September 18, 2019
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Brazil's safest city an oasis of peace in country dogged by violent crime

By Carlos Meneses Sanchez

Jau, Brazil, Aug 17 (efe-epa).- Three violent deaths in the first seven and a half months of 2019 may sound like the crime statistics of a highly developed European country.

But instead that's how many murders have occurred so far this year in Jau, Brazil, the safest city in a country accustomed to tallying up homicides by the thousands, losing its youth in shootouts and hearing reports of bloodbaths inside its penitentiaries.

That city of around 150,000 people in the interior of Sao Paulo state is a veritable oasis of peace, boasting a homicide rate of just 2.7 per 100,000 inhabitants, roughly 12 times below Brazil's average (31.6) and even lower than that of some European nations such as Latvia (4.2) and Lithuania (4.5).

It is known as the national capital of women's footwear, a prosperous industry that along with sugarcane farming and commerce provides employment to much of the working-age population in this city of spotless streets and pleasant ambience.

"I'm not afraid at all to be here. It's peaceful here," 40-year-old Ticiane da Silva told EFE while watching the sun set with her young daughter on a public park bench.

Many local residents walk around with their cellphones in their hands without looking to see who is behind them, a sight that would be almost unthinkable in most Brazilian cities. Some are not even aware of where the nearest police station is located.

According to the 2019 Atlas of Violence, published last week by the Brazilian government-led Institute of Applied Economic Research in partnership with the Brazilian Forum on Public Security, only four homicides were registered in Jau in 2017.

At the other extreme, nearly 330 homicides were committed that year in a city in Brazil's impoverished northeastern region, Maracanau, a rate of 145.7 per 100,000 inhabitants.

There were a record total of 65,602 homicides nationwide in Brazil in 2017, a year in which different criminal organizations waged bloody turf battles both inside and outside the prison system.

But the reality in Jau is radically different.

"The most common crime is theft," said Military Police Capt. Fernando Henrique Perpetuo, the commander of that preventive state police force in Jau.

Of the three violent deaths thus far this year, the most recent occurred last Saturday in a domestic dispute in a rural area outside the city.

"There was a disagreement among family members. One brother-in-law ended up stabbing another brother-in-law, who ended up dying," he said.

Another killing was ruled to be an act of self-defense during an attempted burglary, while the most shocking of the three crimes occurred after a robbery, "but the perpetrators were identified, are jailed and now are awaiting trial," the captain said.

The fact that nearly all homicide cases are solved is another major source of tranquility for Jau's residents.

"Our clearance rates are very high, nearly 100 percent, which also discourages these types of crimes because the individual knows that there is a high probability they'll be identified, arrested and convicted," said Euclides Francisco Salviato Junior, chief of the Civil Police (investigative state police) force in Jau for nearly three decades.

Isaac Liberato, 65, has worked for two decades as a street vendor in the city's Republic Square, where he sells churros (a fried-dough pastry) and cotton candy.

He said he left Guarulhos - a municipality in the metropolitan region of Sao Paulo - because of its crime problems and settled in Jau, adding that his family has put down roots in his adopted city and that it is even the birth place of his great granddaughter.

"I walk here at night at any time," a rare privilege for an inhabitant of a Brazilian city of more than 100,000 people.

Silvio Rosati was born and raised in this Sao Paulo municipality. Now 78, he has worked his entire life as a bank employee and cannot recall witnessing a single serious incident of violent crime in the city in all that time.

Another key to explaining Jau's success in the realm of public safety is its steady improvement in terms of human development indicators, a trend that has been maintained under different administrations since the 1990s.

At present, only 6 percent of children live in poverty, compared with an average of 16.4 percent in Brazilian cities with more than 100,000 inhabitants; practically all Jau residents are connected to the sewage system; and only 4 percent of young people are not currently working or studying (the national average is 9.1 percent), according to the 2019 Atlas of Violence.

Jau Mayor Rafael Agostini, a 39-year-old member of the center-left Brazilian Socialist Party, said many factors are at work in keeping the city's crime rates low.

"It's not just a question of having the police on the street. It's also a question of providing opportunities to children, to minors so they spend less time on the street," he told EFE.

During his term in office, which began in 2012 and will conclude next year, Agostini has been instrumental in lengthening school hours, opening social coexistence centers and revitalizing and embellishing squares and other public areas.

In contrast to rightist Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who has loosened gun ownership rules to allow law-abiding citizens to keep firearms in their homes, Agostini said he is an "adherent of the adage that violence begets more violence."

"Jau's example shows that it's not by incentivizing people to be more violent, incentivizing a culture of violence that you're going to have satisfactory results," he said. EFE-EPA

cms/mc

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