Page last updated at 08:54 GMT, Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Putting the brakes on car theft

Digital Planet
Alka Marwaha
BBC World Service

Favela facades (AFP)
80% of stolen cars in Rio end up in the 'favelas', slum areas of the city

From August next year, the Brazilian government will be equipping every new and imported car with an anti-theft and tracking system.

A car is stolen every 12 minutes in Rio de Janeiro and every three minutes in Sao Paulo.

Digital Planet's reporter Helen Clegg visited Rio de Janeiro to find out how this tracking device will work in practice.

It is mainly criminals and drugs traffickers who are behind the car thefts in Rio.

They manage to steal around five cars an hour in thefts that are often accompanied by violent assault.

Pablo Schargrotsky had his car stolen from one of the supposedly safest and wealthiest areas of the city.

"It was in Leblon, a very rich place. I was working there and it wasn't very late, seven PM," he said.

"They put a gun in my head and they said 'give me everything', then they took the car away and I called the police," he added. "They could never find the car."

Many of the stolen cars end up in the northern part of the city, an area dominated by the slum housing and industrial estates known as favelas. According to statistics from the federal police, 80% of Rio's stolen cars end up there.

Community support

She was shot in back of the neck, she died on the spot
Rosemary

The private team that recovers the stolen vehicles is made up of off-duty police officers, who have developed their own methods of retrieving cars from these areas as it is very unsafe for them to enter on their own.

"Nowadays [going there] is prohibited by the state government because of the conflict with criminals and exchange of gunfire that can occur there," said Officer Carlos Silva.

"So we ask for the support of the police together with our team to carry out the recovery. We also have a contact and we can request that if the car is inside the favela they can bring it outside.

"We work a lot as a team together with the residents in the community," he added.

"The cars will come already pre-installed with the device, you are able to block your car while it is driving and no-one steals it when it is parked," said Francisco Maximo,who works for Car System, a company that produces anti-theft systems.

"It begins when your car gets stolen - you just let the thief take your car," he said.

Favela drugbust (AP)
Drug traffickers are behind much of the car crime in Rio

"Then you go to the next phone, you call the centre and say that your car is stolen," he added.

Each driver will be issued with a password that they give to the police along with the details of their vehicle.

"They ask you where and they send a signal. Your car receives the signal, blocks the car and our recovery team is on the way with the police," he said.

The car will then be located by GPS and a signal is sent directly to the vehicle, blocking its electrical system - literally stopping the car in its tracks.

Car Systems engineers busily install up to 60 systems a day. Rosemary, who declined to give her surname is one of their customers. She decided to have an anti-theft blocking system fitted after one of her friends was killed for her car.

"I lost a friend, she was leaving college and her father had given her a new car," she said.

"She hadn't put it in the garage, she was 25 years old, she resisted because it was a new car and she was shot in back of the neck, she died on the spot."

Only time will tell if implementation of this new law will have a significant impact on car crime rates in Brazil.

Digital Planet is broadcast on BBC World Service on Tuesday at 1232 GMT and repeated at 1632 GMT, 2032 GMT and on Wednesday at 0032 GMT.

You can listen online or download the podcast .



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