Brazilian institutions are notorious for employing a perplexing web of acronyms, abbreviations, and special task forces. This glossary of terms should help you in navigating this site and related reporting.
Alerj is the abbreviation for the Legislative Assembly of the State of Rio de Janeiro. It is a unicameral body that consists of 70 members. Its current President is Jorge Picciani (PMDB). Alerj often launches investigative commissions (see CPI) on polemical issues that receive considerable news coverage. In December of 2010, at least one third (23 out of 70) of the members of Alerj were in the middle of legal proceedings against them for various crimes, including forming criminal gangs, corruption, conspiracy, money laundering, and murder.
The Battalion of Special Police Operations is the elite SWAT team of Rio’s Military Police made famous by José Padilha’s 2007 blockbuster Tropa de Elite (Elite Squad), which became the highest grossing Brazilian film at the time. Their symbol is a skull atop two crossed daggers. Alternatively hailed as the guardians of order and extra-legal cold-blooded murders, BOPE is often a polemical figure. These “soldiers” are well trained, heavily armed, and are typically the leading force in any favela incursion. The BOPE of Rio de Janeiro was created in 1978 and since then has served primarily to maintain order in the favelas that were rapidly spiraling into violence at the hands of rival drug gangs. In these operations the elite troops enter hostile territory, often under a hail of small arms fire and grenades, and have been known to use armed personnel carriers and helicopters.
Câmara Municipal do Rio de Janeiro
The Municipal Congress of Rio de Janeiro is the principal legislative body for the city. There are 50 aldermen (vereadores) representing specific districts. Many vereadores have been arrested for criminal acts, including forming criminal gangs, corruption, conspiracy, money laundering, operating illegal gambling facilities, and murder.
Corpo de Bombeiros
Firefighters are part of the security structure and are divided into two categories: military and volunteer. Their function is similar to that of firefighters around the world, except that the military version, like the PM, follows an organizational structure similar to that of the armed forces.
CPI – Comissão Parlamentar de Inquérito
Parliamentary Commissions of Inquiry are official investigations launched by members of Alerj conducted by a president and various other congresspeople. Recent CPI topics have included: weapons trafficking, militias, environmental crimes, police deaths, infrastructure development, and official corruption.
DETRAN – Departamento Estadual de Trânsito
Detran is the state department of transit. It oversees the registration and control of vehicles, including emissions testing, renewal of driver’s licenses, and the system of traffic fines; however it does not directly administer these fines to individuals.
DRACO-IE – Delegacia de Repressão às Ações Criminosas Organizadas e Inquéritos Especiais
Draco-IE is a division of the Civil Police of RJ that specifically combats organized crime. In 2007, they famously took down the militia boss and alderman Jerominho. The head of the unit was Claudio Ferraz, one of the authors of the book on which Tropa de Elite was based. However, when Operation Guillotine hit the news, a controversy over Draco emerged. Chief of Police Allen Turnowski attempted to shut down the office, accusing it of corrupt practices. Draco’s current commissioner is Jayme Berbat
GM – Guarda Municipal
The Municipal Guard is another branch of the public security systems whose purpose is to patrol and protect public buildings, monuments, parks, gardens, and areas designated as natural and cultural heritage preserves. These officers often have batons but typically patrol without firearms.
Operação: Choque de Ordem
A collaboration between the Special Secretary for Public Order, the city of Rio de Janeiro, the Municipal Guard, Detro-RJ, the Municipal Company of Urban Cleaning (Comlurb), and spearheaded by Mayor Eduardo Paes, Operation: Shock of Order was inaugurated in 2009 to clean up the streets of Rio in various ways. This is being done by increasing trash collection, shutting down illegal commercial activities (such as unlicensed “combi” vans and street vendors), and enforcing laws relating to public decency. Like the UPP, Shock of Order was created with an eye on the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics.
The operation rotates between Barra da Tijuca, Copacabana, Tijuca Flamengo, Botafogo, and Centro with plans to extend into other areas such as Rocinha, Vidigal, Cidade de Deus, and Engenho Novo. Shock of Order has gained notoriety during the last two Carnavals. In 2011, its agents arrested 671 individuals for public urination. Its agents also maintain a presence on the most frequented beaches, cracking down on unlicensed vendors, ball playing on the edge of the water that impedes foot traffic, dogs on the beach, and towing illegally parked cars. This no-nonsense approach to policing is similar to Rudy Giuliani’s “Broken Windows” policy in New York City; he is a paid consult to the city of Rio de Janeiro.
The UPP was created as part of a security policy initiated in 2008 focused around community policing in favelas once controlled by drug gangs. It was an integral part of Rio’s successful 2016 Olympic bid and run by the state of RJ via the PM.
The Civil Police, like the PM are a state organization under the command of the Governor (Sérgio Cabral Filho) via State Secretary for Security (José Mariano Beltrame). The mission of the Civil Police is to investigate and bring to light crimes that have already been committed as well as more bureaucratic tasks, such as producing identification documents, maintaining criminal records, approving large events, and overseeing certain commercial functions. Occasionally, when an investigation spills over state lines the Civil Police can operate in other states with the approval of their counterparts.
Like the PM, the PCERJ have garnered a poor reputation in terms of corruption. On February 4, 2011, the then assistant chief of operations of the PCERJ, Carlos Oliveira, was accused of and later arrested for aiding drugs and arms traffickers in an extensive investigation conducted by the Federal Police called Operation Guillotine. After his right-hand man was arrested, the chief of the Civil Police, Allan Turnowski, resigned his post. Oliveira has been accused of receiving bribes worth hundreds of thousands of reais.
PF – Polícia Federal
The Federal Police are controlled by the Minister of Justice. The primary function of the Federal Police (equivalent to the US FBI) is to investigate crimes of a national scope, such as financial improprieties, terrorism, interstate or international trafficking of contraband. They are also responsible for controlling the waters, airports, ports, and borders of the country. It was the PF that conducted Operation Guillotine.
The Military Police are apparatuses of individual states, subordinated to governors. Their structure is that of the military and they serve as a reserve force for the Brazilian armed forces. Their principal function is to prevent criminal activity and thus act as the principal organ of public order on the ground in Brazil. They perform constant patrols by car, motorcycle, and on foot as well as controlling the policing of forests, urban transportation, public events, and schools.
The PM of Rio de Janeiro is widely viewed as being a corrupt organization; however efforts are being made to change this perception. In the wildly popular 2010 film Tropa de Elite 2: O inimigo agora é outro (Elite Squad 2: Now There is a Different Enemy) that depicts corrupt PMs affiliated with political heavy weights killing colleagues, stealing weapons, and creating lucrative, mafia-like militias, the hero, Lt. Col. Nascimento, announces in a testimony to the state assembly, “Right now, the truth is that the PM of Rio needs to end.” This film is based on a book by Claudio Ferraz (now the chief of the anti-organized crime squad) who says he “put all of the facts he had lived through in a fictional form.”
PRF – Polícia Rodoviária Federal
The PRF is the Brazilian equivalent of the State Trooper or Highway Patrol. They are controlled at the state level by the Ministry of Justice with the mandate to patrol and protect major roads and highways.
SESeg – Secretaria Estadual de Segurança Pública
The Secretary of Public Security of the State of Rio de Janeiro is the brain center of public security in Rio and the primary interlocutor between the Governor, the Justice Ministry, and the officers on the ground. It is headed by Security Secretary José Mariano Beltrame.
UOP – Unidades de Ordem Pública
Implementers of the new “Rio in Order” project, the Public Order Units will be first implemented in Rio de Janeiro in early 2011 in a small part of the Tijuca neighborhood. UOP divisions will be comprised of specially trained Municipal Guards, assigned to patrol specific areas 24 hours a day. The program is meant to instill a culture of maintaining permanent order. Officers will use cars, motorcycles, dogs, radios, handheld computers, GPS, and non-lethal weapons. With the communications technologies, they can easily alert Civil and Military Police in case of an occurrence. They will be linked to CET-Rio and the Information Analysis Center (CAI).
More to come…