*By Marcelo B. Nery and Bruno Paes Manso

In Brazil, the fight against organized crime has been driven by a variety of measures, including legal, financial, budgetary, operational actions and, currently, technological measures stand out. Advances often do not reduce the problem and end up reinforcing the harmful side effects of mistaken public policies applied over the years. The feeling is that we are always running after (covering) the loss, which leads us to segment our approach as a racing technique into three phases:

Phase 1: Start

A criminal faction does not emerge in a vacuum. In São Paulo, it emerged with the proposal to mediate and act in the interests of members of a broad criminal network, in addition to organizing the dynamics of a billion-dollar illegal market, driven by the incessant demand for drugs in cities in different countries around the world. This was the case of the Primeiro Comando da Capital (PCC), founded on August 31, 1993, exactly 30 years ago, in the Casa de Custódia de Taubaté, known as “Piranhão”, at the time considered the most secure prison in the State. Initially, the PCC was called the “Party of Crime” and claimed both to fight against oppression within the São Paulo prison system and to seek revenge for the execution of prisoners in the tragic “Carandiru massacre”, which occurred about a year earlier, when the Military Police killed 111 inmates in pavilion 9 of the extinct São Paulo Detention House.

It is important to remember that the first effective Brazilian law to combat organized crime was enacted two years later, in 1995, together with legislation to combat money laundering. From this milestone, there was a significant increase in financial resources directed to public security. In São Paulo, for example, the state government made considerable investments, increasing the salaries of military police officers and state spending on public security. However, these resources were mainly directed towards remunerating police personnel, purchasing equipment and building penitentiaries, with little investment in observation methods, recording techniques, investigation and research procedures. Roughly speaking, it was only five years later that there was an effective allocation of progressive resources in information technology (IT).

From the 2000s onwards, the PCC began to act as a type of regulatory agency for the São Paulo criminal market, defining rules, punishing deviants and establishing a new type of governance that increased profits and reduced the risks of its participants. It is interesting to note that at that moment (reactively and not preventively, as would be crucial), the federal government launched the first National Public Security Plan (PNSP), officially establishing actions and commitments to combat drug trafficking and organized crime. This plan was implemented in response to the growing concern about crime and its consequences for Brazilian society. It proposes a series of measures and commitments to reduce violence, including investments in professional training and modernization of police forces.

In the state of São Paulo, the country's largest economy, important examples of the impact of IT on public security stand out: the computerization of the Public Security Secretariat (SSP), which gradually linked police districts and Military Police companies into a network; the Criminal Information System (Infocrim), which allowed the identification and analysis of places with the highest incidence of crimes; the Hotline (181), which made it possible for anyone to provide information to the police about crimes and forms of violence, with a guarantee of anonymity; and the Standard Operating Procedures (SOP), which were implemented with the aim of standardizing operational activities.

Phase 2: Development

Over the past two decades, we have witnessed significant advances in the field of public security, influenced by technological innovations. Many of these improvements, however, focused on increasing the productivity of the Military Police's work, focused on overt patrolling. The result was an increase in arrests in the act, which contributed to the growth of the total number of prisoners, which went from just over 30 thousand in 1992 (some dates are important to remember) to 230 thousand prisoners after 30 years. Increased imprisonment has not diminished resources and profits in the criminal market, nor the financial power of its participants.

If these technological investments enable gains for public security, new technologies have also opened up opportunities for illicit activities and money-making within an overcrowded and expanding prison system. The proliferation of cell phones in prisons, for example, could transform cells into real offices, allowing the establishment of networks of partners and the facilitation of criminal activities.

It is evident that there is a dispute over the use of IT between the State and organized crime. However, it is worth highlighting that this is not the only issue to be considered when it comes to the intersection between technology and security, in the context of public policies. We must take into account two fundamental points: firstly, the existence of two distinct police forces; and, secondly, the emphasis given to overt policing, confrontation and incarceration as the main (possibly the only) strategies. With regard to the first point, it is clear that the investigation of crimes related to organized crime, which is the responsibility of the Civil Police, has not progressed as expected (mainly in relation to the challenges of financial investigation) nor has it assumed the necessary role in the public security policy. The excessive dependence on overt patrolling and arrests in the act, which ended up overcrowding prisons without weakening the economic potential of the crime market, ended up allowing the strengthening and advancement of factions in São Paulo and later in the rest of Brazil.

Phase 3: Arrival

The application of IT in public security requires a comprehensive approach, which goes beyond the lowest implementation and maintenance costs and the measurable aspects of crime. In addition to dealing with the collection, processing and analysis of criminal data, it is crucial to understand the chronology of events related to organized crime from different perspectives, as well as the vulnerability to misuse of technology by criminals.

Increasing society's perception of security, reducing crimes committed using violence, applying alternative measures to punish less serious crimes, dialoguing with other preventive measures that go beyond the police, are part of the debate. Understanding the structure of the SSP (and its relations with private security), the social context and the impacts of these constructs on the current political and economic intention are also fundamental. Faced with these challenges, it is essential to promote interdisciplinary research, always considering that the impacts of IT on security (in rapid evolution) are still little known and explained, both empirically and theoretically, and always considering that there are legal and ethical implications.

*Marcelo Batista Nery is a researcher at ABES Think Tank, coordinator of Technology Transfer and Head of the PAHO/WHO Collaborating Center (BRA-61) of the Center for Violence Studies at the University of São Paulo

*Bruno Paes Manso is a Journalist, writer and researcher at the Center for Violence Studies at the University of São Paulo (USP). Winner of the Jabuti award with the work “República das Milícias – dos Esquadrões da Morte à Era Bolsonaro”, in 2021.

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