Territories of Exception

Violation of rights and the use of police helicopters in Rio de Janeiro.

In Rio de Janeiro, a gunshot may come from heaven. The State police forces have intensified the use of helicopters as a shooting platform during operations in densely populated areas, leaving a trail of terror and violation of rights in the last few years. Grounded on an investigation that started in 2018, we collected and produced evidence on the use of police airships in the state's capital city, with special attention to the Complexo da Maré area.

Using data science, previously unpublished governmental data, field investigation and forensic architecture techniques, we have identified patterns in the use of this warlike apparatus in the city between the years of 2018 and 2019. Where are the gunshots fired? What is the dynamic of this kind of police operation? What are the impacts on the population's  fundamental rights, on the communities involved and on people's lives? In this investigation, we seek to answers such questions.

Brazilian police is globally notorious for its lethality and the Rio de Janeiro's police forces stand out in Brazil for the same reason. In 2018, there were 1,534 deaths as a consequence of the investigation of State agents. In 2019, new records: 1,814 deaths in the course of a year - 5 people a day, on average. Of such victims, 78% were young black people.


In a context of increasing police violence, there has been an intensification in the use of helicopters in police operations in the city of Rio de Janeiro. Besides increasing panic during operations, the gunshots fired from helicopters impose high risk for the dwellers on the ground in such territories, generally densely populated.

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We have identified 415 police operations with the deployment of airships in Rio de Janeiro, most of them over favelas, in the years of 2018 and 2019. In 60 cases we found indications of gunshots being fired from helicopters. On the map, the places with the highest occurrences are indicated. The area highlighted with a big circle on the right covers the Complexo da Maré area, the site with the highest number of cases.

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Maré is a place with the highest number of identified records of police operations and shooting from airships. Complexo da Maré brings together 16 communities and enjoys intense social life, with 139 thousand dwellers living inside a territory of about 5 km².

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Maré is sited on a strategic location within the city. Besides edging of Guanabara Bay, the city's main road trunk lines are found there. The region is, further, placed on the preferential route for those coming into the city via the international airport seeking access to the city centre, the South Side or the West Side.

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In total, Maré boasts over 3 thousand commercial establishments and several other facilities. On the map, part of the many schools, cultural organisations, health clinics, leisure spaces, squares, sports courts and churches is indicated. Their busy routine is often hit by violent police operations. One of the most lethal took place on the June 20 2018.

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June 20, 2018

One operation, many impacts

In 2018, the State of Rio de Janeiro was under military intervention, with public security forces under the command of the Armed Forces. On June 20, an operation by the Civil Police and the Army was carried out in Complexo da Maré. Officially, the aim was to make 23 arrests and check info provided by the intelligence sector.

Over 100 policemen and military personnel, four armoured vehicles and two helicopters were mobilised. No one was arrested, but seven people were killed. Among them, Marcus Vinícius da Silva, a 14-year-old teenager who was wearing his school uniform when he was shot. The names of the other youngsters killed in the same action are Levi, Kelvin Duarte, Francisco Felipe, Paulo Henrique, Igor Barbosa and another unidentified person.

In the morning of June 20 2018, helicopters shot rounds close to schools and streets that are usually very busy during the day. On the map, we see evidence collected by Redes da Maré on the day of the operation, in a community known as Conjunto Salsa e Merengue.

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The yellow dots indicate the sites of the schools, while the red dot represents the approximate place where the photographs were taken. The pictures show the impact of the gunshots on the ground with the school in the background.

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On the day, the Redes da Maré's team recorded dozens of gunshot marks on the ground, rendering evident that the rounds fired from helicopters took the form of bursts.

[{"layer":"mapbox-satellite"}, {"layer":"tiros-200818","filter_key":"Name","filter_comparison":"==","filter_value":"rajada3"}]

Videos recorded by dwellers on June 20 show the helicopter flying over Maré in circles. This is a pattern common to other operations, in which the airship circles the target on the ground, shooting down in order to corner it whilst terrestrial forces close in.

Analysing images of the operation, it was possible to make an estimate of the helicopter's height. In the photograph, it is approximately at 35 meters from the ground, as high as the eleventh floor of a building.

Helicopter height calculation is approximate.

In the following video, we will see images of Maré from this perspective. We partially reconstruct the helicopter's trajectory, where you can see signs of its siege movement. The dot on the map shows the approximate location where six youths were executed by ground police forces on 20 June.

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The tragedy of June 20 is related to another death, which took place days before in a favela close to Complexo da Maré. On June 12 2018, civil policeman Ellery de Ramos Lemos, investigations chief of the Drug Enforcement Department (Delegacia de Combate às Drogas), was executed in Acari. Two days later, a Chief of Police went on television to announce a "hunt" of those responsible. 

According to the police, the operation aimed at arresting the suspects for the murder of Ellery. But indications point at an operational pattern that usually takes place after the death of police officers, not aiming at arresting criminals at all. Such operations are often the stage of extreme violence, lethality and rights' violations. Such violent operations after the death of police officers are so frequent that they have a specific name: they are known as "operation vengeance".

The use of helicopters as a shooting platform is one of the features of the extreme use of force present in this kind of operation.  We have identified at least nine cases In the years of 2018 and 2019 where helicopters were used as a shooting platform in residential areas during police actions with evident characteristics of a "vengeance operation".

Among the victims of June 20 was Marcus Vinicius, a boy who was wearing his school uniform and backpack when he was shot. After taking cover from the rounds fired from the helicopter, he was able to tell the medic team that aided him that he had been hit by a Civil Police armoured car. The case makes explicit public security forces' modus operandi based on extermination. The perforated school uniform became a symbol of this violence against against favela dwellers and sparked many reactions, but to date the investigations into his death have not been concluded and his family carries on struggling for justice.

[{"layer":"mapbox-satellite"}, {"layer":"200618-execucoes","filter_key":"Name","filter_comparison":"==","filter_value":"Marcus Vincius"}]

The rounds fired from a helicopter during school hours on June 20 were not an isolated case. From a total of 84 operations carried out by the Civil Police between 2017 and 2019, with identified starting and finishing hours, 49 of those (58%) took place before noon, and 24 (29%) before 7 a.m., often coinciding with the period in which pupils are coming from or going to school. The favela has found a way to inscribe in the community's architecture the means to protect itself from the rounds fired from above. A clear symptom that this kind of violence has become routine is the board placed on the roof of Projeto Urerê, an educational organisation in Maré, after being hit by bullets fired from airships: "School. Do no shoot".

[{"layer":"mapbox-satellite"}, {"layer":"equipamentos","filter_key":"name","filter_comparison":"==","filter_value":"Projeto Uere"}]


Experiencing violent episodes leaves marks in memory. Violent and frequent police operations produce multiple traumas in the daily life of the city's favela dwellers, causing psychological and emotional harm. The presence of helicopters in operations strongly increases the horror, fear and traumatic charge on the population. 

We collected and analysed public posts in social networks, seeking to render visible the emotional and psychological impacts of police operations involving helicopters. The collection of data was made in profiles, pages and public groups. In a preliminary analysis of 17 thousand tweets containing words that hark back to operations with helicopters between 2018 and 2019, we noted that, beyond the constant references to rounds fired and to the helicopter itself, the posts often speak about topics such as houses, schools and children.

The same takes place with the posts and comments in Facebook public pages and groups, where fear and concern with families and with the children who are in school are also recurrent. A good part of such posts were made during the operation, expressing fear, revolt and concern.

During the June 20 2018 operation in Complexo da Maré, Coletivo Maré Vive made its first post at 6 a.m. in its Facebook page, greeting the favela.

A few hours later, a string of comments was added, with extra comments being posted for the rest of the day, relating from several perspectives the police operation that resulted in the death of the student Marcus Vinicius, 14 years old, and of six other youngsters, as we saw, besides other impacts narrated below.

Below we reproduce a few comments, respecting the order that they were posted. Added information is between brackets, in order to help the understanding of certain terms.

"Bullets flying everywhere in the community"

"Police in Pinheiro, helicopter shooting downwards a lot"

"A teenage boy was shot here in front of the Red Line he was wearing school uniform"

"Helicopter shot INTO the Ciep [school]. We have teachers and 600 children here, for God's sake!!!!"

"And always when our children are at school. Very sad this"

"They returned again shooting a lot in front of my house my son is 1 year old woke up screaming with a shot that hit the roof here at home"

"I am in São Paulo very concerned with my son who is in school close to the pontilhão na baixa [name of a place in Maré]"

"I'm just outside the Brizolão do Pinheiro [school], the children's screaming is driving me desperate..."

"The child who was shot is being seen to here in vila do João"

"My god, the caveirão [armoured airship] is firing a lot my god i live near the School the children playing in the court when they heard it there was a lot of screaming may God protect them. School of tomorrow"

"It is always like this, fuck whoever is down below! My son and the menino maluquinho crèche that has a tile roof like many houses here in maré! What protection is this they say is for society? how are these children right now in the middle of the shoot out? and how do we mothers who can't even go out of the home to try to get out children from school from this rain of bullets"

"I don't recommend going out... Here in b1 [one of Maré's main streets] much shooting still... Helicopter is merciless... Some mothers fetched their children in the Salsa school ... but it is still very dangerous"

"The ground at b1 is full of holes they shot down from above without a thought to any body s.o.b."

"Here in the buildings at Pinheiro they fly by shooting and the people screaming warning all to leave the streets and windows. Desperation, a family clinic everyone lying on the floor, children and the elderly."

"i was sleeping alongside my husband i am pregnant of 3 months it gave me a fright because when i saw them they were inside my room they asked to turn everything over my clothes the mattress everything is turned over still it was a big fright because I had never been through something like this"

"I am at school with the children lying on the floor"

"I just got an audio clip of a woman who is at the UPA [health clinic] and who said that a child shot in the belly came round, and that a moto-taxi, the "pigs" didn't let an ambulance arrive at the place to take the kid away"

"Very frightening to see the bullet holes on the ground! I went out to fetch my sister at the crèche and I was very nervous to the see bullet marks, they were not aimed at the spot where they sell drugs. It was right in the middle of the street! May God protect us and comfort the victim's families, so painful all this stuff. They are killing us every day".

The terror caused by the gunshots coming from above, by the noise and by the low flying helicopters are frequent in the posts. Besides flying very low and close to the houses, the helicopter known as "Flying Big Skull", "Eagle" or "Big Toad" makes intense and disturbing noise, as it became tragically iconic in the film Apocalypse Now, by Francis Ford Coppola.

We noticed, in the analysis of Twitter posts, that countless references to the helicopter's noise are associated to waking up and to sleep.

"Good morning residents, time to wake up!". Public post by a police officer involved in helicopter operations in Rio de Janeiro.

A few examples, among hundreds of messages. In the posts below, we chose not to unveil the identities of those who posted messages in their personal profiles.

- Hell of a city where you wake up with a helicopter flying low and shooting! Congratulations to all involved! The genocidal governor is really putting on a show.

- The worst way of waking up is with a helicopter flying over and firing rounds in front of your window. As I woke up I threw myself down on the floor, because it would not be difficult for it to hit me.

- At 5:40 a.m., I woke up with the flying skull and, since then, we have gunshots, chopper, BOPE [a police unit], Choque [police shock unit], soldiers with rifles in hand in the street in front of the armoured car and jeeps with military men [...] Just the helicopter burns enough fuel to pay one teacher's wages.

- Good morning to those who sleep and wake up peacefully. Because, for us who wake to the noise of the eagle, flying skull and gunshots, THERE IS NO GOOD MORNING!

- Today I woke up with the noise of the police eagle. It seemed it was falling down over my house. Now, with gunshot sounds. Hard. 

- Indeed a privilege to live in a favela and be woken up by helicopter and gunshots. 

- A poor man's alarm clock is a gunshot from the helicopter shaking everything around😴

- A cellphone alarm clock is for the weak. The strong wake up one hour before with gunshots and the helicopter's noise.

- I was dreaming and I had asked things in the dream. When the person was about to answer, several rounds were fired, the helicopter and I did not get an answer. Rio de Janeiro remains beautiful.

- I was dreaming the police was entering my home. And then I woke up to the eagle's noise. I can't believe it 😟

- I have just a dream with helicopter and gunshots. Then I wake up to these strange rounds being fired. 

- I had a dream where I was hit by gunshots from the police helicopter and I woke up paralysed, full of pain where I had been shot.

The State's police force, exerted without respect for the dwellers' rights, transforms the favela into a territory of exception. Reports show the psychological and emotional impacts generated by this condition of living in a place devoid of a haven, one that can be violated and violently invaded at any moment. The neighbourhood and the street, but also the school and the home itself are rendered vulnerable. Even what should be more intimate and restoring personal experiences, such as sleep and dreaming, are hit by the fear and horror that cuts across slumber. The psychological violence of this condition is expressed in the reports where the dwellers narrate how blurred are the very borders between sleep and slumber, between dream (or nightmare) and reality.

We highlighted a few posts from the social media.

- Today at 6 a.m. there was a lot of shooting and out of nowhere a helicopter appeared. I thought I was dreaming but it was for real. I paralysed with fear when I heard the helicopter above my house. 

- The helicopter is flying very low... at that time I would normally be sleeping tight. I was even thinking that the gunshots were in my dream.

- I was dreaming I was on the helicopter. I woke up when the shots were fired, then I saw it was nothing of the sort.

- I was dreaming that there had been a robbery near my school and I woke up with the gunshots and the helicopter. Another day in Rio de Janeiro.

- I dreamt I was in a shoot-out. I was woken up by the sound of gunshots and a helicopter flying above.

- I was really dreaming of war and gunshots... then this helicopter flies by, I thought it as part of my dream... now I can't sleep.

The interruption and intrusion of sleep and dreaming by daily State violence converts the restoring and liberating capacity of the dream into a nightmare without a truce, terribly similar to daily reality. It is important to remember that to interrupt sleep and dreaming means to interrupt the essential functions of the restoration of both the organism and psychism, involving the elaboration of traumatic memories and events, fundamental for physical and mental health.


Where do police aircraft fly in Rio de Janeiro?

The information about the use of helicopters in police operations is not public. But, by means of the records obtained with the Access to Information Law (Lei de Acesso à Informação - LAI), the analysis of material published in the Press, data collected by social organisations and data scraping from social networks, it was possible to gather data about the use of the airships.

In April 2019, we requested the Civil Police and the Military Police for the list of operations against drug trafficking activity carried out between the years of 2018 and 2019 that were supported by helicopters. The Civil Police's response came in June, with an incomplete PDF document. In this sixteen-page volume with numbered pages, page 15 was missing, which apparently covered the data regarding the period between November 2018 and March 2019. 

We placed another request asking for the data on the missing page and while it was being processed, on August 9 2019, the State Government published a resolution that placed the manual detailing the way in which helicopters may be used in operation under a fifteen-year secrecy period. Even if unrelated to the request in question, this fact was quoted among the justifications for subsequent refusals by the Civil Police to furnish information.

In reaction to LAI requests carried out by this research, the State government classified as secret the basic data regarding Civil Police operations carried out with a helicopter until November 2024.

All of this demonstrates that, despite having legal mechanisms for the access to information, when it comes to data regarding more specific actions of the security forces, decision makers may not only arbitrarily deny data, but also render all processes more opaque, even if such information is of public interest.

Curiously, however, in July 2020, the Military Police answered the requests for access to information registered in August 2019. Such data were incorporated into the research, which resorted to surveys from other sources in order to fill the gaps in the official information.

Based on the collected data, we identified 415 occasions when the Civil Police or Military Police helicopters were deployed between 2018 and 2019. Complexo da Maré is the neighbourhood with the most records (35), followed by Cidade de Deus (32).

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The use of airships does not take place homogeneously. It is concentrated in a few of the city's neighbourhoods. On the map, one can see that the areas where most cases are recorded are sited in the North and West side of the city.

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On the use of police helicopters in Rio de Janeiro

The use of helicopters in the Civil Police harks back to the 1970's. In the Military Police, however, it is more recent, starting from 2008. Together, the two forces concentrate most of the State's airship fleet.

In 2016, Rio de Janeiro's government owned a total of 21 airships and most of them were used by the State security forces. According to a report by O Globo newspaper, "nine belong to the Military Police, three to the Civil police, four to the Chief of Staff (Casa Civil), four to the Fire Brigade and one to the Health State Secretary".

According to the police inspector and former Chief of Staff of the Public Security National Secretary of the Ministry of Justice, Marcello Barros, in an article published in a specialised site, the Bell Huey helicopter - today in operation in the skies of Rio de Janeiro and known as the Flying Big Skull (Caveirão Aéreo) - was built in 1967. It was initially bought by the American army, having been deployed in the Vietnam War between 1968 and 1971, accumulating over 2 thousand flight hours. Decades later, the airship was modernised and today is under the command of the Civil Police, with the prefix PR-FEC.

Risk for police officers

Presently, Rio de Janeiro's both Civil and Military Polices have a Bell Huey helicopter. The Civil Police purchased this model in November 2008 for R$ 8 million, in response to the death of police officer Eduardo Mattos, who was aboard a Civil Police helicopter and died as he was hit in the head during an operation in Morro do Adeus.

As it is clear, although the helicopters are deemed an "unbeatable" tool, its use can also put the crew at risk. Accidents are not rare, some taking place outside confrontations. In the last decades, at least eight police officers died as a consequence of police helicopter falls in Rio de Janeiro.

A case that became emblematic, took place in October 17 2009, when, for the first time, a Military Police helicopter was taken down, while it flew over Morro de São João, in Engenho Novo, North Side of the city. Three agents lost their lives: Marcos Stadler Macedo, Edney Canazaro de Oliveira and corporal Izo Gomes Patrício.

In 2013, a Civil police helicopter fell down in Zona Portuária during a routine training session and five police officers were injured. In 2016, there was a second fall of a Military Police Esquilo helicopter during an operation in Cidade de Deus, in the West Side of the city. The maintenance payments for the helicopter had been in arrears for over a year, and in the accident four police officers died. Finally, in 14 January 2019, the third fall of an Esquilo took place in Guanabara Bay, causing the death of the pilot.

Security mechanism ignored

In an interview to a specialised magazine in February 2016, Civil Police marksmen admitted not using stabilisation mechanisms when shooting with certain type of weapons on board of airships.

The mechanism in question is a bungee cord that ties the weapon to the airship, thus stabilising the shots fired and reducing collateral damage to the official aims of the operation.

We reproduce below the excerpt on page 39 of Warriors magazine, with our added bold, about the non-use of the bungee cord by the Rio de Janeiro Civil Police in the Flying Skull:

"Based on the observation of the modus operandi of other foreign units, the question about the use or not of the bungee cord to stabilise weapons was put. The marksmen answered that they only use this system for heavier weapons of the FAP-IMBEL type. The other lighter weapons such as the Armalite AR10 and IMBEL M964, two types of rifle, are used freely without any support or fixing system, because the shooters on board need mobility and it might be necessary, for whatever reason, to quickly change sides on the helicopter and the fixing of the weapon to a system would hinder and/or delay this manoeuvre, as the targets on the ground move quickly and unpredictably, and the marksman needs to be flexible and enjoy physical availability, as well as the weapon itself".


The political and electoral use of police aircraft

The "Flying Skull" is already part of of Rio population's imaginary, especially among favela dwellers. This warlike apparatus, together with the terrestrial "big skull" (caveirões) vehicles, is part of a demonstration of force by the government's apparatus, which gained further attention in the context of president Bolsonaro's election, with his agenda for the easing of restrictions in the use of fire arms. But, even before that, the official helicopters served as a political platforms for policemen. 

Commander Adonis became known when the images of an operation under his responsibility in Favela da Coreia were published in 2012. The event became known as "Hunting the Mathematician", so named because of the alias of one the state's most wanted drug lords at the time. The footage of the helicopters firing aimlessly into a densely populated area, without adequate visibility, led to his removal from the post of Commander.

The fact did not remove Adonis from the public eye, though. On the contrary. In 2014, he put himself forward as a candidate for the Federal Congress with the Social Democratic Party (PSD), and during the campaign he used a miniature official helicopter as a symbol for his candidacy in electoral motorcades. With 4,353 votes, the commander was not elected.

More recently, in 2018, the then gubernatorial candidate Wilson Witzel, whose slogans were "put an end to corruption" and "shoot in the head" of criminals. In the first year of his administration, in 2019, he participated in a Civil Police operation in Angra dos Reis, which made use of helicopters. With the governor onboard the airship, police officers sought out drug traffickers in a knot of jungle. They found nothing, but, during the operation, they shot at a small tent set up by an evangelical church.

Former Governor Wilson Witzel in helicopter during a police operation.


The gunshots fired from helicopters, as stated above, do not take place in the same manner throughout the state, as is the case with police lethality. None of the 881 killings by police officers in self-defence (autos de resistência) that were recorded in the first semester of 2019 in the State of Rio de Janeiro took place in areas dominated by paramilitary forces.

In 2019, Rio de Janeiro broke the record of deaths caused by police officers since the beginning of the official score in 1998.

The use of the helicopters is linked to a wider context of conflicts and confrontation involving territorial disputes between police forces and armed groups in the city of Rio de Janeiro. Specialised in covering this type of conflict in the city, channel Pista News carried out a mapping of the territories controlled by factions.

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On the left side of the map, the paramilitary militias' wide territorial power in the city's West Side is indicated. On the right of the map, where the South Side, city centre and North Side of Rio de Janeiro are found, one observes the several territories controlled by Comando Vermelho (CV), the paramilitary militia's main rival today. By overlapping the map carried out by Pista News and data produced by Fogo Cruzado, it was possible to notice that the shoot-outs with the presence of security officers (not necessarily with the use of helicopters) also feature a specific pattern.

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Most of the shoot-outs with the presence of official agents take place in areas dominated by Comando Vermelho (CV). The circles' sizes represent the amount of shoot-outs with the presence of official agents in the course of 2018 and 2019, according to Fogo Cruzado. The coloured areas represent the regions dominated by factions, according to Pista News.

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On average, between 2018 and 2019, 23 shoot-outs with the presence of official agents per square kilometre were identified in CV areas. In comparison, in militia areas this rate was of 0,5 per square kilometre. In other words, despite the paramilitary militias enjoying a much greater territorial domain, official agents are in confrontations flaring mainly in regions controlled by the Comando Vermelho.

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Cidade de Deus is sited in the West Side of the city and is the second neighbourhood with the highest records of helicopter use during operations.

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In this area, we have identified 32 cases of police actions with the use of helicopters in the years of 2018 and 2019, and in 7 of those there are indications of its use as a shooting platform. On August 20 2019, a police helicopter threw an anti-riot bomb down on a residential area, according to denunciations and videos recorded by dwellers in social networks and later widely reposted in the press.

[{"layer":"rotulos-bairros"}, {"layer":"op-policial"}, {"layer":"faccoes"}, {"layer":"mapbox-satellite"}]


In 2016, after the a police operation in Maré was carried out over 12 hours and with many violation of human rights, representatives of the Dwellers' Association, local organisations and the Public Defender (Defensoria Pública) placed a Public Civil Suit (Ação Civil Pública - ACP) in order to secure the dwellers' life and basic rights during actions by security forces in Maré. On that night, the judge issued an injunction determining the end of the operation and banning the carrying out of police operations during the night shift;

Grounded on that injunction, the Public Defender issued a wider order. Thanks to it, in July 2017, a decision by the judge of the Public Treasury (6ª Vara da Fazenda Pública) requested the State Security Secretary (Seseg) for a risk and damage reduction plan for tackling the violations of human rights resulting from police interventions in Maré.

The Public Defender intended the measure as a "pilot project" to be expanded at a later date. But in February 2018, the federal intervention in Rio de Janeiro's public security was decreed and this lasted until the end of that year and hindered the advance of the plan, but it did not cancel what had been sanctioned by the ACP.

After Marcos Vinícius's death, in June 2018 in Maré, the Public Defender asked the Judiciary for a ban in the use of helicopters in police operations. Public Defender Daniel Lozoya, of the Human Rights Defence Public Defender Caucus (Nudedh), described the context of the petition thus: "This situation of a helicopter aimlessly shooting firearms into densely populated urban areas while it moves at high speed is absurdly reckless, there is no record of anything like that going on in the world. The probability of hitting innocents is huge, besides the psychological terror that it causes in the dwellers plus the interruption of activities in communities and material damage". The request was turned down.

Only in October 2018, due to another judicial decision in the context of the Public Civil Injunction, the defunct State Government Security Secretary issued a norm with action protocols. Among the established norms, was the ban on gunshots fired from helicopters in the form of bursts. The Public Civil Injunction also established action protocols for terrestrial forces, such as:

  1. military personnel must be identified and not enter dwellers' homes without a judicial warrant; 

  2. operations cannot take place during entering and leaving school hours;  

  3. operations should be accompanied by an ambulance; 

  4. and last, but not least, the Public Security State Secretary should elaborate, with the collaboration of civil society's specialists and organisations, a plan for the reduction of damage.  

In October of 2018 the Public Security State Secretary elaborated a Normative Instruction that established the guidelines for the use of airships, emphasising its chief use for "the support and backup of operations" in the following circumstances:

"I- for the use of the aerial imaging system aiming at furnishing details about the operational situation in real time by means of radio and image, aiming at identifying in advance the characteristics of those involved and the suspects, during the operation;

II- transport of specialised team; 

III - rescue 

IV - in support to the terrestrial teams, aiming to secure its safety during the operation;"

Article 7 deals with shooting from airships. The chapters of the article that renders more evident the way in which the military can operate are described below:

 "II - that the deployment of firearms on board an airship only be used when strictly necessary for the legitimate defence of the crew, the terrestrial teams and the civil population; (...)

IV - in case of the deployment of firearms on board, only long weapons can be used, and with a calibre that respects the technical norms of regulating organs;

V- while firing a weapon, the crew inside the airship must secure that they are fired intermittently, observing the minimum number of gunshots to hit the aimed target."

In 2019, the Judiciary suspended the Public Civil Suit that established protocols for the action of police forces in Maré. After this and other episode of State violence in the Complexo da Maré area, the organisation Redes da Maré carried out an action to render visible the terror experienced by dwellers and workers living in the community. More than one thousand letters written by Maré's dwellers and workers were delivered to the Rio de Janeiro Justice Tribunal (TJ-RJ). In them, the dwellers, among them many children, related by means of drawings and text the horrors and the violations taking place as a consequence of police operations. These testimonials were annexed to the process and they served as a ground to demand the re-establishment of minimum protocols for police actions in the area, gained with the Public Civil Suit.

Drawings made by children who live in Maré, in collective letters to the Judiciary system, asking for the interruption in the use of airships.

Letter written by one of the children and collected by Redes da Maré.


Check out the project's repository - Github - in order to access the data and codes used:

Data sources

Agência Nacional de Aviação Civil (ANAC)


Fogo Cruzado

Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística

Núcleo de Defesa dos Direitos Humanos da Defensoria Pública do Estado do Rio de Janeiro

Observatório da Intervenção

Pista News

Polícia Civil do Estado do Rio de Janeiro

Polícia Militar do Estado do Rio de Janeiro

Redes da Maré



This project was conceived in 2017 by MediaLab.UFRJ and Agência Autônoma as part of the investigative collaborations driven by data and methodologies of forensic architecture. The work relied on the support of Fundação de Amparo à Pesquisa do Estado do Rio de Janeiro (FAPERJ) and the Ford Foundation.

Carried out by MediaLab.UFRJ and Agência Autônoma, in partnership with Redes da Maré, Fogo Cruzado, Pista News, Witness e Rede LAVITS.

Coordination: Fernanda Bruno, Adriano Belisario e Paulo Tavares

Data analysis and visualisation: Adriano Belisario

Research assistant: Ingra Maciel e Debora Pio

Web developer: Marlus Araújo

[email protected]