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Law Enforcement in Brazil

Since Brazil is a country that operates on civil law, the constitution dictates how the law enforcement institutions will be managed. Under civil law, the constitution is the last word on many legal proceedings. Brazilian law enforcement institutions are separated into federal and state authorities, but all police institutions are part of the executive branch of law. The police forces are separated as follows:

Federal Institutions

  • Federal Police: As described by the constitution, the federal police force is permanent and its role is to investigate any crimes against the federal government, combat drug trafficking, prevent terrorism and enforce immigration laws by controlling the border.
  • Federal Highway Police: This police force patrols the highways at a federal level. It takes action immediately, but it does not participate in any type of investigation.
  • Federal Railway Police: Much like the highway police, the railway police are supposed to maintain order on the rail system without investigating crime.

State Institutions

  • State Military Police and Fire Brigade: While not part of the Brazilian armed forces, this institution is military in that it is based on hierarchy and rank. This unit patrols the streets of Brazil at a state level and imprisons criminals, handing them over to civil or federal police custody. The same is valid for the fire brigade, but it deals with fire emergences. People looking to become part of the military police force must be at least 18 years old and excel in written, physical, and psychological tests. They must also have at least graduated from high school.
  • Civil Police: This force does not wear uniforms or patrol the streets. They simply investigate crimes which violate Brazilian law and hand over their findings to the state. Police chiefs in the civil forces are required to possess a law degree and have practiced law for at least three years.

There are two distinct functions of the Brazilian police force. Some institutions enforce the law, while others are set in place to investigate crimes. Furthermore, there is a difference between law enforcement and maintaining order in the Brazilian system. Maintaining order in the Brazilian system is supposed to prevent crime, while law enforcement is meant to investigate and deal with the crime once it has already been committed.

Understanding the System

For anyone looking to travel to Brazil, even as a short and leisurely vacation, it could be helpful to understand how the law enforcement system works. If you are mistakenly arrested by the military police, it will be difficult to communicate your case if you do not know who to speak with. Having a general understanding of any country’s law enforcement system before visiting it can be helpful. For those looking to spend more time in Brazil by buying a house or starting a business, not knowing how the law enforcement system works could be dangerous.

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