Bloomberg Línea — It has become common in recent months: videos showing criminals robbing upscale neighborhoods in capital cities in Brazil such as Sao Paulo going viral on WhatsApp groups.
Such incidents are confirmed by official statistics, not to mention cases that go unreported. Public security authorities in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro have reported an increase in incidents such as thefts and robberies in the early months of the year, particularly in neighborhoods like Jardins, Itaim Bibi, and Pinheiros in Sao Paulo, according to data from local police stations.
In the wake of rising crime rates, there is a growing private security market to meet the demand that the government is unable to address, at least not promptly. These solutions include electronic monitoring, specialized bodyguard services with training inspired by the Mossad, the Israeli government’s secret service, as well as armored vehicles for the protection of assets in high-income neighborhoods.
In the state of Sao Paulo, thefts increased by 3.8% between January and July, according to incident reports. This type of crime tends to be underreported, a problem that leaves room for questions and even revisions of the numbers.
Cellphone thefts increased by 10.4%, totaling more than 18,000 cases during that period, to name just one type of crime. Sidewalk Monitoring In higher-income neighborhoods in Sao Paulo, such as Itaim Bibi, Vila Olímpia, Vila Nova Conceição, Jardins, Higienópolis, Morumbi, and Brooklyn, electronic surveillance totems with cameras pointing towards the streets have proliferated on sidewalks and in luxury condominiums.
The operation of this equipment is part of the work of the startup CoSecurity, which belongs to the Haganá Group, one of the leading companies in the security and technological solutions market.
Through privately shared cameras with the City Cameras system, an integrated monitoring program in Sao Paulo, the project aims to deter criminal activities, extending surveillance to private property using tools like facial recognition, contactless biometrics, perimeter alarm monitoring, and apps for managing visits and deliveries.
In response to the realization that crime is reducing foot traffic in street stores, business owners are coming together to create “safe commercial corridors” in an effort to win back customers.
On Alameda Gabriel Monteiro da Silva, in the Jardins region of Sao Paulo, known for hosting luxury architecture and decoration brands, entrepreneurs came together to install over 100 CoSecurity security cameras to monitor the 3-kilometer stretch of the avenue.
“The proposal creates a protective barrier in the commercial corridor and aims to attract customers who feel insecure,” said Luciano Caruso, co-founder of CoSecurity, to Bloomberg Línea, revealing the existence of over 2,400 security towers in the city. In addition to Sao Paulo, the security service is “exported to cities in other states such as Rio de Janeiro, Paraná, and Santa Catarina.”
The cameras have artificial intelligence functionalities and alert the monitoring center if they detect unusual movements that deviate from the norms, such as a suspiciously parked vehicle on the sidewalk or a gathering. They are positioned in totems, illuminated by LEDs and equipped with a QR code for anyone to report an incident to the central office.
The startup prices the service based on the number of totems and cameras, with a monthly fee. There is also the implementation of security patrols in the area. In the Faria Lima region, the country’s financial center, there are about 50 cameras that record an average of four incidents per day, mainly cellphone thefts on sidewalks. The startup charges R$700 ($141) per month for the maintenance of each totem with three cameras.
They have more than 800 condominiums as clients. The system’s enrollment fee ranges from R$900 ($181) to R$1,000 ($201), depending on the totem model (there is a simpler one with two cameras).
In Jardins, the monitoring of images captured by the totems helped uncover and apprehend the so-called “Rolex gang,” a gang specializing in luxury watch robberies, two years ago when the system began to be deployed in the city, Caruso said. “In the city center, customers have reported a reduction in crime after the installation of the totems. Condo managers have access to the images. And there is a direct connection with law enforcement agencies,” he said.
Bodyguards for $800
The Gocil Group, another major player in the private security market, has more than 1,800 bodyguards across the country. Paulo Goulart, the company’s CEO, said that part of the special team accompanies entrepreneurs and top executives in the Faria Lima, Jardim Europa, and Paulista Avenue regions on shifts of 12 to 24 hours, with a monthly fee of R$4,000 ($806) for half a day.
“Paulista Avenue is the big problem today. There is a high incidence of people living on the streets who came from Cracolândia. It is also a place with a lot of cellphone and purse thefts, including breaking car windows to take cellphones attached to the dashboard or bags,” Goulart told Bloomberg Línea.
According to the CEO, the provision of armored cars is another high-demand service at the Gocil Group. The use of motorcycles by criminals disguised as delivery drivers for food apps has alarmed residents in high-income neighborhoods such as Moema, Itaim Bibi, and Jardins.
In some cases, gangs use the victims’ cellphones to make transfers of funds through banking apps via Pix (instant payment system) or cards.
“We have 20,000 employees and 1,300 clients. In Sao Paulo, the high-income neighborhoods that most demand our property security services are the Faria Lima region, Itaim Bibi, Vila Olímpia, Vila Nova Conceição, Largo da Batata, and Paulista Avenue,” said the Gocil CEO.
The GR Group, another relevant player in the private security sector, recorded a 15% increase in the number of service contracts signed this year, according to Robson Alves, regional operations manager in Sao Paulo. “Private security demand is growing in Sao Paulo. We have more than 1,100 clients and oversee more than 100 condominiums, especially in Itaim, Vila Olímpia, Pinheiros, and Vila Nova Conceição,” said Alves to Bloomberg Línea.
Among the most concerning incidents, according to the GR Group executive, are the actions of gangs that invade condominiums and break into homes in upscale neighborhoods to steal high-value items from high-income residents.
The strategies for entering buildings range from disguising themselves as food delivery drivers to posing as fake guests at a fictitious party. Executives from Haganá, Gocil, and GR are unanimous in warning residents who disregard security recommendations and leave vulnerabilities in the security system, such as skipping checks on potential visitors and guests. It is these “human errors” and the carelessness of security guards, they say, that increase opportunities for criminals.
“We train our staff, but we need to do the same with clients, who need to be open and listen to our advice, such as not facilitating third-party access to the condo’s premises. Criminals are smart and use these distractions to succeed,” Alves said.
On August 28th, a luxury condominium in Jardim Paulistano was invaded by 17 men in the early morning, who took R$3 million ($604,838) in jewelry after overpowering the doorman and the monitoring center guard.
According to Estado de S. Paulo newspaper, residents were mobilizing to hire an external security company. One robber was arrested, and two vehicles were recovered.
Team Trained like the Mossad
Another player in the upscale neighborhoods of Sao Paulo is Moked Security Consulting, specialized in VIP security system management for executives, authorities, and their families. The company declined to be interviewed, citing discretion as part of its governance policy.
An individual familiar with the company’s work, who requested anonymity due to the private nature of the matter, said that one of Moked’s main differentiators is the qualification of its workforce: training is conducted similarly to the Mossad, the Israeli secret service, known in the sector for executing complex operations with precision and success. Moked specializes in coordinating operations for large events and also for visits by foreign executives, which includes security and logistics.
Their website indicates that, in addition to managing VIP security contracts, part of their field services includes the execution of Preventive Operational Actions (AOP), which involve identifying suspects in advance and thwarting their activities against the protected person.
Minister Acknowledges Power of Gangs
Public security authorities point to the spread of criminal groups throughout the country as an urgent issue in the sector. In addition to the major cities in the Southeast region, the actions of gangs in major cities in other regions create a challenging scenario for law enforcement.
On August 17th, the Minister of Justice and Public Security, Flávio Dino, acknowledged that the country is dealing with a growing sense of loss of control when pointing out the most urgent issues in the field. “The first is how to deal with intentional violent deaths, which increase the sense of loss of control. Another point of concern is the hyper-power of criminal factions.
Until we can address this, our efforts are hindered, and that is why we have positioned the Federal Police to assist in this fight, especially in the financial suffocation of these organizations,” he said in a statement after meeting with security secretaries. In July, the Ministry of Justice announced a contribution of R$100 million ($20,161,290) to expand the Integrated Forces for Combating Organized Crime (FICCO) and the Sensitive Investigations Groups (GISE) of the Federal Police, with the aim of enhancing efforts against criminal factions.