threat, replacing one group of criminals with another, da Silveira warned. Their activities range from retailing smuggled cigarettes to providing cable TV, electricity or transport service, and are also known to extort businesses and carry out summary executions.
Fogo Cruzado, or "Crossfire,'' is a free app that was created by Amnesty International Brazil in 2016. It helps residents track shootings in real time by combining crowd-sourcing data and monitoring social media.