This app helps keep Rio’s residents safe from gun crime

On March 14, 2018, Rio de Janeiro councillor Marielle Franco was murdered – shot multiple times in a crime that remains unsolved.

Franco’s death caused commotion throughout Brazil, and even internationally as she was a politician with a strong social commitment who had been denouncing the growth of armed militias in the city. But some of the first people to find out about the incident weren’t the police or the media, but users of an app called Fogo Cruzado, which alerts people to potential shooting incidents across Rio de Janeiro so that they can avoid the area.

“I was the person who gave the shooting alert in downtown Rio – only later I found out it was Marielle,” says the app’s founder Cecilia Oliveira, a journalist and specialist in public security and drug policy.

In 2015, she was looking for information on stray bullets and the incidence of gunfire in the city for an article she was writing, but struggled to find any concrete data. This lack of information led Oliveira to begin to count the shootings herself – tracking them in the press, in police reports, and using information from media collectives working in the city and social media users.

“At first, the users were my contacts in social media, who posted about their daily lives, which sometimes included going through a shootout, but I realised that the reality was much broader than I could map,”she says. She partnered with Amnesty International to develop and launch an app within a campaign focusing on violence during the 2016 Olympics in Rio. Fogo Cruzado (the name means “crossfire”) was launched on May 7, 2016 – a month before the Games.

In 2018, the project became completely independent from Amnesty, and today it consists of a mobile app and a website that receives notifications from users. A data management team collects information from recognised partners such as media organisations and active residents from Rio de Janeiro’s many favelas. By accessing the app at any given moment, users can check whether there’s any active shooting near them or along their route, and they can also subscribe to get alerts whenever there’s a shooting near them.

“Everyone who works with Fogo Cruzado has already lost someone close to them or got stuck in shootings,” says Oliveira. On the day she spoke to WIRED in October 2020, Caio, the 102nd victim of a stray bullet in the city that year, was killed at home. “A friend’s nephew was killed during a police operation in the favela of Providência,” she says. “And the lady who owned the restaurant where I had lunch many times, took a rifle shot in the arm during an operation – at least she survived.”

Violence in Rio de Janeiro is an everyday reality, and Fogo Cruzado, downloaded over 250,000 times, is one initiative that aims at not only denouncing such reality and pressuring public authorities, but also at protecting citizens. “The fear of dying or losing someone is a common feeling around here,” says Oliveira. “Even if you have the privilege of not living in an area where there are constant police operations, you can get caught in the crossfire going to the airport, for example. This should be everyone’s concern.”

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