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Police Surveillance in Sao Paolo is at All-Time High, as Crime Wave Shocks City

BY Julia Wetherell | Wednesday, January 2 2013

A military police officer with a camera-mounted EagleEye backpack, from BBC Future Video.

BBC Future has a look into the Orwellian surveillance tech that police in Sao Paolo are using to monitor crime in the metropolis of 41 million. An integrated network of databases, tablet technology and mobile cameras are giving law enforcement officials an unprecedented eye on activity in the city streets.

The video segment, part of BBC World News’ Horizons series, focuses on two main arms of the surveillance system. A massive photo database of criminal activity, FotoCrim, catalogues everything from mugshots to tattoos, instantly cross-referencing materials to narrow down suspects among repeat offenders; the whole program is available on tablet in police cars, where it transforms into a GPS-like platform for locating criminals’ whereabouts based on their recent addresses. The police’s video surveillance program, EagleEye, streams real-time footage from cameras mounted on helicopters, motorbikes, and even uniformed officers wearing high-tech backpacks.

The massive-scale data collection isn’t just for catching perps – it’s also been implemented on other civic issues, like crowd control, car accidents, and even sending emergency response motorbikes to accidents inaccessible by car in Sao Paolo’s hyper-congested streets.

While crime rates have been in decline in Sao Paolo over the past decade, a wave of brutal killings in October and November shocked the city, particularly as the dead included many police officers, some of whom were shot in the head, execution style.

Mounting tensions between the police and the P.C.C., a major crime group that operates out of prisons, have blown into what many consider to be a war in the streets. Officials vowed to bulk up surveillance even further after the murders, but it remains to be seen whether data can bring down drug lords in 2013.