Rio’s Special Police Force Experienced in Urban Warfare

By Dialogo
April 01, 2011

Combat in the urban environment is a scenario of complex and demanding tactics. The buildings not only prevent Soldiers from having open firing and surveillance fields, they also provide the defensive enemy with several safe firing positions. The large number of civilians in the area of action can create a need for humanitarian aid and limit troop positions and options. In this sense, the operational theater in the city of Rio de Janeiro is one of the most complex in the world. In just one place there are elements of combat in built-up areas, jungle and mountains.
This operational environment is well-known by the Special Police Operations Battalion of the Military Police of Rio de Janeiro, or BOPE. It is considered one of the most experienced police units operating in urban warfare in the world. Since its creation three decades ago, it has had to develop its own doctrine for deployment. Even today, there are no military or public security manuals to guide deployment of troops in operations, such as those undertaken in Rio’s shantytowns.
Dressed in black uniforms with a skull printed on the sleeves of their tunics, the BOPE officers are the elite of the Rio State Military Police. Their actions became famous on the movie screen, and how they operate has reached the limit that separates the security forces from defense forces. The battalion has a staff of 400 and is linked directly to the chief of staff of the Military Police, from whom it receives its missions. It keeps a company constantly on guard, and for events involving hostages, the BOPE has a Tactical Intervention Unit, with negotiators, sharpshooters (snipers) and a rescue and recovery group.

Specializing in aquatic and helicopter missions in jungle and mountainous environments and with the use of explosives, the BOPE undertakes almost daily combat missions, where they are greeted with heavy fire by drug traffickers. The most dangerous maneuver in an operation in a built-up area is between positions, when the Soldiers are exposed to snipers and automatic fire, being clearly framed among the streets and buildings.
To protect the squad during an incursion into a shantytown, the police officers are supported by urban snipers, a solution also used by Brazilian Marine rifle squads to support the progress of their Amphibious Commandos in operations in Haiti. When the Soldiers go into a shantytown and are met by hostile fire, it is the job of the sniper to locate the source of the fire and eliminate it so that the force can proceed with greater security.
The BOPE intends to acquire a range of equipment for detecting explosives and for special tactical missions in advance of the 2014 soccer World Cup. The battalion also hopes to acquire machine guns and replace some of its aging rifles.