July 4, 2017 / 6:46 PM / 4 months ago

Brazil apps track gunfire as Rio de Janeiro violence spikes

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Gun violence is on the rise in Rio de Janeiro, with the sound of firefights echoing daily across Brazil’s seaside city as drug gangs battle each other and police officers patrolling slums.

A taxi driver shows his mobile as it displays the app "OTT - Onde Tem Tiroteio" (Where Shootings are Happening) in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, July 4, 2017. REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes

Now a pair of applications track in real-time how many gun battles there are and where they occur, based on eyewitnesses, media and police accounts.

The “Fogo Cruzado,” or Cross Fire, application created by Amnesty International and local researcher aims to let Rio’s citizens know where gunfire is taking place, in the hopes of keeping them out of danger.

A second application is called Onde Tem Tiroteio - “Where are the Firefights” - with similar objectives.

“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 Onde Tem Tiroteio app, said this week. “Our focus is really to get people out of the way of stray bullets.”

While Rio is long used to random gunfire in or close to its nearly 1,000 favelas, the city has been stunned by a rash of stray bullets hitting innocent bystanders - including a baby boy struck last week while still in his mother’s womb.

Murders jumped 11 percent to 2,329 in Rio de Janeiro state in the first five months of this year compared to the same period last year, according to the most recent data available from the state’s security secretariat.

The number of people killed by police in shootouts during the first five months of this year jumped nearly 50 percent compared to the same months the previous year, totaling 480 deaths.

But Rio state authorities do not keep track of the number of people hit by stray bullets, saying that since no such category of crime exists in Brazil’s legal system, authorities would not be able to come up with an accurate way of measuring it.

But the number stray bullet reports in Rio’s local press has been rising along with the overall increase in violence.

Last Friday, Claudineia dos Santos, who was nine months pregnant, was struck by a stray bullet that also hit the spine of her unborn boy, Arthur. Police and drug gangs had been in a firefight in the northern Rio slum where the woman lives.

After an emergency cesarean, doctors said the boy was on life support and left a paraplegic. The mother is in stable condition.

On the same day, a 76-year-old woman and her 42-year-old daughter were killed by stray bullets in northern Rio’s Mangueira slum, as police and drug gang members exchanged fire.

(This version of the story corrects to show two apps available, and Caamaño works with a second application Onde Tem Tiroteio)

Reporting by Sérgio Queiroz in Rio de Janeiro; Editing by Brad Brooks and Mary Milliken

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