In any discussion of the role of the police in the juvenile justice system, it is necessary to briefly describe the organization of policing in Brazil. Brazil is a federation with 26 states, and policing is primarily organized on the state level, although there is a Federal Police charged with the duties of border security and acting as the national judicial police. At the state level, policing is divided into two autonomous organizations, the Military Police (Policia Militar) and the Civil Police (Policia Civil), both part of the state executive branch. The Military Police operate as the preventive and repressive arm of the police, responsible for maintaining public order. The Civil Police are the investigative arm of the police, responsible for investigating crimes.

In relation to juvenile offenders, there is no special branch of the Military Police tasked with supervision or control of juveniles. The regular precincts of the Military Police will detain a juvenile if he or she is caught committing an illegal act or in the course of fulfilling a judicial order of apprehension (similar to a warrant). If the youth is under 12 years of age, he or she will be brought to the municipal Guardianship Council (Conselho Tutelar) or the judge of the acting state Childhood and Juvenile Court. If the youth is an adolescent (12-17), a police report will be filed and the minor turned over to a specialized branch of the Civil Police, the Juvenile Police Station (in the case of apprehension during commission of an illegal act). If the Military Police detain a minor to fulfilling a judicial order, the adolescent will be taken to the juvenile judge who issued the order.

The Civil Police, charged with investigating crimes, have a specialized department, the Juvenile Police Station, to investigate juveniles suspected of committing illegal acts. The police are required to follow procedures designed to protect the rights of the juvenile being investigated, such as dispensing the use of handcuffs, identifying by name and badge number the detaining officer, and informing the judge or family of the minor’s detention as per his or her request (Art. 107 ECA, Brasil 1990).

Regardless of such procedural guarantees, the police, especially the Military Police, have constantly come under attack from academics, nongovernmental organizations, and the media for their violent and often lethal treatment of j uveniles suspected of crimes, citing evidence of profiling and discriminatory treatment of poor, non-white youth (Adorno 2002). Some explain this bias as part of the legacy of “criminalization of poverty” that has shaped juvenile justice for much of Brazil’s history (Misse 2009; Marinho 2012).

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