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RIO DE JANEIRO — The message from some tourists in Rio? It’s not as bad as you might have heard.
Gold medalist Ryan Lochte and three other American swimmers said they were held up at gunpoint Sunday as they made their way back from a late-night social event. Police told NBC News that the crime wasn't initially reported to them and they only launched an investigation after seeing the media reports.
The robbery, allegedly by police officers or men posing as cops, underlined fears of mayhem in the host city.
Portugal's education minister was robbed at knifepoint at the Olympic lake where rowing events took place on Aug. 6. Brazil's Ministry of Justice also confirmed to Reuters that high-ranking security official Felipe Seixas was targeted by knife-wielding robbers as he left the Opening Ceremony. One of the suspects was shot dead by an undercover officer accompanying Seixas.
And last week, a police officer who was working security at the Games was fatally shot in the head after getting lost with two colleagues near a slum and coming under fire.
But despite Lochte's close call, many Americans who made it to Rio said they weren't anxious.
“It doesn’t make me feel that we should be even more concerned for our safety,” said Maria Agee, who was visiting Rio’s famous Selaron Steps.
Agee said she’s taking the same safety precautions she would if she were in her native city of New Orleans. “Things happened in New Orleans during the Super Bowl. To characterize Rio as a unique place as far as security concerns and crime I think is not fair.”
Fresno native Darin Alexander agreed. “We had a lot of concerns coming out here because of the media and all the things they have been talking about, but it’s nowhere near what they depicted,” he said. “Get out and actually come out and visit places. It’s nothing like it is on the news, absolutely nothing."
Rio had 18.6 murders per 100,000 people in 2014, about four times the average rate across the United States (although lower than cities like Compton, California, and Baltimore, Maryland.)
Fogo Cruzado, a new app launched by rights group Amnesty International, registered 14 fatal shootings across the city last week.
Several of the tourists approached by NBC News said they felt safe because of the noticeable presence of security forces on the ground. Brazil deployed an 88,000-strong team to protect the Games.
But the show of force has drawn criticism from human rights activists who say that overly aggressive policing has lead to abuses in the city’s low-income communities, known as favelas.