In 2022 and 2023, Rio de Janeiro state government invested heavily in the use of technology in public security. More than R$ 700 million were distributed among the various security forces. This amount was invested mainly in portable cameras for police uniforms, cameras with facial recognition and license plates readers for highways, new semi-armored vehicles, drones, and bulletproof helmets. Nevertheless, the police strategy was not modified, and the main approach remains incursions by force into favelas while investments in intelligence remain scarce.
Main Resources Used in Rio
According to a study carried out by the Getulio Vargas Foundation (FGV), the most used technology by public forces in Brazil lies is drones, followed by optical character recognition (OCR) – which enables the electronic reading of license plates on highways – third is facial recognition; and fourth is body cameras.
Currently, the use of technologies by the police in Rio de Janeiro state is recent and while the use of cameras in police uniforms, for example, is still under debate with the courts, the use of drones has been established for some years.
The purpose of this note is to expose how each of the technologic means serves the routine of public security forces and what are their limits.
Cameras in Uniforms
Military police officers in Rio de Janeiro began using cameras on their uniforms in May 2022. The equipment was initially made available to nine battalions. The installation was part of the State Program for Transparency in Public Security and Civil Defense Actions and seeks to monitor police officers’ actions. The equipment works in a simple way: cameras are attached to a totem attached to the police uniform and that’s where the batteries are charged, the device is assigned to a single officer who has to unlock it with facial recognition before recording.
By the end of the year (2023), it is expected that 13,000 cameras will be installed. In addition, police officers from special battalions such as the Shock Battalion and the Special Operations Battalion (Bope) should also use the equipment. Both battalions carries out incursions into favelas – areas controlled by the organized crime – and the state government tried to exclude them from using the equipment. Cláudio Castro, state governor, alleged that there was a risk of revealing the police officer’s identity and also of exposing techniques and strategies used in these operations. The request to exclude the special battalions was denied by the Federal Supreme Court (STF) Minister Edson Fachin.
The Integrated Command and Control Center (CICC) can access the images in real time and without the police officer’s authorization. It works differently from the cameras system already installed in the uniforms of São Paulo police officers. There the agent needs to give access to the controller so that he can watch the recording. Recorded images are stored for a period of one year. The Public Prosecutor’s Office, the Public Defender’s Office, and relatives of possible victims of security agents may also have access to the images.
The experience in São Paulo pointed out that cameras reduce police lethality. Security specialists warn, however, that the cameras do not solve the problem by themselves if they are not part of a larger lethality reduction program, with well-established goals and efficient control by civil society. Data shows that deaths due to police intervention in the State of São Paulo dropped by 32% between 2020 and 2021, the year in which military police officers began to wear cameras attached to their uniforms. There were 705 deaths in 2020, against 480 last year, according to an annual report by the São Paulo State Police.
Facial and License Plate Recognition Cameras on Highways
Rio de Janeiro state government published a bidding notice for the contracting of 260 cameras, equipped with facial recognition, license plate reading and alarm sensors, for the Military Police. The purchase, estimated at more than R$ 84 million, provides for the acquisition of more precise and more modern equipment, with better definition than the cameras used today.
In the project’s initial phase, the cameras will be installed on expressways, tunnels, and waterfronts in the city of Rio de Janeiro. The new equipment will have two specific purposes: one lot, equipped with facial recognition software, will monitor the waterfront from Leme, in the South Zone, to Barra de Guaratiba, in the West Zone; the other, with license plate reading software, will be positioned along the Yellow and Red lines, and in the Santa Bárbara, Rebouças, Alaor Praça (Túnel Velho) and Zuzu Angel tunnels.
All new cameras will be interconnected to the Security Command System, acquired in 2022 and already installed in the Integrated Command and Control Center (CICC) of Rio de Janeiro Military Police State Secretariat of (SEPM), where the images will be transmitted in real time.
This new acquisitions by the state government are essential to expand the technological and intelligence means for public security. The new monitoring system will make police actions more effective. Images captured by the new equipment will arrive at the monitoring center in the same way as those that are already set up by the Rio City Hall to monitor traffic and other activities. However, as the new cameras are equipped with software for facial recognition, license plate reading and behavioral analysis, this expands the amount of information available to police officers and may improve police productivity, increasing the number of arrests and apprehensions.
In 2017, the Military Police created the Nucleus of Remotely Piloted Aircraft (NuARP). Subordinated to the Aeromóvel Group (GAM). Remotely piloted, the drones transmit images in real time, reinforcing intelligence, planning and troop coordination actions. According to the PMERJ Colonel Rogério Cosendey Perlingeiro, as it is less visible than a helicopter, the equipment makes possible the discrete collect of information. It is used to identify sensitive points, barriers, blockages, criminal meeting places, among other monitoring.
The equipment is also used to monitor large events to curb crimes such as robberies, thefts, and fights and drones were already used at the FIFA FanFest during the 2022 FIFA World Cup with excellent results, allowing eight arrests and two apprehensions for theft and robbery.
As criminals expand their armed power in Rio de Janeiro, buying more rifles to maintain their territories, State Government has also been equipping itself to protect its police officers to enter favelas and safely carry out patrols. Military Police, for example, is about to receive 70 new semi-armored cars, nicknamed “semicaveirinhas”. With the existing ones, it will reach a total of 563 vehicles reinforced with armor.
The semi-armored vehicle is partially armored, with protection on the sides, front and rear. According to the PM command, the idea is to reduce police officer vulnerabilities while on the streets. However, to make way in favelas, armored land vehicles that resist to rifle bullets, explosives, and fire, known as Caveirão, will still be used and will now be accompanied by two armored ambulances.
The RJ Military Police began using bulletproof helmets in 2023. In Brazil, the equipment is part of the Army and Marine Corps uniforms for patrol activities and is also used by special forces from various corporations around the world. In the PM of Rio, however, the use of the equipment for incursions into communities is unprecedented.
Initially it is destined to police officers from the Special Operations Battalion (BOPE) and the Tactical Action Groups (GATs), small groups specialized in raids. The corporation’s goal, however, is that in the coming years, every police officer who patrols the state will have similar equipment. The new model acquired by the force is smaller and lighter, suitable for incursions into favelas. The item also has a space for a camera on its front. The goal is to provide more security for police officers during operations.
In 2008, under the administration of former governor Sérgio Cabral, the state bet heavily on a model of community and proximity policing – inspired by a strategy used in the fight against drug trafficking in Colombia. The promise was and to take control of criminal factions out of the favelas and to pacify risky areas. Pacifying Police Units (UPP) were created and gained spotlight by representing the entry into the favelas with a different police force, which dialogued with residents.
According to data from the Public Security Institute (ISP), there was a significant drop of 73% in the number of violent deaths in areas served by the Pacifying Police Units, from 284 cases in 2008, to 76 in 2013. Homicides resulting from police intervention fell 86% in the period, from 139 occurrences in 2008 to 20 in 2013. The state installed 38 UPP and many became extinct for lack of resources, from 2018.
The program, according to experts, was successful until 2014, with partial expulsion of drug trafficking, permanent occupation of the Military Police, social projects, and transformation of the areas.
In January 2022, Governor Cláudio Castro launched the Cidade Integrada program inspired by the UPP project. Initially, the plan would contemplate only six communities. According to the governor, no other area would be occupied until the program is fully implemented in the first two, Jacarezinho and Muzema. These two communities were chosen to start the program because they are dominated, respectively, by drug trafficking and militia. The program includes six axes of action, social, infrastructure, governance, economy, transparency and security areas.
For Castro, the main purpose of this program is not the pacification but the retaking of territories by and for their residents. The project included a credit line, payment of a monthly allowance of R$ 300 for young mothers, distribution of vouchers to buy gas cylinders from legal suppliers, expansion of public equipment, such as hospital, a Military Police battalion, works sanitation even inside homes and the creation of community councils made up of members of the government and local representatives to debate local demands.
However, a year and a half after it’s start, residents are still amid a dispute over territory between drug traffickers and militiamen. None of the promises succeeded and the precariousness in areas such as garbage collection, infrastructure, sewage, basic sanitation, continues.
A survey carried out by CNN based on the 2021 Brazilian Yearbook of Public Security shows that the 27 Brazilian states invested R$157.7 billion in public security in the previous two years, but only R$1.9 billion was allocated to intelligence and information. Therefore, Brazil invested, in the last two years, only 1.2% of the total spent on security in intelligence and information.
In Rio de Janeiro, in the last 10 years, less than 1% of public security spending was directed towards intelligence and information. Despite being one of the states with the highest expenditures on public security in the country, Rio is one of the worst when it comes to investments in intelligence. For Professor Daniel Hirata, specialist in public security at the Fluminense Federal University (UFF), it is important to optimize existing resources and invest in new ones. Intelligence is not just acquiring equipment. It’s something much bigger to make police actions more efficient.
For Paulo Storani, a specialist in public security and a member of the Rio de Janeiro police for 17 years, intelligence is important for both the prevention and repression of crimes. It encompasses information analysis, data collection and personnel training, with courses, including abroad.
The low investment in intelligence may explain the absence of deep change in the strategy of Rio’s police. The metropolitan region registered in the first five months of this year (2023) the highest number of police operations for the period of the last ten years. There were 914 actions by the Civil and Military Police, more than double the 404 registered between January and May 2022. This means a monthly average of 183 operations or, six operations per day. In second place in the ranking of the last ten years is 2018 that coincides with the UPPs decline, when 773 actions were carried out from January to May.
For experts like Hirata, increasing the number of police operations does not reflect in the reduction of crime. This type of incursion by force receives the greatest financial, human, and technological investment from the security area, but this is not reflected in effective results. Reports by Geni and by the Public Prosecutor’s Office show that a greater number of operations is not correlated with a decrease in crimes against life and property.
According to Silvia Ramos, coordinator of the Center for Studies on Security and Citizenship (Cesec), it is necessary to change the focus of public security policy in Rio, investing in more intelligence and investigative work. The increase in the use of technologic means is interesting and should have an impact on the collateral damages of police operations. High technology plays an important role in public security, but in many situations it makes sense to step back and take a “back to basics” approach through reinforcement of neighborhood policing and intelligence.