Over 30 percent of all weapons belonging to private security firms in Rio de Janeiro end up in the hands of criminals, authorities say, highlighting an important yet often overlooked source of firearms for criminal groups throughout Latin America.
A Federal Police report accessed by Globo states that at least 17,662 firearms were diverted or stolen from the stockpiles of private security companies in Rio de Janeiro state over the last 10 years. This figure represents 30.2 percent of all the weapons owned by Rio's 222 security firms, according to Globo.
Criminals obtained more than 900 weapons between 2011 and 2015 just from security companies based in the capital city of Rio de Janeiro. The number of weapons diverted from private security companies rose by almost 100 percent during that five-year period, from 128 in 2011 to 255 last year.
Some 95 percent of the state's security firms are run by active military and police or former members of the armed forces and military police, according to authorities.
Rio's Civil Police announced on May 22 the creation of a new task force to investigate this issue. According to the state prosecutor's office, the Civil Police has not opened a single investigation into private security weapons ending up on the black market; all of the cases so far have involved the civil or military police forces diverting weapons to criminals.
InSight Crime Analysis
Criminal groups in Latin America procure their weapons in a variety of ways. While much of the attention is focused on gun trafficking networks from the United States and domestic military stockpiles, private security firms are another important, if overlooked, source of black market weapons. Indeed, the large number of private security weapons that were channeled into the arms caches of Rio criminal groups point to a systemic problem that authorities have largely ignored for the past decade.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of Arms Trafficking
Private security firms are becoming pervasive throughout Latin America in response to rising crime and overburdened police forces. Security analysts have estimated that Central America's gang-plagued Northern Triangle region (El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras) employs up to 300,000 private security personnel, and many of the firms they work for are not even registered with the government.
The glut of private security guards combined with lax state regulations make these companies a ready target for criminals in need of weapons. In El Salvador, where private security personnel outnumber civil police officers, over 1,700 private security weapons initially reported as missing between 2009 and 2011 were later found to have been sold on the black market.