Another report from the Brazilian Public Security Forum says the number of murders and other violent deaths in Brazil increased 7.1 percent in the first half of the year, despite lockdown measures to contain the coronavirus pandemic.
Armed militia groups are controlling more than half the area of Rio de Janeiro, installing a reign of terror in poor neighbourhoods that are home to nearly 2.2 million people, according to a study.
The criminal groups run extortion rackets and often act as de facto authorities in neighbourhoods that last year represented 57.5 percent of the surface area of Brazil's second largest city, said a report published on Monday by a consortium including two universities, online watchdog platforms and a government anti-crime hotline.
The groups have largely overpowered drug gangs as the main criminal organisations in the 41 neighbourhoods, home to 33 percent of the city's population, said the study.
A map produced by the consortium of armed groups shows the city – known for its picturesque beaches but also its violent crime – covered in blue dots representing militias across the west side of Rio, where the groups originated.
They are also present, with less density, on the city's north side, where drug gangs have traditionally held sway.
"The expansion of militia forces in Rio de Janeiro is striking given that they only began to organise in their current form in the 2000s," the study said.
By contrast, the city's biggest drug gangs, from which the militias often seize power, formed between the 1970s and 1990s, it said.
Militia members are largely former police officers or other security force members. They initially formed as neighbourhood watch groups to protect residents from drug gangs.
But they soon evolved into organised crime groups themselves, controlling sectors including internet service, cable TV, transportation and most recently construction.
Murders surge in Brazil despite pandemic
The number of murders and other violent deaths in Brazil increased 7.1 percent in the first half of the year, despite lockdown measures to contain the coronavirus pandemic, a report said.
"There were 25,712 violent deaths in the first half of 2020, equivalent to one person murdered every 10 minutes amid the Covid-19 pandemic, despite the stay-at-home measures implemented during this period," said the report from the Brazilian Public Security Forum.
"The figures broke a downward trend in violent crime that began in 2018," it said in its annual report on public security in the South American country, which has long struggled with high levels of violence.
The report's authors said it was too early to draw definitive conclusions on why homicides, deadly robberies and fatal police shootings increased even as the pandemic kept many Brazilians at home.
They said more study was needed on how criminal gangs were evolving amid the pandemic, including whether they were shipping more drugs overland in response to a reduction in air traffic – possibly leading to increased conflict around trafficking routes.
"At this point, it is still difficult to determine which trends are the effect of social distancing measures and which are not," they said.
In some cases, the pandemic may have led to under-reporting of violent crimes.
For example, femicides increased 1.9 percent during the period, but reports of assault and threats against women declined by 9.9 and 15.8 percent, respectively.
"That may reflect the difficulty some women faced to go to a police station or report abuse amid strict stay-at-home measures," the report said.
The rise in violent crime "may be being made worse by the relaxation of gun-control laws " under far-right President Jair Bolsonaro and "a permanent, war-like discourse" on crime, said Renato Sergio de Lima, the group's director.
Brazil has registered the second-highest number of Covid-19 deaths in the world, after the United States, with nearly 154,000.
It only partially implemented lockdown measures even at the height of the outbreak in July, as Bolsonaro clashed with state governors over stay-at-home measures that he argued were unnecessarily hurting the economy.