Panic in Brazil due to new serious cases of police violence

Public opinion in Brazil was shaken in early May this year by alleged new cases of police violence, with allegations of torture in the case of bodies found after a police operation in a favela and, above all, in the case of a man who died of asphyxiation inside the boot of an official police vehicle in the town of Umbauba. The Federal Highway Police (PRF) claimed that the agents used immobilisation techniques and weapons of low offensive potential in the face of the detainee’s strong aggressiveness at a police checkpoint.

The shootout in the favelas of the Complexo do Alemão on 4th May was so intense that the elite squad of the Rio de Janeiro Military Police ran out of ammunition in just two hours. It is noteworthy that the final result of the operation was 18 people dead.

According to police, the operation, which involved some 400 uniformed personnel, targeted a group of individuals suspected of car and bank robberies as well as attacks on police stations. Among the deceased were two women, some fifteen suspects and a policeman.

But various security experts, relatives of the victims and residents of the area questioned the police action as they considered it to be extremely violent. For example, one of the dead women was shot while driving her vehicle down a nearby avenue. The other died while police were removing barricades in the area, although uniformed officers deny that the projectile came from their weapons.

Called a “massacre” by many elected officials and community activists, the police raid has turned out to be the second deadliest in Rio’s history in a favela.

As a result of the events, the human rights organisation Human Rights Watch also expressed its dismay in a public statement. It is worth mentioning that Brazil has one of the police forces with the most fatalities in police custody and with the most police officers killed in the line of duty in the world. For example, in 2021 there were 6,100 fatalities in police operations, while 183 law enforcement officers were killed, according to the Violence Monitor project.

What is true is that this police operation has been the one that has generated the strongest public reactions in Rio de Janeiro, as explained by Geni, a study group on public security and violence at the Fluminense Federal University (UFF). And it is this foundation that believes that police operations lack effectiveness, are often motivated by a thirst for revenge and revel in total impunity.

In addition, there were two other police operations in the last 14 months that resulted in even more deaths. One police operation was in the favela of Jacarezinho in May 2021 – the deadliest in Rio de Janeiro, with 28 fatalities – and the second, in Vila Cruzeiro in May 2023, with 23 deaths.

The Rio police force assures that these actions are based on intelligence reports and are carried out in accordance with the law, justice and technical operational protocols.

But the reality is that the increase in street violence and the growing militarisation of public security operations are contributing to a very confusing situation. The convoluted institutional role of the Military Police and the increasingly important role of the Army demonstrate that, unlike what happens in developed countries, in Brazil the duties of national defence are dangerously mixed with those of maintaining domestic order.


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Major dark web police operation leads to 288 arrests and the seizure of drugs and weapons

In an operation coordinated by Europol and involving nine countries, law enforcement agencies seized the illegal dark web marketplace called Monopoly Market and arrested 288 suspects involved in buying or selling drugs. Police seized more than €50.8 million ($53.4 million) in cash and virtual currencies, 850 kg of drugs and 117 firearms. The drugs seized included more than 258 kg of amphetamines, 43 kg of cocaine, 43 kg of MDMA and more than 10 kg of LSD and ecstasy pills.

This operation, codenamed SpecTor, comprised a series of separate complementary actions in Austria, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, Brazil, the United Kingdom, the United States and Switzerland.

Europol has been compiling reports and documents based on the evidence provided by the German authorities, who lead a successful operation to seize the market’s criminal infrastructure in December 2021. These target documents, created through cross-comparison and analysis of the data and evidence collected, served as the basis for investigating hundreds of people.

The dealers arrested as a result of the police action against Monopoly Market were also active in other illicit markets, thus preventing the spread of drug and illicit goods trading on the dark web. Therefore, 288 sellers and buyers involved in tens of thousands of sales of illicit goods were arrested throughout Europe, the United States and Brazil. Europol considered some of these suspects high-value targets.

Arrests were made in the United States (153), the United Kingdom (55), Germany (52), the Netherlands (10), Austria (9), France (5), Switzerland (2), Poland (1) and Brazil (1). A series of investigations to identify additional individuals behind the dark web accounts remain ongoing. As law enforcement authorities gained access to the extensive lists of buyers and sellers, thousands of customers around the world are also at risk of prosecution.

In the period running up to this coordinated operation, German and US authorities also shut down Hydra, which was the highest-grossing dark web marketplace, with estimated revenues of €1.23 billion, in April 2022. Hydra’s dismantling led to the seizure of €23 million in cryptocurrencies by German authorities.

The operation was particularly successful in terms of arrests, almost doubling previous operations codenamed DisrupTor (2020), with 179 arrests, and Dark HunTor (2021), with 150. This shows once again that international collaboration between law enforcement authorities is key for combating crime on the dark web.

Europol’s European Cybercrime Centre facilitated the exchange of information within the framework of the Joint Cybercrime Action Taskforce (J-CAT), hosted at Europol’s headquarters in The Hague, the Netherlands. After cross-checking evidence through Europol’s databases, its analysts prepared targeting documents and cross-reports containing valuable data to identify vendors on the dark web. Europol also coordinated international police action.

Europol supports the 27 member states of the European Union in their fight against terrorism, cybercrime and other serious and organised crime. It also works with many non-EU partner states and international organisations. From its various threat assessments to its operational and intelligence gathering activities, Europol has the tools and resources it needs to make Europe a safer place.


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US road fatalities show alarming racial gap

Earlier this year, architectural designer and founder of Segregation by Design, Adam Paul Susaneck, published an article in The New York Times in which he mentioned different studies with a common denominator: the urban design of American cities is partly to blame for the alarming number of hit-and-runs and their racial disparities.

An estimated 19 pedestrians per day, on average, were hit by cars in the United States during 2022. It is worth noting that during 2021 pedestrian fatalities reached a 40-year all-time high.

While these fatalities increased significantly in all settings during the COVID-19 pandemic, the rates of Hispanic and African-American pedestrian fatalities were significantly higher than those of white pedestrians.

A study published in 2022 by Harvard and Boston University shed more light on this phenomenon by studying the distance travelled by different racial groups when driving, walking or cycling. They found that African-American people were more than twice as likely to be hit by a vehicle per mile walked than white pedestrians. For African-American cyclists, the risk of mortality per mile was 4.5 times higher than for white cyclists.

Susaneck believes that city design is partly responsible for these worrisome disparities. Pedestrian and cyclist injuries tend to be concentrated in poorer neighbourhoods that have a higher proportion of African-American and Hispanic residents. These neighbourhoods have a common history of underinvestment in basic road safety measures, such as streetlights, zebra crossings and pavements, and overinvestment in automotive infrastructure designed to speed up the passage of people who do not live there.

Recent research from the University of North Carolina found that inner-city neighbourhoods targeted for neighbourhood clearance in the mid-century saw residences and businesses destroyed to allow for new arterial roads and highways to be built. The study proved a profound statistical association with increased pedestrian fatalities.

According to the study, decades of civic neglect, collapsing property values and the flight of white citizens further affected pedestrian safety. The maintenance of pavements in many cities is up to the owners, but they were wearing out along with the empty buildings, so a walk down the street to a bus stop or a shop became a dangerous journey.

In this regard, a study of road conditions in Florida found that the probability of a crash involving a pedestrian was three times higher per mile on roads without pavements.

The US can reverse the trend of rising traffic fatalities, a trend that disproportionately affects Hispanic and African-American communities, by investing in safer road design: narrowing streets, reducing the amount of space devoted to cars, enforcing speed limits, and planting trees to provide visual cues for drivers to slow down. Although these interventions may seem simplistic compared to the scale of the problem, other countries have shown that they do work. Urban planners should recognise that everyone must be able to walk or ride a bicycle in their neighbourhood without fearing for their lives.


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European law enforcement and judicial authorities carry out the largest coordinated attack on organised crime in Italy

132 members of one of the world’s most powerful criminal networks have been arrested during a collaborative day of action carried out by 10 countries. Early on 3 May, police authorities in Belgium, Germany, Italy, France, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain, Romania, Brazil and Panama raided a number of locations and seized several companies. More than 2,770 agents were on the ground during the massive operation.

Eurojust and Europol supported this international operation against the ‘Ndrangheta, which has become the biggest success involving the Italian crime syndicate to date. The mafia organisation is responsible for much of the cocaine trade in Europe, combined with systematic money laundering, bribery and violence.

The criminal network under investigation was led by several powerful ‘Ndrangheta families based mainly in the Italian province of Reggio Calabria, in the city of San Luca, more precisely. Some of these families have been involved in decades-long clan violence known as the ‘San Luca feud’, which has led to mass shootings in Italy and abroad such as, for example, the 2007 Duisburg massacre in Germany.

In addition to being members of a mafia organisation, some of the criminal network’s members were also behind criminal conspiracies involving drug trafficking, illegal possession of firearms, trafficking illegally obtained firearms, money laundering, fraudulent asset registration, tax fraud, and tax evasion, as well as aiding and abetting fugitives (who have since been detained). Two of these fugitives had been on the European Union’s most wanted list.

The Italian criminal network mainly engaged in international drug trafficking from South America to Europe, as well as to Australia. Authorities discovered that the network was working in collaboration with the Colombian organised crime group Gulf Clan and an Albanian-speaking criminal group operating in Ecuador and several European countries.

In addition, ‘Ndrangheta clans were involved in international firearms trafficking from Pakistan to South America, providing equipment to the notorious criminal group PCC (Primeiro Comando da Capital) in exchange for cocaine shipments. Investigators tracked the flow of money in an extensive global money laundering scheme, with massive investments in Belgium, Germany, Italy, Portugal, Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil.

The criminal group was investing profits in real estate, restaurants, hotels, car washes, supermarkets and other commercial activities. The criminals often relied on facilitators who used the hawala system to pay for cocaine or transfer illicit assets.

Eurojust supported the police authorities involved by setting up and financing two joint investigation teams. The agency also hosted ten coordination meetings after setting up a centre to enable rapid cooperation between the judicial authorities involved in the day of action. Three cases linked to Eurojust were opened at the request of Italian, German and Belgian authorities. Eurojust also facilitated the transmission and execution of European investigation orders.

Europol’s Italian organised crime analysis project supported the investigation as a priority case and provided cross-matching reports to the national research units involved. In total, more than 200 SIENA messages were exchanged between involved parties. In addition to supporting the investigation itself, the analysis project also supported the investigation of the three fugitives.


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The European Council approves regulation to improve and digitise cross-border judicial cooperation

The European Council has approved a new EU law establishing a digital platform that will facilitate exchanging information between prosecutors and judges working together to bring criminals to justice.

Gunnar Strömmer, Swedish Minister of Justice, believes that criminal activities do not stop at borders and cross-border investigations are essential to reduce crime.

This digital platform should make it easier for law enforcement and judicial authorities to share information and evidence and communicate with colleagues in other countries.

The platform is designed to facilitate the coordination and daily management of joint research teams (JIT). It will also allow the exchange and temporary storage of information and operational evidence, guaranteeing secure communication and enabling the traceability of evidence.

The platform will be connected to the IT tools used by the authorities participating in the JITs. Institutions will strongly recommend the use of the platform, although its use will be voluntary.

Eu-LISA, the European Union’s agency for the operational management of large-scale IT systems in the area of freedom, security and justice, will be responsible for designing, developing and operating the platform.

Joint investigation teams bring together, for a limited period of time, authorities from two or more EU and possibly third countries for specific cross-border criminal investigations. The members of these teams will be able to exchange evidence directly with each other, without the need for traditional judicial cooperation procedures.

JITs have been in place since 2002 but have been faced with a number of technical difficulties related, for example, to the secure electronic exchange of information and evidence and to secure electronic communication.

The new regulation will enter into force on the twentieth day following its publication in the Official Journal of the European Union and will be directly applicable to all European Union countries.

The platform’s operational start date shall be, at the latest, two and a half years after the entry into force of the regulation.


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Police-involved deaths significantly increase in Canada

The latest data released by Canada’s Tracking (In)Justice project suggests that the average annual number of police-involved deaths between 2011 and 2022 increased by two-thirds compared to the average annual figure for the previous decade. Project members Andrew Crosby, Alexander McClelland and Tanya L. Sharpe believe that this increase, along with the racial disparity and jurisdictional variations in these numbers, support the need to call for greater accountability, transparency and scrutiny of police conduct in Canada.

According to the authors of the project, it is clear that fatal encounters with police are increasing year after year in Canada. The number of civilians killed in incidents with police where force was used has steadily been increasing since 2000. This is leaving families and communities with little support or resources to hold them accountable.

But one of the main problems is that there is no Canadian or foreign agency or institution working on, for example, an up-to-date, centralised data set or a mechanism to track fatalities and provide information on the victim, the location, the police service involved, the type of force used and many other contextual details.

This is carried out solely by members of the Tracking (In)Justice project, which documents and analyses police-involved deaths where force was used in Canada. Tracking (In)Justice is a partnership between academics and advocates who aim to shed light on police violence to help inform demands for accountability, transparency and change in policing institutions.

Collecting this information provides the possibility to ask new questions, such as why some police forces have more frequent deaths under their belt than others.

There have long been calls for police and governments to collect and share data on incidents in which the use of force results in civilian injuries and deaths. Journalists, academics, civil society groups and victims’ families have been engaged in this work for a long time now.

Preliminary findings indicate that incidents involving the use of force are on the rise, with the highest number being from 2022. Part of this long-term trend may be due to increased access to information about police-involved killings and deaths. But access to information alone does not explain the remarkable increase in recent years.

According to data from Tracking (In)Justice, there was an average of 22.7 police-involved deaths per year between 2000 and 2010. In comparison, an average of 37.8 people died each year between 2011 and 2022. This represents a 66.5% increase.

Gunshot deaths also seem to be occurring more frequently. Tracking (In)Justice documented 704 involving the use of police force deaths in Canada between 2000 and 2022.

The data include deaths from police shootings, as well as deaths involving other types of police weapons (e.g. Tasers) or physical intervention.

These data were collected by using publicly available information from the media and official reports. The data contains information related to the victim, including name, age and race (if available). The location of the death, the police involved and the highest level of force used are also documented.

According to long-standing patterns of inequality, there are significant racial disparities in the overall increase in police-involved fatalities when force is used.

Black and indigenous people represent about 10% of the population in Canada, but account for 27.2% of police-involved shooting deaths when the victim’s race is identified.


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Is a pause in AI development the answer?

The undeniable challenges posed by chatbots and AI will not suddenly disappear. This is how the specialised security website Oodaloop put it. And while many well-informed and well-intentioned people have signed an open letter calling for a 6-month pause in advanced AI research, doing so is unrealistic and unwise. The problems posed are complex, confusing and difficult to solve because they are incredibly convoluted and polyhedral. It involves so many stakeholders, intersecting domains and competing interests that it makes it difficult to address them. A pause in technological research will not help solve these human conundrums.

What will help is systematic, methodical and massive public engagement that informs pilot projects associated with the business and civilian implications of artificial intelligence at the national and local levels. Everyone will be affected by the promises and potential dangers of the technological shift in thinking presented by advances in AI. Therefore, everyone should have a voice, and everyone should work to ensure that society is informed and prepared to thrive in a rapidly changing world that will soon look very different.

At first glance, stopping its development may seem compelling given the challenges posed by large language models (LLMs), but there are several reasons why this approach is flawed. To begin with, it is essential to take global competition into account. Even if all U.S. companies agreed to a pause, other countries would continue their AI research, making any national or international agreement less effective.

Secondly, AI diffusion is already underway. The Alpaca experiment at Stanford University demonstrated that it could be refined to match the capabilities of ChatGPT-3 for less than $600. This advance accelerates the spread of AI by making it more accessible to various actors, including those with malicious intent.

Thirdly, history teaches us that a pause in AI could lead to secret development. Publicly halting AI research could prompt nations to conduct advanced AI research in secret, which could have dire consequences for open society. This scenario is similar to that of the Hague Convention of 1899, where the major powers publicly banned poison-filled shells, only to continue their research in secret, and eventually deploy noxious gases during World War I.

Going forward, to effectively address the challenges arising from AI, a proactive, results-oriented and cooperative approach with the public should be encouraged. Think tanks and universities can engage in dialogue with the public about how to work, live, govern and coexist with modern technology that affects society as a whole. By including diverse voices in the decision-making process, we can better address and solve complex AI challenges at the regional and national levels.

In addition, industry and political leaders should be encouraged to participate in the search for non-partisan, multi-sectoral solutions to keep civil society stable. Working together, the gap between technological advances and their social implications can be bridged.

Finally, it is essential to pilot AI schemes in various sectors, such as labour, education, health, law and civil society. We should learn how to create responsible civil environments where AI can be responsibly developed and deployed. These initiatives will help us better understand and integrate artificial intelligence into our lives, reducing risk while ensuring that its potential is realised for the greater good.


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Investigation into whether body-worn cameras are effective for police in Australia

The use of body-worn video cameras by police officers is an emerging area of interest for public policy and police practice. Police cameras can save both cost and time for police, influence law enforcement operational decisions and help prevent problems between citizens and uniformed officers. One objective of law enforcement cameras would be to optimise the collection of police evidence and improve the behaviour of both police and citizens.

The Western Australian Police Force is responsible for policing the 2.5 million square kilometres of this area, which has more than 150 police stations in eight metropolitan and seven regional districts. The programme implemented, as reported by the National Institute of Justice in the United States, ran for a period of 6 months from the beginning of 2022, and consisted of equipping all police officers working on the street with body-worn cameras. The result was more than 1.4 million uploads of evidence of the use of the video cameras. The programme, which relied on the deployment of this enhanced camera technology, was able to transmit live video images to command centres and staff members.

There were no statistically significant differences in restraining orders issued or assaults on police between police camera treatment days and control days (when no officer wore cameras). Treatment days had statistically significant rates of use of force, citizen complaints against police, and criminal charges compared to control days.

The review of this study focused on the collection of evidence and results of police-public behaviour. Outcome data were obtained from numerous operational data sets. A No Effects rating implies that programme implementation is unlikely to yield the intended results and may result in negative outcomes, as was the case.

There was no statistically significant difference between the mean duration of an audio recording of an interview on body-worn video treatment days compared to control days when cameras were not used. Nor were there any in the following cases: rate of assaults on police, criminal code violation notices or in rates of restraining orders issued by police.

Force use rates were higher on body-worn camera treatment days compared to control days. There was one use-of-force incident per 1,000 computer-aided dispatch jobs on treatment days and 0.7 incidences per 1,000 computer-aided dispatch jobs on control days. This difference was statistically significant and in the opposite direction to that expected.

Citizen complaints against the police were more frequent on camera treatment days compared to control days. There were 0.7 complaints per 1,000 computer-aided dispatch jobs on treatment days and 0.4 complaints per 1,000 computer-aided dispatch jobs on control days. This difference was statistically significant and in the opposite direction to that expected.

Criminal charge rates were higher on body-worn camera treatment days compared to control days. There were 139.2 criminal charges per 1,000 computer-aided dispatch jobs on treatment days versus 125.5 criminal charges per 1,000 computer-aided dispatch jobs on control days. This difference was statistically significant.


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How organised crime infiltrates Europe’s ports

In early April this year, Europol published a joint analysis report with the Security Steering Committee of the ports of Antwerp, Hamburg/Bremerhaven and Rotterdam that analyses the risks and challenges for police posed by criminal networks in European Union ports.

Criminal networks, driven by the constant desire to increase profits and the expansion of their illegal activities, increasingly work towards infiltration and control of the main logistical points. Therefore, EU ports are a clear example of these large centres. Among the main current characteristics of these logistics points are the following:

  • The use of embezzled container reference codes (or so-called ‘PIN code fraud’) is gaining traction among criminal networks as a modus operandi to extract illicit goods from ports.
  • Criminal networks organise port infiltration by coordinating local networks of corrupted insiders.
  • As a side effect of criminal operations in the ports and the rivalry that goes with it, violence often occurs from the main transportation hubs to the streets of the surrounding cities, where competition for distribution takes place.

The main recommendations offered by the report are:

  • Further improve the exchange of international information on the activities of criminal networks in ports with Europol and between EU Member States.
  • Pay continuous attention to the integration of safety elements in the design of port infrastructure.
  • Implement public partnerships to involve all essential port stakeholders to address the infiltration of criminal networks in EU ports.

EU seaports handle some 90 million containers each year, but authorities can only inspect between 2% and 10%. Meanwhile, it is estimated that at least 200 tons of cocaine have been trafficked through the ports of Antwerp and Rotterdam alone in recent years. This logistical obstacle represents a challenge for law enforcement and an opportunity for criminal networks that need access to logistical centres to facilitate their criminal activities. As a result, these networks have infiltrated ports on all continents.

Europe’s three largest ports, namely Antwerp, Rotterdam and Hamburg, are among those that suffer most from criminal infiltration. The main way in which criminals do this is by corrupting shipping company personnel, port workers, importers, transport companies and representatives of national authorities, among other actors, whose actions are necessary to ensure the entry of illegal shipments. However, this approach requires the corruption of a large number of accomplices.

To focus their efforts and minimise the risk of loss of goods, organised criminals are looking for a new modus operandi that requires the corruption of far fewer individuals. Europol’s analysis report on criminal networks in EU ports analyses one specific technique, which exploits embezzled container reference codes. This requires the corruption of a single individual, along with Trojan horse-style corruption or infiltration of the extraction teams, who are then paid between 7 and 15% of the value of the illegal shipment.


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