Authorities seize goods stolen by police extortion gang

Authorities in Rio de Janeiro dismantled an extortion ring comprised of serving and former police officers, pointing to the level of criminality within the city's police force.

On the morning of December 18, Brazilian authorities arrested eight people accused of being part of an extortion ring in Rio de Janeiro. Five of these were active police officers in the city while the remaining three people were a former fireman, an ex-agent from the military police and a former member of the civil police, reported Univision.

According to Jornal do Brasil, investigators found that the gang would seize cargo coming into Rio and then demand extortion payments for returning it. They reportedly used a lorry parked at a station for the police's Robbery and Theft Unit (DRFC) to store the "seized" goods. During the operation to dismantle the gang, authorities found 140,000 reals (over $65,000) worth of goods in the lorry.

The officials would allegedly also demand payments in exchange for not carrying out raids on warehouses storing contraband, and not inspecting incoming cargo.

Rio's Civil Police Chief Marica Pita stated, "We will not stop bad cops, but we will certainly control them."

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This news comes just two weeks after 59 Rio police officers were detained on suspicion of accepting bribes from the Red Command (Comando Vermelho) drug gang in exchange for allowing the group to continue their operations without police interference. The police also reportedly extorted gang members by kidnapping them or their families.

The series of arrests are a promising sign that Rio's authorities are seeing success in tackling police corruption. However, the fact that in both cases police were actively running their own extortion rings is a worrying sign, pointing to a far deeper level of criminality within the force than simply accepting a bribe to look the other way.

Scandals such as these are causing significant damage to the public's trust in the police nationwide. A recent survey found that 63 percent of respondents in Brazil were unsatisfied with police performance, with 75 percent naming the army as the most trusted institution in the country.