Cracking Crime in Brazil

By Wygand, James | Security Management, July 2000 | Go to article overview

Cracking Crime in Brazil


Wygand, James, Security Management


Crime is a constant challenge for businesses in Brazil, but many companies have found ways to win the fight.

WHEN DRUG KINGPINS TOOK CONTROL OF a hillside squatter settlement overlooking a nearby multinational's corporate facility in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the company began to experience problems. Over the first few weeks, the facility was robbed several times, and employees were routinely mugged on their way to and from work. Criminal activity got so bad that workers were afraid to report to the office, and productivity began to slide. Knowing that local law enforcement did not have the resources to remove the drug gang from the hillside, the company took an unorthodox step: it negotiated a safe-conduct treaty with the drug kingpins.

Under the terms of this "contract," the drug lords agreed not to rob the corporate facility or molest its employees. In return, the company promised not to let law enforcement use its building to secretly spy on the drug gang's activity. To ensure that the company is living up to its side of the bargain, the contract stipulates that any visitor who is unknown to the gang must be escorted to and from the building by a preapproved security officer; only certain taxi companies approved by the drug gang can be used to drop off and pick up visitors; and all taxi drivers must be approved by the drug lords in advance. Furthermore, all employees must leave the facility by 7 p.m. every evening.

The arrangement, which is still in effect, has helped keep the company's employees safe, and the facility has not been burglarized in months. While the implications of the practice may raise tough philosophical questions for security professionals, in Brazil, this arrangement is considered a major success.

While Brazil alternates with China as the world's largest receiver of foreign investment-last year the South American country logged a record inflow of $29.9 billion from foreign investors-businesses here are facing severe security challenges. Cargo theft has become commonplace; armed robbery and late-night break-ins to steal ATMs, computers, or product inventory are on the rise; and employees are routinely mugged or assaulted on the way to and from work. According to the Inter-American Development Bank, Brazil spends an estimated $84 billion fighting and dealing with violence each year, a figure that represents more than 10 percent of the country's gross domestic product.

Despite these numbers, foreign investment continues as many multinational companies believe that Brazil will eventually bring rising crime and violence under control. However, little help is likely to come from law enforcement authorities, who are chronically short of funds, manpower, and resources. The result is that private security managers will have to fill the gap, finding the latest techniques and technologies that can protect employees and assets.

This article will look at the latest trends in Brazil and the security responses being undertaken by many companies there. It will focus on the four major areas of concern in the county: personal security, facility security, cargo theft, and telecommunications fraud.

Personnel security. Personal safety is the biggest issue facing private security in Brazil-and for good reason. The homicide rate is 6.4 times greater in S[tilde{a}} Paulo than in New York or Lisbon, and it is 5.7 times higher in Rio than in New York or Lisbon. Reported robberies and muggings in S[tilde{a}] Paulo are rising at the rate of 15 percent a year, and a recent study showed that a resident of the city has a one in six chance of being the victim of a violent crime.

In spite of the fact that cities like Rio and Sao Paulo have roughly 30 percent of their police forces dedicated to investigating crimes, only 2.5 percent are solved, because resources are inadequate. (By contrast, in Japan the percentage of crimes solved is 58 percent, and in the United States it's percent. …

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