Far from being just one group, GATE is today one of the most important tools for the maintenance of public safety in an urban environment. Without them, the fate of São Paulo state in Brazil would not be the same.
Please forgive any awkward text – English is not the author’s first language.
In speed, but with safety and skill, the vehicles camouflaged in two shades of gray and black travel in an emergency through the streets of São Paulo, leaving Vila Maria, on the edge of the Marginal of the Tietê River, until Itaim Paulista. It will be around 25km and almost 30 minutes dribbling the traffic to leave the North Zone to the periphery of the East Zone of São Paulo.
In this place, the police of that area, of the Military Police of São Paulo, have already laid siege to the residence. But even though they had done all the first aid, it was necessary to wait for the teams that came to meet them. The situation was serious: Fabiano Crisostomo, 34, broke into the home of his ex-girlfriend, Patricia Correia (29), at about 12:15 pm, making her and her sister hostages. With a criminal list, Crisostomo did not settle for the end of the two-year relationship. A banal motive, but an extreme situation where lives had to be preserved. A complex mission that only these men could solve.
GATE works in two shifts of 12 hours, every single day. At the moment of the call, the team involved had been five hours at the 12 hours shift. But upon assuming that occurrence, those men would only return home after all was settled. No matter how long it will take. In that particular case, there were almost 11 hours of negotiations, apart from the time of demobilization, displacement back to the headquarters in the North Zone and the checking of the equipment. Easily that turn was finished with 20 hours of duration.
For normal human beings, it may seem impossible because of the physical and emotional weariness suffered during those long hours of negotiations, with all the lack of comfort, weight of equipment, apprehension, adrenaline and anguish imaginable. But for the Special Tactical Action Group (GATE), this is part of their routine.
Terrorism and hostage negotiations.
Within the structure of the Riot Control and Special Operations Military Police of São Paulo State, GATE is included in the 4th Special Operations Police Battalion, comprising three of its six companies – the fourth, fifth and sixth. Each has an average of 25-30 operational police officers and a total (including administrative) force of 162 police officers.
It is impossible to think of public safety without the presence of GATE. In the most varied urban contexts, the group is present. In kidnappings with hostages, armed suicides, disarmament of explosives located in public places (to be covered in a future article) and actions against terror in open or closed environments.
The material value of the equipment that is now part of the group and which are the best and most advanced available in the world, comparable to special stock units in other countries, besides what is invested in the training and training of their men, it is possible to quantify. However, it is impossible to size the importance of GATE for the State of São Paulo.
From its creation to the present day, in 30 years of activity, the numbers of the group in occurrences are more than impressive. There were 478 hostage cases attended with 678 perpetrators of the crises detained and 793 people released (not taking into account rebellions in prisons where more than a thousand hostages have already been made on one occasion). The number is only smaller than that of the American FBI, where in this case we are comparing one unit with state performance and another with worldwide coverage.
“The FBI operates in localized and non-localized hostage situations, that is, you are an American reporter working in Afghanistan and being kidnapped, the FBI considers this to be an occurrence with a non-localized hostage. Localized hostages are those where you know where it is and sends the tactical team to the negotiation. Some intervention groups have 300 occurrences with hostages in their 40 years of existence,” explains GATE commander Major PM Valmor Racorti.
Until a few years ago, large numbers of hostages took place in a situation where the criminals were surrounded by the police at the time of the robbery and held hostage to negotiate his escape and physical integrity. However, there are currently a large number of occurrences with people suffering from some mental disturbance or passionate motivation, as was the case of receptionist Patrícia Correia.
“Previously, 94% of the occurrences were resolved with negotiation, a number that has now dropped to 60%. That is, 40% of the actions require tactical intervention.”
In this case, the work is done very delicately to try to understand the motivation of that person for the crime and find a way to make it give up a possible extreme action.
In a hostage event GATE uses a multidisciplinary team of professionals – all police officers. The negotiator, who goes without a uniform, with a light blue ballistic vest and is responsible for initiating the whole process of negotiation with the aggressor.
“We have negotiators here trained in psychology. Next to the negotiator is an police who take notes and registers the information that is passed to the command of the occurrence and that in turn is raising intelligence data that is transmitted to the negotiator. The pieces of the puzzle are assembled and people can be called in to contribute to a conversation with the kidnapper, but always protected by the GATE police”, explains Major PM Racorti.
In addition to the negotiator, there is also a sniper and a spotter, who stand together in a discreet and distant location observing the scene as a whole. They are responsible for trying to see the surroundings of the place, possible internal movements and assist with data and information for a strategy to be set up. There is a myth that the sniper only does the compromising shot, and in fact, his role is much more comprehensive. Finally, there is still the tactical team that stands ready to do any kind of intervention.
Something that is massified by Major PM Racorti, at all times we talk about, is the GATE’s goal in any kind of action taken by the unit: “to preserve lives, apply the Law and restore normalcy.” Even the life of the aggressor will try to be preserved as much as possible. In the case of the receptionist Patrícia Correia this was not possible. The GATE sought ceaselessly to negotiate the release of the hostage and the surrender of Crisostomo, guaranteeing the life of both. And it was the aggressor himself who determined the choices to be made by GATE.
During the 11 hours in which Patricia maintained as the hostage, several aggressions were committed by him against the young person of 23 years. The criminal had also posted a video on social media showing the victim and threatening to kill her. The last straw, however, was when he began to set fire to Patricia’s hair. In seconds the door was blown and the attacker fatally hit by the cops. The victim was rescued without being injured by the police and quickly taken to the hospital.
The operation was surgical, efficient and lasted five seconds. The attacker died in action.
“And we regret that, because our goal is to save lives, whoever it is. If he had surrendered, he would have been arrested and tried for justice. GATE has low lethal weaponry to preserve the life of the aggressor, but in that case, even that did not work. When he was hit he continued toward the victim ready to stab her, when we had to use conventional weaponry and put an end to the situation”, laments Major PM Racorti.
The commander of the operation gives the orders. It decides by tactical invasion or sniper shooting. Almost always in all these situations is the own Major PM Racorti that makes itself present.
In the invasion, however, the decision as to which procedure to take, be it the use of low-lethality or conventional ammunition, is made by the tactical team. It is an operational issue and follows the standards, doctrines and thorough training done by GATE members.
“We are legalists. The Military Police is legalistic and follows the Constitution strictly. We are transparent and our actions always aim at this – legality above all else. If the kidnapper releases the victim and threatens suicide we will try to convince him in a new negotiation to surrender and not kill himself. It will start all over again and we will do it as many times as necessary. Our mission is to preserve lives, that’s our role. Whoever it is”, adds Major PM Racorti. The average is 17 occurrences with hostages per year.
GATE constantly receives groups from other states and even from other countries in São Paulo as a way to learn new techniques, tactics, and doctrines. There are also exchanges with teams from Argentina, Colombia, Spain and some North American SWATs. “Argentina is good on the explosives while the SWAT has knowledge and experience with active shooters and terrorism. In Spain we work on the antiterrorist part, narcotrafficking, fulfillment of search warrants and in a way of acting that is different from ours in regard to approaches and blockades”, clarifies Major PM Racorti.
GATE has been doing a series of training sessions in churches, shopping malls, stadiums, legislative assembly, the city council with the purpose of knowing the largest number of locations, its geography and the possible ways of acting in various types of environments, whether in situations with hostages or with active shooters.
Less than 12%.
Of the 87 police officers entering the GATE Special Tactical Action course in 2017, only 11 were approved and 10 actually profited by the unit. This is because the course for entry into GATE is extremely hard and not only to select skills and abilities for special operations but also to choose those who actually have a good psychological to belong to GATE.
“The good cop is the one who, when faced with an adverse situation, can solve it in the best way possible, that is, saving lives. You only know if it is good in practice, in the occurrence, in the real job” reveals Major PM Racorti.
The course is 30 days long and it is worth mentioning that the student is taken to its extreme, to its limit. Thus, instructions can be up to 18 hours long per day. In this sense, the student learns abseiling techniques, aircraft landings in areas of risk, tactical invasions, use of explosives, tactical burglaries, invasions in tubular structures, among others.
“We can say that it’s 30 days and nights. It’s really hard. To be able to enter the course you must be a volunteer. Upon being accepted he enters a 90-day stage where he does the daily schedule, knows the structure, the men of the GATE and in that period we will see where he will be framed, be it in the tactical team, negotiation or squadron of bombs. If it is used, it will still be necessary to take specific courses and deepen the knowledge where it will act, be it in negotiation, bombs or tactical team. For a sniper, they need many years until it reaches the top.”
The conduct of the police officer in GATE, however, can never change. It may be easier to enter than to remain in unity. The maintenance of their learning, improvement, and evolution of knowledge must be constant, as well as proficiency in shooting and physical evaluations. “The police officer will be dismissed if it is not well in the physical and shooting assessment, in examinations done regularly. Can not relax, have to maintain the high level. The improvement is constant”, concludes Major PM Racorti.
After all, the GATE only goes on the streets in real drives and the missions given are the most extreme, bordering on the impossible to be fulfilled.
~João Paulo Moralez
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