In Brazil, the Federal Constitution establishes five 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. Apart from these five institutions there is another one which is affiliated to municipal authorities: the Municipal Guards. The Municipal Guards de jure is not considered a public security force, but federal law 13,022 (in effect since August 8, 2014) gave them de facto police attributions.

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 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. On 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 on 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.

On 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 after an 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 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". Main assignments are the investigations of crimes against the Federal Government or its organs and companies, the combat of international drug trafficking and terrorism, and immigration and border control police[7] (includes airport and water police). 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, is the third and last component of the 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 - Military Police of São Paulo (PMESP)

There are two types of state police institutions: the Military Police/Military Firefighters Corps and the Civil Police.

  • The Military Police and Fire Brigade is the state police charged with maintaining order. 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, uniform, discipline, and ceremony. However, the body is not a branch of the Brazilian Armed Forces. It is described by the constitution as an "ancillary force of the Army in time of war".[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 criminal 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 generally 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)
  • The National Public Security Force, officially the Força Nacional de Segurança Pública, was created by presidential decree 5.289 on 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 civil 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] There are provost corps for each of the Brazilian Armed Forces: Army Police (Portuguese: Polícia do Exército, PE) for the Army, Navy Police (Portuguese: Polícia da Marinha) for the Navy, and Air Force Police (Portuguese: Polícia da Aeronaútica, PA) for the Air Force.

Entry qualification

Access to all positions under any military police forces encompasses written knowledge tests, previous and further medical exams, physical strength, agility and endurance tests and, finally, psychological interviews and evaluation. When approved on all tests, the candidate will be considered fit to military police service and admitted in special training courses (CTSP, to graduate soldiers, and the CFO, to graduate aspiring high-ranked officials). There's a minimum entry age of 18 years and, with few variations, a maximum entry age of 30 years.

Candidates to military police lower ranks, such as 2nd class soldier (entry level), must meet a minimum of high school education.

In the civil forces, any police "chief", unlike anywhere else in the world, are required to hold a full degree in Law and have law practicing experience of,at least three years.


Reports of police brutality and 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 where high-profile criminals tend to hide. 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] Inefficiency is also regarded to the archaic structure of the Police corps, specially regarding the so-called "chiefs", where Brazil does not relish Criminal or Police sciences, instead, still choices professionals with Law degree in prejudice of other sciences. This also contributes to the pitiful percentage of crime clarification. In Brazil, only 5% of crimes finds a proper solution. This is mainly regarded to the role of bachelor in law, that finds no similar throughout the world. In a few, this office lingers to the 19th century and Inquisition laws long before that.

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.

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" Archived 2008-07-12 at the Wayback Machine. 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 "Brazilian Federal Constitution, article 144". Brazilian Government (official text). 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. ^ Kraul, Chris; Soares, Marcelo (December 9, 2009). "Brazil's police killings condemned by Human Rights Watch". Los Angeles Times. 
  13. ^ Amnesty International "Brazil - Police Brutality" Accessed September 5, 2007.
  14. ^ Ministério Público do Paraná "MP na Imprensa"[permanent dead link] 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

External links