Fogo Cruzado (“Crossfire”) is a Brazilian open data platform about gun violence that aims to democratize information in debates about public security and human rights. In response to overwhelming interest from media and university researchers, in 2019 we developed a new API that allows any user to search the platform for the data they need and to make applications with our data.
The collaborative platform maps shootings and shootouts in the metropolitan regions of Rio de Janeiro and Recife. Its integration with a mobile application allows rapid alerts to be sent to users about potential high-risk situations.
There is no democracy without active participation by civil society. In a country with alarming homicide rates – around sixty thousand killings per year – and a dangerous upsurge in public security practices that endorse abuses and excesses by state agents, initiatives such as Fogo Cruzado are increasingly relevant in order to guarantee the population access to high quality information This project breaks with a monopoly of the narrative on gun violence – currently enjoyed by the government – in order to guide evidence-based discussions for the construction of efficient public policies. In the long run, the project serves as a channel for engaging the population in debate and for producing of knowledge about security, demonstrating that it is possible to build reliable data and qualified interventions from civil society. Fogo Cruzado also aims to encourage a culture of journalism and citizen-driven public security reform, modernizing and democratizing security organs that still bear traces of Brazil’s authoritarian past, when the actions of security forces could not be questioned. In 2019, more than 300 articles published in the Brazilian press used Fogo Cruzado’s data. The foreign press also used it as a source in 41 stories. Our many requests for data include being contacted in 2019 by 22 researchers and we also gave 10 interviews for academic papers. To address this, in 2019 we created the API, where any user can search for the data they need and make their own applications. Today, the API has 213 registered users. Our data has also been used by politicians to push for better policies. In addition to being cited in speeches, last year, a study we did on shootings around schools was used as a basis for a city councilman’s proposed law that would allow school principals to close schools in the event
The Fogo Cruzado app uses Google Maps technology. When a person registers a gunfight / gunshot in the app, that information goes to our data management system. It arrives in the system georeferenced, which allows the crossing of our database with any other that is also georeferenced.
The prototype is a hybrid software for APP developed in the Phonegap / Cordova programming language for Android and IOS platforms, integrated with a web service developed in PHP with MySQL database. The geolocation uses the Google Maps API and the notification features a Google Firebase API.
In addition to receiving notifications from users directly via the app, journalists receive direct information from partners who work on the spot. In this case, only trusted sources are considered — sources with whom there is a previous relationship, such as local community organizations and locally engaged residents. The team also adds information collected via the press and law enforcement authorities to the databases. When notification of a gunfight / gunshot arrives, it is not automatically published on the map and on social media. Immediately, the team checks the notification with scripts and filters developed to aggregate information on social networks about firearm shots in the metropolitan region of Rio de Janeiro and Recife. This allows the comparison of further information about the same firearm gunfight / gunshot. After this verification, the notification is posted on the networks and the incident is publicly registered on the website and app
What was the hardest part of this project?
This project was born on a Google spreadsheet in 2015, when Rio de Janeiro was getting ready to host the Olympics and the Brazilian media was painting an optimistic picture of the city. Those who live and work here knew that the situation was not as good as described. There were many shootouts in Rio, but when I searched for information to write about the situation, I could not find it.
I began tracking the gun violence myself, thinking about what to do with the information. There, an application was born, together with a map, that aggregates and makes information available.
Fogo Cruzado is a live project, done in real time, with great demand for its data. Turning the idea for the project into methodology, communication strategies, trainings, information networks and methods for sharing the results has not the most difficult part of the project. The greatest challenge is sustainability of the project — even as it has received many compliments, awards and honorable mentions.
Today, our team consists of 12 people operating in 2 states. There are always requests for operations in other areas, but when it comes to financing, things change.
Having ideas is easy. Executing ideas is an exercise in perseverance and faith.
What can others learn from this project?
Fogo Cruzado was born out of a government information vacuum. It is a strategic vacuum, since whoever holds the information also holds the narrative about the situation and can sell the solution they want.
Developing a matology to create information is not easy, but it is ready and open to anyone who wants to replicate it. FC is open source, its data is open and its methodology is free to be adapted and adapted to other demands. There is a collective of activists in the Amazon studying our work to map conflicts, fires and other local peculiarities. In Manaus, a researcher is adapting the technology to map traffic accidents.
Citizens, journalists, researchers, and activists can and should use technology to improve their work and not depend on governments to guide their work. Technology is an ally and gives us the freedom to produce data, stories, narratives and press for change.