In the front line of local crime fighting is the Polícia Militar do Estado do Rio de Janeiro (Rio de Janeiro State Military Police, or PMERJ), currently at a strength of about 43,000 men and women, which is well under the acceptable minimum to serve and protect the local population. But they can count on a small (slightly over 400 souls), highly trained and motivated bunch of men who wear an all-black uniform and whose respected and feared badge is a skull with a knife inserted top-to-bottom (victory over death) and two crossed flintlock pistols (a symbol of Rio’s Military Police) on a black, red-rimmed circle. These men belong to the Batalhão de Operações Policiais Especiais (Special Police Operations Battalion, or BOPE) with headquarters in Rio de Janeiro, and whatever they may be missing in quantity, they clearly make up for it with top operational quality.
The crack unit was the brainchild of a young, enthusiastic Military Police captain, Paulo César Amêndola, who for some time tried to convince the higher echelons to create a dedicated group for police spec-ops activities. Triggered by the outcome of a prison rebellion in Rio de Janeiro in 1974, when the director was taken hostage and some of the revolting inmates and a ew rescuing policemen died in the improvised—and, consequently, disastrous—operation that followed, the authorities decided to follow his suggestions. What started as the Núcleo da Companhia de Operações Especiais (Special Operations Company Nucleus, or NuCOE) in January 1978 with a handful of motivated men occupying two canvas tents in a Military Police training facility in a suburban area of Rio, gradually turned into a full Company, the Companhia de Operações Especiais, or COE in 1982 and into a Battalion in 1991.