Death squads comprising off-duty police officers and other members of the state security forces have long been a feature of the criminal ecosystems of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. There is increasing evidence that such groups operate elsewhere in Brazil – and it’s only getting worse.
In October 2014, an escaped prisoner in the northeastern city of Poço Verde was shot dead by police, reportedly during a shoot-out. But the dead man’s widow told a TV interviewer that her husband had been sitting on the sofa with his four-year-old daughter when the police broke into their home. Although the man offered to surrender, they shot him in the head.
By Brazilian standards, it was an unexceptional death, but for the fact his killing was linked to a death squad that had been under investigation for the previous six months. Seven police officers and military personnel were subsequently arrested. It was the fourth operation against death squads in Brazil’s northeast in the past three years; at least 45 serving police officers have been arrested.