A new study by Brazil's government estimates that the cost of crime has risen dramatically over the past two decades, now reaching the equivalent of tens of billions of dollars each year. In light of rising violence and ongoing resource constraints, the authors recommend authorities rethink current public security policies.
The study, carried out by a cabinet-level policy advisory agency, measured both the direct and indirect impacts of crime, such as spending on public and private security, costs associated with the judiciary and prison systems, property damage, lost productivity and medical treatment.
The authors estimated that the cost of crime in 2015 amounted to 4.38 percent of Brazil's gross domestic product (GDP) -- about 285 billion reais ($76.6 billion). Two decades earlier, in 1996, crime cost less than half that -- about 113 billion reais (roughly $30 billion).
The report found that the relative costs of crime are higher in Brazil's northern states, where violence has been on the rise in recent years.
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In the northern state of Amapá, for instance, crime cost approximately 7 percent of the state's GDP in 2015 -- about 60 percent higher than the national average. In the southern states of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, the cost of crime was estimated to be 3 percent -- nearly 50 percent below the national average.
A report by the Inter-American Development Bank released last year estimated that the average cost of crime in Latin America and the Caribbean to be 3.5 percent of GDP. That study found that crime cost Brazil 3.78 percent of its GDP in 2014.
InSight Crime Analysis
As violence has risen across Brazil in recent years, the government has stepped up its investment in the security sphere. According to the report, the public sector spent nearly 170 percent more on security in 2015 than in 1996, and the private sector spent 135 percent more.
Still, Brazil is struggling to recover from a severe economic downturn that spurred budget shortfalls in many areas, including security. Financial troubles have contributed to the government's reliance on the militarized security forces to fill gaps left by their civilian counterparts -- with generally poor results.
The authors of the report argue that in this context, authorities should look for ways to spend limited resources more effectively.
"Since the state doesn't have more to spend, we have to look for high-impact, low-cost solutions," Hussain Kalout, the head of the government body that produced the report, told Folha de S.Paulo.
Leandro Piquet, a researcher studying violence at the University of São Paulo, suggested to the news outlet that officials should consider large-scale, structural shifts in their approach.
"The principal problem is the low productivity of the resources we have. We have a lot of police employed, but few in the street -- many civil police, but few investigating," he said.
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The report also called on authorities to look to policies based on empirical evidence, and pointed out that constant monitoring and evaluation of how security resources are being spent could help authorities better determine how to allocate scarce funds.
However, measuring the impacts of security spending can be difficult and complicated.
The Brazilian Congress recently passed a bill to create a new central repository for security-related data from across the country, known as the Unified Public Security System (Sistema Único de Segurança Pública - SUSP). In theory, the system could help officials analyze the effects of security spending in a more detailed way, but somewhat ironically, a lack of funding is expected to hinder its implementation.