Public Safety

By | May 16, 2014

I was talking to a friend of mine on Twitter and he said something like “There are no safe places in Brazil. Not even inside your house”.

Well, that’s true and I’ll tell a little about how things work down there for your amusement.

First of all: Unlike most houses here in Canada, which are pretty much only a few feet away from the streets or just after the driveway, here is how a typical middle/high income house looks like in Brazil:


The house in entirely surrounded by high brick walls, usually topped with broken glass, electrical fence or barbed wires. The gates are heavy and sturdy. Not for showing, but to withstand someone trying to break into it.

Once you get past the gates, that’s usually how it looks look like inside:

gradesAs you can see, those windows are at the ground level. So that’s not to avoid kids falling from the window. Those are reinforce steel bars that you see there. Again, meant to resist someone trying to break in.

Guard dogs are very common as well.

It’s very common for neighbourhoods to have some sort of private security guys, usually during the night, roaming the streets on bikes and blowing a horn or whistle once in a while to themselves known and, theoretically scare away the bad guys.  Actually a lot of them operate like the Mafia, selling protection from themselves.

Guns are extremely regulated in Brazil, making it almost impossible for a regular citizen to acquire one lawfully. Buying on the black-market, on the other hand, is easy and cheap.
However, if you shoot someone that broke into your house with an irregular gun you’ll be arrested without bail. You’ll still be arrested if you used a legitimate one. As an “average joe” you will probably be made an example and will go to jail. Looks like you can easily avoid jail time by being “unprivileged” or extremely wealth, though.

So lots of people are scared to live in houses, since even with all that security when you are leaving/entering you house you could be quickly approached by criminals which will take you inside your house and will surely destroy your life (and very likely kill you). Face it: you are alone and you are an easy prey.

Therefore people started looking for safer environments, like apartment buildings.Again, not anything like here in Canada.portariaBy now you are familiar with the high walls and electrical fence. The next thing to known (you can’t really see on this picture) is that there is a small construction just a few feet behind the gates, between them and the building entrance. It usually has tinted bullet-proof glasses and that’s where the doorman stays.

When you get to an apartment building you ring the bell and he’ll answer you on a intercom. You state who you are and which apartment you are heading to. He’ll put you on hold and ring the apartment, tell who is there (how many people and who they stated to be) and ask if anyone is expecting you (People can usually switch their TV to the CCTV channel and check out too). Once you are allowed in, to come up you will usually have to pass on a man-trap like that:Acc_ManTrapNow: It’s important to highlight that most buildings only allow visitors to come up. Delivers are supposed to be picked up at the front or, at most, at the man trap. Some buildings even implemented a “parcel gateway” that looks like that:encomendaThey are embedded into the brick wall, so you can safely pick up you pizza. The delivery guy puts the pizza in one end, the doorman push a button that locks down that end and opens the other. You take your pizza and put your money there, button pushed again, the pizza guy picks his cash and everybody goes home happy. Nobody was murdered or kidnapped on that pizza exchange.

The reason behind this is that criminals started to kidnap/impersonate delivery guys to get into the buildings. Sad story.

I won’t even bother talking about CCTV and armed guards. Just know that they exist. Depending on the building (or building complex) there would be several armed guards roaming over the property 24×7 checking the walls, garages, playgrounds… you name it.

On top of physical security and personal it’s also common for building to have security policies and procedures. One of the buildings I lived was in a two-way street, but you were mandated to approach the building always from the same side. Had you been kidnapped, held against your will and someone was hiding inside the car with you, then you approach the building from the other side. The doorman would still open and let you in, but immediately call police and start the locking down procedure.

Many more things would be in place. For example, high-end apartment buildings usually have only one unit per floor. So it’s common for those building to have a password on the elevator, so you can get to the floor only by knowing such password. It’s not uncommon to have a distress password as well, which will allow the elevator to move, but call the police and alert the security staff at the same time.

Some buildings also have car-traps, similar to the man traps above, where you are allowed to enter the building, then security personal will ask you to open your windows and light up the car’s interior, while highly bright lamps will be shinning upon you. That also avoids fast approaching criminals (usually on motorcycles) to break into the building while people are entering or leaving.

Now.. that’s a pretty safe setup, right? You wish.

The criminals implemented something nick-named “arrastão” – (trawler, like in trawling net).

Groups up to 50 heavily armed criminals (I’m talking about assault rifles and grenades here) will storm the buildings using heavy trucks (to break into the gates), mini-vans (to transport several of them) and motorcycles (for fast action) and will quickly break into the building. Bullet-proof glasses take only take so much, right?

Security personal will not even dare to engage, since that would be signing their own death sentence. On that note it’s not unusual for police to stall when an arrastão is in progress. They are also out-numbered and out-armed compared to the criminals. They’ll take their sweet time before heading to the scene.

So what I’m trying to show here is that there is no safe place in Brazil. Really. Not even in your home. Be thankful every day for the safety that we have in Canada and never, ever, take it for granted.

As an additional resource, I recommend you to watch “Elite Squad” on Netflix.

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