Brazil has turned its big time crime problem into prime time television.
Taking the lead expertly from the USA, cameras chase Brazil’s machine-gun carrying police as they swerve and run through dingy streets capturing criminals.
Hours-long news programs dedicated to reporting on crime across the country dominate primetime viewing. And it’s not car hoons and out-of-control teenage house parties.
High quality footage of robberies and shootings is regularly captured through the sea of security cameras dotting the country.
Yesterday at the check in of Porto Alegre Airport baby-faced 18-year-old Marlon Roldão Soares was shot to death in front of his devastated father and friends by a pair of waiting assassins on the morning of his birthday.
Even by Brazilian standards this shocked me. The security footage of his execution was in the hands of the media that night showing the incredibly fluid way the country's crime investigators and media interact - watch below.
Over 50,000 murders are committed annually in Brazil, the world’s second largest cocaine consumer market after America, largely from gang violence centred around drug trafficking.
It has 21 of the world’s 50 murder capitals outside of war zones (none in the top 10 however). Rio and Sao Paulo’s rates weren’t high enough to get on the list giving you an idea of the issues plaguing the country’s north eastern cities like Fortaleza and Salvador.
Surprisingly, two of Brazil's highest-standard-of-living cities, aforementioned Porto Alegre and Curitiba in the country's more affluent south, came in at 43 and 44. It goes to show that in Brazil no large city is really safe.
The Homicide Monitor listed guns being responsible for seven out of 10 killings with males making up 92% of the victims, over half aged between 15 and 29. In other words more than 20,000 boys and men do not make their 30th birthday every year.
Police news programs like ‘Brasil Urgente’ (Urgent Brazil) and ‘Cidade Alerta’ (Alert City) have reporters and choppers in cities across the country chasing crime and tragedy.
Serious-looking host of the former show José Luiz Datena (pictured) will thunder monologues to the camera admonishing criminals and lamenting victims as he strolls around the newsroom.
The show’s description translates to something like: “Datena is not short on words, he speaks freely and points out social problems, injustice and negligence of authorities without fear. Watch the tireless defender of citizens.”
Something that would be a big news story in Australia will just be a short piece midway through the program. While seeing a machine gun on the news in Sydney stands out, here it is a part of life.
Last week I genuinely didn’t know if gunfire and explosions coming from my housemate’s room were from him playing Doom or the news. Turns out it was just the news showing a shoot out between drug traffickers and police in Rio.
The city really is a crime reporter’s paradise, but the never-ending amount of stories hitting their desk is hell for many of its citizens.
The exploits of police are broadcast in reality programs on one channel or another everyday. ‘Polícia 24h’ (24h Police) and Operação Policial (Police Operation) cover the Military Police - the country’s uniformed street cops.
They make Australian police programs look like Play School but that is the reality of life in parts of cities in Brazil and the media exposes it.
It’s either become entertainment or a regular reminder for Brazilians of the mountain still to climb in overcoming crime and poverty. The truth is that it’s probably a bit of both.
Crime can be fascinating to watch, so long as it’s through a television screen.