Rio de Janeiro's BOPE Elite Squad is the special forces branch of the Brazilian military police, trained to fight drug traffickers (trafficantes) and eradicate gangs from the slums (favelas) surrounding the city.
The acronym BOPE (pronounced baw-pea), stands for "Batalhão de Operações Policiais Especiais" (Special Police Operations Battalion). This special forces BOPE Elite Squad was formed in the early 1980s to support military police combat operations, suppress prison riots, and hunt down (and kill if needed) drug traffickers and gang leaders. Most of the favelas and drug gangs are located far from the tourist areas of Ipanema and Copacabana Beach.
As the Rio de Janeiro city and state government embarks on its mission to "pacify" and bring law and order to the favelas, the members of the BOPE Elite Squad are often asked to spearhead these high risk operations.
The Rio de Janeiro police department has a long history of corruption, mismanagement, and violence against citizens, due in part to its poorly trained and underpaid officers. BOPE has the reputation of recruiting and training the best and most honest police officers in the department, and as a result, has raised the stature and integrity of the police department.
The elite squads are not without critics and have been accused of exercising heavy handed military style tactics to achieve their goal of ridding the favelas of the drug gangs. These squads really mean business and team members often "shoot to kill" as a method of getting results. The BOPE skull/dagger/pistols insignia is meant to send a clear message to their mortal enemy, the notorious 'Red Command' gang.
The weapon of choice for BOPE police officers is the M16 (as seen in the photo immediately below), the Belgian made Fusil Automatique Léger (Light Automatic Rifle)or FAL, and the PSG1 sniper rifle. The squads are trained to wage urban warfare in the narrow, steep streets and alleyways of some of Rio's most dangerous drug infested favelas. Elite Squad officers often enter favelas to carry out drug raids riding in armored vehicles known as "Caveirãos" (Big Skulls).
BOPE was made famous in the 2008 critically acclaimed Brazilian film "Tropa de Elite" (Elite Squad), which brought to light their operations and tactics. "Tropa de Elite" has become the most popular Brazilian film in history and has generated debate on both sides of the crime and poverty issue. A sequel to the first film hit the theaters in late 2010 and was reported to be the largest box office draw of all time in Brazil.
In November 2010, drug traffickers from the Complexo do Alemão (German Complex) and Vila Cruzeiro (Village of the Cross) favelas ordered buses and cars burned in various parts of Rio de Janeiro. These criminal actions were believed to be a warning to the police not to "pacify" this large complex of hillside slums in the northern zone of the city.
The Governor of Rio de Janeiro state signed an executive order allowing the use of military personnel, and most importantly, tanks and fighting vehicles to storm through drug gang's street barricades. This cooperative action between Federal, State, and local law enforcement resulted in less bullets fired and few ordinary citizens getting caught in the crossfire. Within a few hours after receiving the order to enter, the BOPE Elite Squads, supported by the Brazilian Military, seized control of the Complexo do Alemão. Officers killed or captured many drug gang members and seized enormous caches of drugs and weapons.
The ordinary citizens of the favelas are, by-and-large, happy to see the military police takeover of their neighborhoods, however, allegations of police abuse are inevitable. Once a police presence is established in a favela, significant efforts are made to raise the quality of life for the poor residents of Rio. The Rio de Janeiro city and state government then work to bring social services and other improvements to citizens of the favelas.
During the extraordinary events of November 2010, the BOPE squads and other tactical military police teams were out in full force.Below, courtesy of OGlobo.com, we share several images of these officers and their operations to seize control of the Vila Cruzeiro and Complexo do Alemão Favelas.
A Brazilian SWAT Team prepares to storm into an area of
the Favela Vila Cruzeiro. Officer in foreground carries a Fusil Automatique Léger (Light Automatic Rifle)
Elite Squad officers arrest a drug trafficker. You couldn't cast better characters in a film. These guys are tough as nails!
BOPE Elite Squad officers provide "cover" for one another as they climb into the back of a tank.
A Military Police (PM) officer walks past a burning vehicle to enter a dangerous area of a favela Vila Cruzeiro. He's an ordinary cop and not even a BOPE Elite Squad officer!
Military Police (PM) Officers seize large quantities of cocaine during the November 2010 pacification of the Complexo do Alemão Favela in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The officer in the green uniform is from the Tijuca Forestry Service.
An Elite Squad officer, armed with a Fusil Automatique Léger (Light Automatic Rifle), waits in front of a funeral home in the favela Vila Cruzeiro. Drug traffickers are welcome here...
Life goes on for a family in the Complexo do Alemão, while a cop wishes to remain anonymous.
Life is hard in the favela. A mother and child move out of the way as a Caveirãos (Big Skull) armored vehicle passes by. Note the bullet hole in the windshield. Drug traffickers live in fear of what's inside the Caveirãos. Ordinary citizens are not fond of these intimidating vehicles either.
Elite Squad: The Enemy Within Official Film Trailer
Watch short video of the street level action of the BOPE Elite Squad in Rio de Janeiro