The state of Bahia is experiencing a wave of violence, with shootings recorded almost daily. From June to September, a series of police operations on the outskirts of Salvador and in cities in the metropolitan region have left a death toll that continues to grow. The most recent events seen this year reflect growth never seen since 2015. The state took the lead in the ranking of victims of police intervention in the country, surpassing Rio de Janeiro. The police force’s response has only been based on more operations that have generated more deaths. All of this said, the public security crisis in Bahia has many similarities with the trajectory of Rio de Janeiro.

Recent Cases

On 24 September, a woman and three children were held hostage by seven armed men since the night in the Dom Avelar neighborhood, in Salvador. After eight hours of negotiations, the victims were rescued without injuries in the early morning of the following day. Five criminals were arrested, and a 16-year-old teenager was apprehended. According to the Military Police, the criminals invaded the property at around 22:30, after a shooting with police officers from Special Rounds (Rondesp).

On 22 September, six men died in clashes with police during an operation in the Águas Claras region, in Salvador, and in Feira de Santana, the capital’s metropolitan area. According to police, the dead were part of a criminal group suspected of killing more than 30 people. During the operation 15 people were arrested.

These were just two of the most recent episodes of the wave of violence that has ravaged the state of Bahia since June.

Between 1 and 30 September, at least 68 deaths were recorded in shootouts involving police forces to repress gangs across the state. The proportion is almost two deaths per day in the last month. Most deaths were recorded in peripheral neighborhoods of Salvador, such as Alto das Pombas, Calabar, Valéria and Águas Claras.

In Salvador, the number of criminals killed after a confrontation on the outskirts rose to 68 — Photo Credit: Divulgação/SSP-BA

Between 1 and 30 September, at least 68 deaths were recorded in shootouts involving police forces to repress gangs across the state. The proportion is almost two deaths per day in the last month. Most deaths were recorded in peripheral neighborhoods of Salvador, such as Alto das Pombas, Calabar, Valéria and Águas Claras.

These episodes are another chapter in the public security crisis faced by the Jerônimo Rodrigues (PT) government, which includes the intensification of disputes between factions, massacres, and informal curfews caused by fear or threats spread by criminals. Overall, the scalation in hostilities instills panic among citizens and leads to the closure of schools, health centers, religious temples, and businesses, thus interrupting the normal activities and pushing.

History of violence in Bahia between July and September:

  • In one week, between 28 July and 4 August, 30 deaths in different clashes with military police
  • In Salvador, several exchanges of gunfire and actions with 17 freed hostages forced residents of the Alto das Pombas neighbourhood to leave their homes in August
  • On 3 September, 11 people were killed in a confrontation with the Military Police and eight were arrested in Alto das Pombas and Calabar, a neighbouring neighbourhood. More than 15 weapons were seized
  • The early hours of 6 September were marked by shootings in two other neighbourhoods of the Bahian capital: Engenho Velho de Brotas and Nordeste de Amaralina
  • On 15 September, federal, civil, and military police carried out an operation to execute arrest warrants against a criminal group. There, the agents were surprised by members of a faction that was about to clash with a criminal group that operates in the region. A federal police officer and four criminals were killed
  • Since then, another 11 people suspected of participating in the confrontation have died in different neighbourhoods of Salvador and Simões Filho

Progress of Criminal Factions

After several records of clashes this September, especially in Salvador, the Secretary of Public Security of Bahia, Marcelo Werner, stated that the war between factions is the main cause of violence in the state.

Luiz Henrique Requião, specialist in criminal sciences and president of the National Criminal Law Association (ANACRIM/BA), states that criminal factions in Salvador and in cities in the interior of Bahia have always existed but they started to gain force and face each other after joining large criminal groups from outside the state.

Bahia has a very favorable geographic location for receiving, storing, and delivering illicit goods like drugs and weapons. The state is a gateway to the Northeast, bordering states in the North, Center West, and Southeast regions; it is crossed by several state and federal highways – some of the most important are BR-116, BR-101, and BR-324 –, and it is also home to the largest coastal area in Brazil and criminals take advantage of this. Furthermore, the First Capital Command (PCC) and the Red Command (CV) factions observed that local criminal groups had an amateur distribution network, but that they could take advantage of their activities to grow therein.

As a probable reflex of the changes brought by the outsider groups to the local drug market, in 2022, the Federal Highway Police (PRF) had record drug seizures – almost 10 tons on highways crossing the state. Regarding cocaine, the PRF indicates an increase of 148% (2,160 kg) in the volume found compared to the previous year (870 kg).

The connections between the local and national drug trafficking groups and the territorial divisions provoked by their presence can be seen on the streets of Salvador and its metropolitan area, where graffiti in many neighborhoods indicate alliances and who rules there. In some there can be found messages from the Red Command and a local group called Bonde do Maluco (BDM), which is evidence the connection between them. The same situation exists between the PCC and another local gang, the Katiara.

The recent fights have reshaped the configuration of territorial control previously held by the criminal groups. For instance, Valéria and Águas Claras, location of operations in recent weeks, were once controlled by BDM and Katiara, but today they are experiencing a moment of dispute. The Tancredo Neves neighborhood, BDM’s area of activity, is also recording constant shootings. The Northeast of Amaralina, under the control of the Katiara group, has also been affected by shootings.

Bahia: The Second Most Violent State in Brazil

The consequences of the fights are made clear by criminal rates recently published in the 2023 Brazilian Public Security Yearbook. Data disclosed shows that Bahia is the second most lethal state in Brazil, with an intentional violent death rate (IVD) of 47.1 per 100,000 inhabitants. In absolute numbers, the state of Bahia had the most deaths in 2022 with 6,659 violent deaths. The alarming data, which places the state as leader in the national ranking, was collected by the Brazilian Public Security Forum (FBSP). The total number of violent deaths includes intentional homicides (including feminicides); bodily injuries followed by death; robbery followed by death; deaths of police officers and deaths committed by them during operations.

Violent deaths in Brazil – Rate per 100 thousand inhabitants. Source: Secretarias Estaduais de Segurança Pública e/ou Defesa Social; Instituto de Segurança Pública/RJ (ISP); Polícia Civil do Estado do Amapá; Polícia Civil do Distrito Federal; Polícia Civil do Estado de Roraima; Estimativas da população residente no Brasil e Unidades da Federação – IBGE, realizadas por meio de interpolação linear; Censo 2022 – IBGE; Fórum Brasileiro de Segurança Pública.

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