Law enforcement in Brazil: Wikis


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Tarso Genro, Minister of Justice, the top authority of Federal Police forces.

In Brazil, the Federal Constitution establishes five different law enforcement institutions: the Federal Police, the Federal Highway Police, the Federal Railway Police, the State Military Police and Fire Brigade, and the State Civil Police. Of these, the first three are affiliated to federal authorities and the latter two subordinated to state governments. All police institutions are part of the Executive branch of either federal or state government.

According to the Supreme Federal Tribunal, the only security forces considered police units by Brazilian law are the ones listed in article 144 of the Federal Constitution, that is, the five aforementioned police forces.[1]

There are two primary police functions: maintaining order and law enforcement. When criminal offences affect federal entities, federal police forces carry out those functions. In the remaining cases, the state police forces undertake police activities.



Luiz Fernando Corrêa, current director of the Brazilian Federal Police.

The first groups assigned with security duties in Brazilian territory date back to the early sixteenth century. Small, incipient units were designated in the Brazilian coastline, with the main function of fending off hostile foreign invaders. In 1566, the first police investigator of Rio de Janeiro was recruited.[2] By the seventeenth century, most "capitanias" already had local units with law enforcement functions. In July 9, 1775 a Cavalry Regiment was created in Minas Gerais for maintaining order. At the time, intense gold mining had attracted attention and greed of explorers, generating tensions in the area.[3]

In 1808, the Portuguese royal family relocated to Brazil, due to the French invasion of Portugal. King João VI sought to reshape the administrative structure of the colony. Among several reforms, he established the "Intendência Geral de Polícia" (General Police Intendancy), which merged police units with investigative functions, call currently of Civil Police. He also created a Military Guard with police functions in 13 May, 1809. This is considered a predecessor force of local military police units. Later, in 1831, when independence had already been declared, each province started organizing its local "military police", with order maintenance tasks.

In 31 January, 1842, law 261 was enacted, reorganizing the investigative offices, the current "civil police".

The first federal police force, the Federal Railroad Police, was created in 1852.

Finally, in 1871, law 2033 separated police and judicial functions, creating the general bureaucratic structure and mechanisms still adopted nowadays by local police forces.[4] In 1944, a federal police institution was created. The current Federal Police department was conceived on November 16, 1964.[5] During the military dictatorship, some political police organizations were maintained, such as the DOI-CODI.

Primary functions

Law enforcement and maintaining order are the two primary functions of Brazilian police units. In Brazilian Law, maintaining order is considered a preventive effort whereby police troopers patrol the streets to protect citizens and discourage criminal activity. Law enforcement consists of criminal investigation, therefore taking place after a criminal offence.[6]

Prevention and investigation in Brazil are divided between two distinct police organizations. Local "military police" forces only have order maintenance duties. Correspondingly, "civil police" institutions are responsible solely for crime investigation. However, at the federal level, the Federal Police is commissioned with both preventive and investigative functions of federal crimes.[7]

Federal institutions

Federal Highway Police (Polícia Rodoviária Federal).

There are three federal police institutions in Brazil: the Brazilian Federal Police|Federal Police, the Federal Highway Police, and the Federal Railway Police.

  • The Federal Police, officially the "Departamento de Polícia Federal", is described by the Constitution as "a permanent administrative organ of the federal Executive branch". It has the main duties of preventing and investigating federal crimes (offences that violate federal law). Thus, it has both order maintenance and law enforcement tasks. It also patrols airports, maritime waters, and the border.[7] It is directly subordinated to the Ministry of Justice.
  • The Federal Highway Police, also described as "a permanent administrative organ of the federal Executive branch", has the main function of patrolling federal highways. It maintains order, but does not investigate crime.[7]
  • The Federal Railway Police, the third and last federal police force. Like the previously mentioned institutions, the Federal Railway Police is described as "a permanent administrative organ of the federal Executive branch" with the main function of patrolling the federal railway system. It does not investigate crime, solely focusing on order maintenance.[7]

State institutions

Mounted Police branch of the Federal District Military Police, during crowd control activities.
Police car - Civil Police of Mato Grosso do Sul State

There are two types of state police institutions: the Military Police and Fire Brigade and the Civil Police.

  • The Military Police and Fire Brigade is the state police with order maintenance functions. It patrols the streets and imprisons suspects of criminal activity, handing them over to Civil Police custody or, in case of federal crimes, to the Federal Police. It is a "militarized" institution (gendarmerie) because it is based on military principles of hierarchy, ranks, uniform, discipline, and ceremonial. However, it is not part of the Brazilian Armed Forces. It is described by the Constitution as an "ancillary force of the Army".[7] The Military Fire Brigade, in general, is a part of the Military Police, although it does not perform traditional policing duties. It is subordinated to the state government.
  • The Civil Police is the state police with law enforcement duties. It has the function of investigating crimes committed in violation of Brazilian criminal law.[7] It does not patrol the streets and does not use uniforms. Like the Military Police, it is subordinated to the state government.

Other security forces

National Public Security Force (Força Nacional de Segurança Pública).
  • Municipalities may create Municipal Guards. They have the duty of protecting property, services and facilities of local governments.[7] They are not police institutions and do not have order maintenance or law enforcement obligations. Thus, they are not listed in article 144 of the Federal Constitution as an autonomous police unit. There are over 700 Municipalities with Municipal Guards.
  • The National Public Security Force, officially the Força Nacional de Segurança Pública, was created by presidential decree 5.289 in November 29, 2004. It is not a security force per se. Rather, it is a federal program of cooperation among all Brazilian police forces for situations of emergency or exceptional nature.[8]
  • Army, Navy and Air Force police units are not to be confused with the state Military Police. These are internal security units of each Armed Forces branch. They do not have general order maintenance or law enforcement functions. Other internal units may be created for protection of particular agencies or administrative entities, such as the guards of legislative houses, which are not police institutions. Nevertheless, in times of emergency, the Army has been called upon to maintain order, most notably in Rio de Janeiro.[9]

Entry qualification

Access to all positions in any police force is obtained through entry exams. These normally consist of academic tests but in some cases may also include physical tests. Candidates must fulfill academic and minimum physical requirements that vary according to each institution and post. All Police Chiefs must hold a university degree in Law. In some cases, a law degree may be required for other occupations as well.


Intense police brutality and widespread corruption have harmed the reputation of police institutions in Brazil, especially state forces.[10][11] Violence against suspects and extrajudicial executions are known to be employed by police.[12] In the cities of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, the Military Police has been involved in several controversial massacres of civilians, typically in poor neighborhoods were high profile criminals tend to hide in. There have also been massacres in prison facilities. One of the most notorious cases is the Carandiru massacre of 1992. Torture is still commonly used as means of questioning and punishing individuals.[13]

Inefficiency in law enforcement is high, due to lack of appropriate infrastructure and qualified personnel. Careful investigation is the exception rather than the rule. In 2003, for instance, the state of São Paulo had up to 85% of homicide investigations archived before court proceedings due to lack of sufficient evidence.[14] Order maintenance is also considerably inefficient, with levels of violence in the largest urban centers being compared to that of war zones by some studies.[15][16]

According to TIME magazine December 2009/January 2010 issue, Brazilian police have murdered 11,000 (11.000) people in the cities of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo (combined) from 2003 to 2009. Only four convictions against police have been made. People will not file reports because of fear of being murdered by the police for "snitching".

See also


  1. ^ Court Decision "ADIn n.236-8/RJ" Published June 1, 2001. Accessed September 5, 2007. (Portuguese)
  2. ^ Rio de Janeiro Civil Police "Historical Data" Accessed September 5, 2007.
  3. ^ Minas Gerais Military Police "Histórico" Accessed September 5, 2007. (Portuguese)
  4. ^ Tourinho Filho, F. 2004. Processo Penal vol.1. p.190. São Paulo: Saraiva. ISBN 85-02-04597-0
  5. ^ Brazilian Federal Police Department "Histórico do DPF". Accessed September 5, 2007. (Portuguese)
  6. ^ Silva, J.A. 2004. Curso de Direito Constitucional Positivo. p.758. São Paulo: Malheiros. ISBN 85-7420-559-1
  7. ^ a b c d e f g "Brazilian Federal Constitution, article 144". Brazilian Government (official text).çao.htm. Retrieved 2007-09-05.  See also: "Brazilian Federal Constitution in English", text translated to English (unofficial). Accessed September 5, 2007.
  8. ^ Ministério da Justiça "Força Nacional de Segurança Pública" Accessed September 5, 2007. (Portuguese)
  9. ^ Jornal da Globo "Exército nas ruas do Rio" Accessed September 13, 2007. (Portuguese)
  10. ^ Human Rights Report "Police brutality in urban Brazil" Accessed September 5, 2007.
  11. ^ "Amnesty International reports on Violence in Brazil", SEJUP (Servico Brasileiro de Justica e Paz), News from Brazil, No. 489, 29 May 2003, Accessed September 5, 2007.
  12. ^,0,7783978.story
  13. ^ Amnesty International "Brazil - Police Brutality" Accessed September 5, 2007.
  14. ^ Ministério Público do Paraná "MP na Imprensa" Accessed September 5, 2007. (Portuguese)
  15. ^ Transnational Institute "Drugs and Democracy in Brazil" Accessed September 5, 2007
  16. ^ BBC News "Rio 'worse than a war zone'" Accessed September 5, 2007

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