Occupation of Complexo do Alemão

Winner of the Silver Lion in public relations at the 2011 Cannes Lions Festival, for the case “Best use of social media for the Government of the State of Rio de Janeiro”.

During the last days of December 2006, drug trafficking factions in Rio de Janeiro launched a series of attacks against police, civilian and even government targets throughout the city. Traffickers set buses on fire and tossed bombs in public buildings, killing 18 people. These violent actions were heavily covered by the national and international press, creating an impression that the Brazilian government was losing the war against drug trafficking.

The groups that controlled drug trafficking in the city of Rio de Janeiro were rebelling against the government of Sérgio Cabral (PMDB), which would start on January 1, 2007. The governor had stated that the fight against crime was one of his priorities, which envisioned the physical occupation of the slums to stem the violence generated by drug traffickers.

Government action was needed. And, within this scenario, the role of communication was to guide the relationship of the main managers of the state of Rio de Janeiro with the media, as well as determine the message to be passed on to the population of the city and Brazil (and even the international community), in order to avoid panic and show firmness of action.

Reporting on the occupation of Complexo do Alemão represented a time of intense media activity, which was only possible due to a political decision, the government’s choice to make it a priority and, from there, the implementation of various tactical and operational measures in the area of security, prior to confronting organized crime. The communication process was built over many battles, all for the sake of the same war: the restoration of peace in Rio de Janeiro.

Communication challenge

Between 2007 and 2008, the state government had successfully carried out the pacification and occupation of several slums. Throughout this process, the media relations strategy was developed and perfected, based on information-sharing and reinforcing the message regarding the presence of the state in these low-income communities with the goal to protect people. The strategy also entailed regular meetings with journalists and bloggers who covered the area of security, including foreign correspondents that lived and worked in Rio de Janeiro.

There was a schedule to be followed. However, an information leak divulged the possible occupation of Complexo do Alemão. In addition to moving up the operation, the State Department of Public Security took up a suggestion from FSB, which had identified the need for a symbolic reinforcement of the participation of federal troops in the restoration of order and the state’s presence in that community.

Within 24 hours the tactical and operational plan for the takeover of Complex do Alemão was mounted, with a vigorous strategy for media coverage. The communication challenge was to give visibility to the offensive of the Secretariat against organized crime in the city of Rio de Janeiro and keep the information flow as coordinated as possible. Among other things, the communication needed to make a positive impact on the population, reassuring people about the government’s action, the objectives, and the coordinated, strategic and precise nature of the operation.


The press office team sat in on all the operational planning meetings to fight crime in the city, in other words, it had a place at the decision-making table. This contrasted sharply with the model which had been adopted until then by the public security managers of the State of Rio de Janeiro, which provided little space for participation. For each type of public, a tactical course of action enabled information to be disseminated on the occupation of Complexo do Alemão.


Integrated actions on social networks

  • Inform – firsthand – the population through the website and official profiles of the State Department of Public Security about breaking news, with the official versions of the events, to avoid misunderstandings or conflicting information given by the different police forces.
  • Hold meetings with bloggers residing in the communities to be occupied and in adjacent neighborhoods, so that the local population will understand all aspects of the process spearheaded by the State Department of Public Security.
  • Engage the pubic in the cause for peace, calling on every citizen to raise the banner of peace in Rio. More than simply a duty of the state, the pacification became everyone’s desire. For this purpose, we used the hashtag (label on the social network illustrated by the # sign), followed by the motto Paz No Rio (Peace in Rio) (#paznorio).
  • Publicize the official phone numbers and hotline service, to facilitate the actions of the police force with insider information from the community and citizens.
  • Promote interaction of the main spokespersons from the federal security operation on the Internet, with testimonies broadcast live, via webcam/twitcam.

The goal of the social media-based communication, often used during the occupation, was to reassure the population, provide services and dispel rumors. These measures enhanced the credibility of the spokespersons from the Secretariat and, specifically, in the case of the occupation of Complexo do Alemão, enabled news to ripple out to the public.


During the occupation, the press office sought to:

  • Facilitate transparent and official dissemination of information;
  • Organize daily twitcams (video interviews with live video broadcasts) to maintain open and informative communication from the State Public Security Secretary and other spokesmen involved in the operation, thereby minimizing conflicts of information related to the latest police activities;
  • Assist newspaper and TV reporters gain access to the official spokespersons, including conducting live interviews (TV and Internet);
  • Help journalists locate and access testimonies of people from the community (figures in the midst of the operation), to illustrate the impact of the police activities upon the citizens of the community itself.

Public relations interactions

  • Informal weekly meetings with journalists and top officials from the State Department of Public Security;
  • Lunches at the State Department of Public Security, to discuss official matters and unofficial topics with the Government team;
  • Turn the Secretariat spokespersons into sources, through phone calls, meetings at events or interviews given in person;
  • Highlight the State Public Security Secretary, José Mariano Beltrame, as the strategic affairs spokesperson, stressing the differences with his predecessors in the position, who often had personal political projects.

Internal Public
Civil servants from the State Department of Public Security and police forces

  • Anticipate scenarios, identify risks and opportunities in order to define dissemination strategies and, mainly, tailor messages to be published by the press based on interpretation of texts, information sources, photos and images disclosed by the print and electronic media, social networks and official government channels. Recommendations immediately forwarded to the State Public Security Secretary and high-ranking police officers;
  • Participate in daily operational briefings, attended by the Secretary and heads of the civil and military police, creating opportunities to discuss scenarios and coordinate, in the morning, the key messages to be presented by the Secretary and police throughout the day. This routine reduced potential damage, such as conflicts of information or statements, which could occur given the large number of spokespersons;
  • Obtain details from reporters closer to the Secretary and communication team, to assess the impact of actions with the top officials managing the occupations;
  • Promote media training for the spokespersons of the Secretariat and police forces, to facilitate responding to the reporters responsible for covering the operations;
  • Provide coaching for the main spokespersons of the State Department of Public Security, including the Secretary himself, before each statement. At the recommendation of the FSB team, the State Public Security Secretary, José Mariano Beltrame, started only giving interviews on strategic issues, leaving the commanders of the police forces to disclose details related to operational issues;
  • Create key messages, reminding police officers of their role as servants;
  • Establish standards of conduct with the media, reinforcing the need to adopt security standards;
  • Organize schemes* to disclose the occupations, to avoid the security strategy appearing in the headlines of the newspapers. At times maintaining absolute secrecy, at times understanding the need to make public announcements prior to occupation operations, to avoid the risk of a negative image resulting from an armed confrontation.

*An example of the intervention of communication in strategic management was the advice to change plans, after the publication in April 2010 of an article in newspapers from Rio indicating that the next occupation would be the Morro do Borel. The Secretariat then decided to occupy Morro da Providencia.


The image audit on the performance of the Government of the State of Rio de Janeiro in the print media during the takeover of Complexo do Alemão in the period from November 23 to December 12, 2010 registered 576 publications in 44 newspapers and magazines..

A closer examination of the print media showed a large acceptance of the government’s strategy at the time, in articles, interviews and editorials which, in most cases, were positive in their assessment (65%), according to an analysis done by the FSB Media Center. The results showed how public opinion embraced the UPP (Police Pacification Unit) project. The quick and vigorous response to the attacks of the traffickers was supported in the articles from the newspapers.

The digital mobilization initiatives drew the Government of the State of Rio de Janeiro closer to citizens, sparking an unprecedented engagement in Brazil between a government entity and the population.

The official profile of the Government of RJ (@GovRJ) reached 4.9 million people and the #paznorio campaign was on Trending Topics (subjects most talked about on Twitter). In all, there were over 30 million displays of content with that tag, with a total of 26,000 posts. The transmission of interviews and statements via Twitcam with Secretary Beltrame reached 350,000 people and via YouTube more than 132,000 people. On Orkut, there were over 700 interventions on the official profile (in one week). During the occupation of Complexo do Alemão, the @GOVRJ profile on Twitter grew 70%.

Digital communication also helped rally the public to use the hotline, which during the month of the takeover registered the highest number of calls of any month in 2010.

However, the main result of the occupation, at the time, appears to have been the change in the perception of safety in the occupied communities, as shown in a survey by the Getulio Vargas Foundation, conducted in the communities of Complexo do Alemão, in February 2011: the feeling of safety of residents jumped from 29 to 53 points in three months, between November 2010 and February 2011.