Cecilia Olliveira

Country/area: Brazil

Organisation: Fogo Cruzado

Organisation size: Small

Cover letter:

Over a million Brazilians have been murdered since I decided to become a journalist back in 2001 — more than the entire death toll of the U.S.-led Global War on Terror, which began the same year. As a young woman from a working class background who was the first in the family to go to college, I knew that I wanted to dedicate myself to an issue that impacted the daily lives of my community. This is why I have spent my career investigating the drug war, arms trafficking, and violence both at the individual level and through data to reveal broader trends in my nation’s ongoing daily tragedy.

I’ve had the good fortune to work with local NGOs and the U.N. doing data-driven reporting on urban violence. I worked for years alongside legendary British reporter Misha Glenny as a researcher on his book, “Nemesis: One Man and the Battle for Rio,” which uses the story of one of Rio’s most infamous drug bosses to explain the city’s drug war and I’ve spent years doing deep investigations into paramilitary militias and drug gangs for news outlets like The Intercept and El País. Since 2015, I run Fogo Cruzado, an independent data journalism initiative that tracks gun violence in the Rio de Janeiro and Recife greater metropolitan areas. 

FC provides real-time alerts for the 400,000+ users who downloaded our app to help them avoid active shootouts. It also collects, verifies, and publishes a rich dataset that is regularly used by other journalists, academics, and public officials to better understand the situation we live in. Everything is open source and free.

I founded FC out of my frustration with the lack of high-quality data in my field. It was clear to me that the police were intentionally hiding and even obfuscating data that it did not want the public to see. Rio was under the global spotlight and the governor did not want facts getting in the way of his narrative of reformation and progress. Our data journalism helped change the story and expose the truth about what was really going on.

I started collecting the data on my own using a simple Excel spreadsheet and relying on open source intelligence and my network of sources, but soon gained the support of Amnesty International, which invested in the project and helped turn FC into something much more ambitious. Now, we are an NGO with a staff of 21 that has partnered with nearly 100 academic institutions, and been cited thousands of times in the local and international media. We are the go-to source of reliable data on 20 measures of gun violence with plans to expand to more cities.

Due to our work, we have received recognition and prizes from the Federal Supreme Court, the Public Ministry, and multiple journalism awards. Our data was also used as key evidence in a Supreme Court ruling that severely limited the police’s ability to launch deadly raids in favelas during the Covid-19 pandemic, resulting in an immediate 70% reduction in homicides. In 2020, I was a finalist for Reporters Without Borders’ Press Award and earned a fellowship from the Shuttleworth Foundation. 

As a reporter, I use FC data and cross-reference it against original, on the ground investigations or other datasets that allow us to produce original insights, such as revealing the moment when police-led paramilitary militias became more prominent in Rio’s crime scene than traditional drug gangs, or collecting bullet casings from recent shootouts to trace the illicit, international origins of the munitions that fuel the bloodshed.

Description of portfolio:

I am the founder and executive director of Fogo Cruzado, the project that I am submitting for consideration by the Sigma Award committee.

At Fogo Cruzado, we produce, verify, analyze, and distribute 27 categories of high-quality, original data about armed violence that can be found nowhere else covering 34 cities in the greater Rio de Janeiro and Recife metropolitan areas. Our goal is to create accountability, save lives, and help promote a better understanding of armed violence in order to reduce it. 

Over 400,000 people have downloaded our app and our work is regularly featured in every major news outlet in Brazil, as well as major international ones, making us, arguably, the largest and most influential source of journalism on armed violence in Brazil. Our goal is impact, therefore we exert great effort to ensure that we are viewed as partners and not rivals by other news outlets.

When a shooting happens, our team tracks it in real time using social media, user submissions, trusted sources, and official accounts. Our data analyst will confirm the information is accurate, geolocate it, then push it out on social media and our app. We will then follow up to discover if anyone was injured or killed, if the police were involved, if it took place near a school or hospital, and many other relevant data points. This information is then systematically loaded into our database which anybody can access and we produce monthly and annual reports, which is also cross-referenced with other datasets, and can be compared year over year. We also assist researchers, journalists, and public officials to access and understand the data.

Journalists on our team also sort through the data to find leads for interesting investigations, which we either report on our own or develop in collaboration with other media outlets. 

FC data has recently been used to draw attention to the tragic number of children and adolescents who are accidentally killed during shootouts in Rio. In 2021, our data was essential to develop a new state law that prioritizes investigations into the murders of children and adolescents. That same year, we were called before the Federal Supreme Court to explain how police tactics in favelas were actually driving the majority of homicides in Rio, rather than preventing them.

In 2021, FC has again participated in multiple award-winning investigations, including a look at how the Covid-19 pandemic has driven violence in Recife, a map of armed groups in Rio, and a report on the similar modus operandi of death squads that commit massacres in poor neighborhoods across Brazil. We were also recognized by the prestigious Innovare Prize from the Federal Supreme Court. 

The importance of our work has also been acknowledged by the Ford Foundation, Open Society Foundations, Oak Foundation and others who provide us with essential operational funding.

With this help, we have been busy innovating structurally. Over the past 14 months, we have dramatically overhauled our API, website, app, and backend to develop new tools and make it easier to operate and access our database. This open source software will be launched shortly and will be freely available to any other organizations that want to use them. We’ve also implemented psychological counseling to assist our staff who, through their work, are in daily contact with horrific violence.

I am extremely proud of what FC has accomplished in only a few short years and our ambitious plans to expand. The FC team would be extremely honored to be considered for recognition by the Sigma Awards, an organization representing the best in data journalism. Thank you.


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