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The transition to democracy in Brazil came with a significant change in the role the armed forces could play for public security within the country. According to article 142 of the 1988 constitution, the armed forces could now intervene “for the guarantee of law and order” in Brazil only on the initiative of the civilian authorities. But since then, the military has been used on this basis in a growing array of situations, ranging from strikes and elections via political summits and visits by foreign dignitaries to efforts to “pacify” urban neighbourhoods. This paper examines how the constitutional mandate of the armed forces to guarantee law and order was specified in successive legislation in Brazil, and how the practice of deploying troops for policing purposes has evolved. It finds that the growing use of the military for the guarantee of law and order, while not necessarily weakening civilian control of the armed forces, still comes with significant risks for the quality of democracy. The main risk is associated with how this use of the military shapes state-society relations and may weaken the links between the elected leaders and those they represent.