Targeting Violence Reduction in Brazil: Policy Implications from a Spatial Analysis of Homicide

Violence in Latin America generates heavy economic, social and political costs for individuals, communities and societies. A particularly pernicious effect of violence is that it undermines citizen confidence in democracy and in their own government. Responding to public fear, politicians across the region have hastily adopted a wide range of policy responses to violence, ranging from militarizing public security, to ‘mano dura’ crack downs, to negotiating truces with organized crime, to decriminalizing illicit economic activity. This policy brief examines how violence clusters within a country – Brazil – to study how public policies affect homicide rates and how these policies might be further tailored geographically to have greater impact.

This brief uses an explicitly spatial approach to examining geographic patterns of violence – how violence in one municipality is related to violence in neighboring municipalities. It maps six types of homicide using 2011 data. These maps identify specific municipalities that constitute cores of statistically significant clusters of violence for six types of homicide.

• Aggregate homicides
• Homicides of men
• Homicides of women (i.e., “femicides”)
• Firearm-related homicides
• Youth homicides (ages 15-29)
• Homicides of victims identified by race as either black or brown (mulatto), i.e., non-white victims

These clusters are then analyzed based on a spatial regression model, from which policy recommendations for targeting policies aimed at reducing violence are drawn.

Key Findings

• Homicides in nearby communities increase the likelihood of homicide in one’s home community.
• Areas that have higher rates of marginalization experience higher rates of homicide. This is also true for areas that have a larger share of households headed by women with no basic education and who also work and have young children.
• Government policies that reduce poverty, illiteracy and family disruption tend to reduce violence. More specifically, policies that expand coverage of Bolsa Família, Brazil’s poverty reduction cash-transfer program, tend to reduce homicide rates for certain demographic categories, mainly for gun-related homicides and killings of young and non-white individuals.
• Policies that reduce the environmental footprint of large, industrial development projects are also associated with reduced violence against women (femicides).
• Violence-reduction policies should be targeted regionally rather than at individual communities – informed by the cluster analysis. Homicide reduction strategies that are territorially-targeted at violence ‘hot spots’ will have a greater effect than national or even state policies aimed at homicide more generally.
• Policies aimed at femicides, gun-related homicides, youth homicides and homicides of non-whites should be especially sensitive to geographic patterns.