On 22 May, a driver of a truck carrying cigarettes was taken hostage after the goods he was transporting were stolen in the Jardim Tropical neighborhood, in Nova Iguaçu, Baixada Fluminense. Images from security cameras show that the employee was surrended by a man, who transferred the cargo to another truck. The action lasted just over two minutes and at the end military police officers managed to free the victim.

Robbery is one of the main challenges in road freight transport. In Brazil, the activities of gangs specializing in the diversion and reception of goods cause billionaire losses every year.

For Isaque Ouverney, from Rio de Janeiro State Industries Federation (Firjan), it is necessary to point out that the robberies that take place on the highway are just one part, a link in a whole chain of illegality that feeds on this typology of crime. It’s not just the loss for the industry that had its product stolen; it is also a socioeconomic loss with consequences in terms of lost jobs and opportunities for development, considering the removal of investments in that region.

This criminal activity also affects the consumer’s pocket because the products end up being more expensive for the population. Thus, it is not just the responsibility of the Military Police, the Civil Police or the Federal Police force, and an integrated action by these security forces in the territory is essential.

Cargo Theft and Robbery in Brazil

Brazil has been facing a growing increase in cargo thefts and robberies on the roads in the first months of 2023. The Southeast is the leading region in this type of crime: the nstech report, issued by nstech a hub that integrates hundreds of end-to-end solutions for the logistics chain, estimated that 75% of cargo robberies in Brazil are registered in four states in the region – Rio de Janeiro, Espírito Santo, Minas Gerais and São Paulo –, São Paulo concentrated 47.6% of losses due to robberies – almost three times more than Rio de Janeiro (2nd place), which registered 18%. In the Northeast, the number of incidents grew in 2022. According to the report, the region was up 37% compared to the previous year, with the states of Bahia and Pernambuco registering growth of more than 80% and 100% in cargo robbery, respectively.

Raster’s Commercial and Marketing Director, logistics specialist company, is categorical in stating the notorious growth in cargo theft and robbery in Brazil in the first three months of the year. In his view, the economic recovery of recent months is one of the justifications for this scenario. Cargo robbery is a problem that affects all transport segments, but some sectors are more targeted by thieves, such as electronics, medicine, food, beverages, cigarettes, and fuel. These products are more valuable and easier to sell on the black market, which makes them more attractive to criminals.

The Most Targeted Goods:

Most targeted goods for cargo theft: Foods, drinks, e-commerce goods, electronics, pesticides, steel (coils, plates, and rebar), clothing sector materials, cigarettes, auto parts, construction materials, tires, pharmaceutical products and fuels.

Rio de Janeiro: 2022 and the Frist Quarter of 2023

In 2022, the state of Rio de Janeiro again recorded a drop in the number of cargo robbery, with a 6% reduction compared to 2021, reaching the lowest level in the last 8 years. Despite the improvement, it remains at a high levels. In 2022, 4,239 occurrences were recorded: with an average of 12 cases per day. Considering the average value of stolen cargo, direct losses from this type of crime were approximately R$388 million in 2022.

Source: Prepared by Firjan, based on data obtained from the Public Security Institute (ISP).

A survey carried out by the Rio de Janeiro State Industries Federation (Firjan) points to a 9.7% increase in the number of cargo thefts and robberies in Rio de Janeiro, in the first quarter of 2023, compared to the same period of last year. From January to March, 1,117 incidents were recorded, which represents a loss of R$104.5 million, compared to R$95.3 million recorded in 2022 for the same period.

The ten regions that concentrated half of the occurrences of cargo robberies are crossed by the main federal highways in Rio de Janeiro (BR-040 – Washington Luís Highway, BR-101 – Avenida Brasil, BR-116 – Presidente Dutra Highway and BR-493 – Arco Metropolitano), in addition to the proximity to the main industrial spaces.

The Rio de Janeiro’s Port region had an increase of 78.9% in the period, which represents 90 more cases. The Bonsucesso region had the second highest increase in absolute numbers. In the first quarter, it concentrated 100 cases, 54 more than in the same period of 2022 (increase of 117.4%). While the Penha and Brás de Pina regions recorded percentage increases of 76.2% and 63.2%, respectively.

The Baixada Fluminense region, along with the Capital, concentrates most of the occurrences registered. In the general analysis, 91.8% of cases occurred in these locations in the first quarter of 2023. According to the survey, the Duque de Caxias area had an increase of 80% in the number of cases in the period. Adding, in the first three months of the year, 155 registrations, 69 more than in the first quarter of 2022. The scenario is more favorable for the regions that are on the BR-493 route, which showed a 12.1% reduction in cargo theft and robbery records. The stretch that in the first quarter of 2022 had 198 cases, this year accounted for 174 occurrences in the analysis of the same period.

Change in Count

The 44.1% increase in cargo robberies in March 2023, compared to the same month of the previous year (from 340 to 490), caused the Civil Police to resume an ordinance from January 2022 that was not being followed. For registration and investigation as cargo theft or robbery, goods have to be transported by trucks or vans weighing more than 1.5 tons. According to the ordinance, vehicles weighing less than 1.5 tons can only be classified as cargo theft or robbery if they meet four requirements: a red license plate, an invoice, registration in the National Register of Road Cargo Carriers and the carrier’s obligatory civil liability insurance. When cargo is stolen from vehicles with less than 1.5 tons, such as motorcycles and ordinary cars, the classification can be as street or vehicle theft. This change results in a reduction in the index.

Among the causes for the increase in the number of cases, the Public Security Institute highlighted the difficulty of the government’s role in inspection, due to the action of criminal organizations blocking activities within communities and in the surroundings areas. On account of this, the institute sets the objective of intensifying operations in neighborhoods that surround the most violent regions, preventing the sale of stolen products, in addition to proposing the installation of public road monitoring systems, with license plate readers and the creation of task forces for investigations.

São Paulo State

From January to December 2022, the number of cargo thefts and robberies in the state of São Paulo decreased by 2% compared to the previous year (2021). But the rates are still high. According to data from the Secretariat of Public Security, there were 6,389 cases registered in 2022 and 6,529 cases registered in 2021.

Data show that in the first four months of 2023, 2,056 cases of cargo robbery were recorded in the state of São Paulo. This means that, on average, 17 cases are registered per day.

For the Tracker Group’s Operations Centre, a tracking tech company, the growth of online sales directly interferes with the number of this type of crime, as criminals take advantage of the various door-to-door delivery stops to approach and surrender drivers.

The capital of São Paulo was the city with the highest number of occurrences, followed by Guarulhos, São Bernardo do Campo, Osasco and Itapecerica da Serra. In the city of São Paulo, the most dangerous neighbourhoods for cargo theft and robbery were Capão Redondo, Iguatemi, Jaraguá, Jardim Ângela and Brás.

According to the Federal Police (PF), the Campinas region is a strategic location and, therefore, has housed, since the end of 2021, a specialized group to repress this type of crime. During the period, the intelligence and investigation service arrested 115 people and recovered R$ 5 million.

The head of the PF station in Campinas explains that the group works together with all the police forces in the country. It adds that it is necessary to record robberies, thefts or attempts, with as much information and images as possible, so that these data can be used by investigators. The group even relies on strategic information from carriers to reach the gangs specialized in these crimes, and during the period in which it is in operation.

The Law

In most cases the criminal is not caught red-handed, and consequently the penalties are reduced.

Impunity contributes to the increase of this type of crime. For Colonel Paulo Roberto de Souza, security advisor at NTC&Logística – National Association of Freight Transport and Logistics -, the lack of more specific legislation to punish people that resell the stolen goods is one of the main factors that contribute to the high rates of cargo theft and robbery registered annually in Brazil.


Investments in technologies and security measures made by companies, in addition to the work of public security agencies that have been working to combat cargo robbery, are identified as the main factors responsible for the reduction in the number of cases.

In Rio, a new digital tool is being developed to tackle cargo theft and robbery on highways. The device will allow operators from Sindicarga, the transporters’ union, which monitor the movement of the fleet of member companies via GPS, to report in real time to the Integrated Command and Control Center (CICC) of the Military Police as soon as a truck leaves the predicted route. With this quick alert, the military police patrolling the expressways will be able to intercept the stolen truck before it is taken by the criminals to the place where the cargo is picked up.

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