Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil's far-right outspoken presidential candidate, has said police should be given licence to kill criminals and those who do should receive medals not face prosecution.
Bolsonaro said in an interview Tuesday night that he would "leave good people out of range of the shooting" and go at criminals full steam.
"This kind of people [criminals], you cannot treat them as if they were normal human beings, ok? We can't let policemen keep dying at the hands of those guys," Bolsonaro said on TV Globo's main nightly news programme. "If he kills 10, 15 or 20 with 10 or 30 bullets each, he needs to get a medal and not be prosecuted."
Bolsonaro is polling second ahead of Brazil's October presidential election, with jailed former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in the lead. However, Lula is likely to be barred from running by electoral authorities for a corruption conviction.
Bolsonaro has a history of controversial comments. He has defended Brazil's 1964-1985 military dictatorship and made comments opponents have called homophobic and racist. He once told a fellow congresswoman she wasn't "worth raping."
Political analysts say his get-tough-on-criminals rhetoric appeals to many Brazilians weary of rampant crime but could backfire.
"His adversaries might use that quote saying he will kill people using many bullets. He is saying you can fight violence with more violence, and average Brazilians don't agree with that," said political science writer Alberto Almeida.
Human rights groups say police killings of suspects in Brazil are already common.
Earlier this month a report showed a record 63,880 people were slain in Brazil last year. Brazil has long been the world leader in overall homicide numbers, and its homicide rate is also one of the highest.
On Wednesday, Bolsonaro told supporters in southern Brazil that if elected he would change legislation to treat landless activists that trespass on private property as terrorists.
Left-leaning candidate Ciro Gomes, who has about 10 percent support in the polls, called Bolsonaro "a little project of a tropical little Hitler."
Loathed and loved
Loathed by much of Brazil for his insults against women and gays, his alleged racism and crude exhortations for "bandits" to be shot down, Bolsonaro has surprised many by becoming a frontrunner.
His rise has been steadily building and without Lula, Bolsonaro now leads polls in half a dozen states, including those historically faithful to the big Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PSDB) party.
In São Paulo, the biggest and richest state, Bolsonaro polls at 22 percent, compared to 15 percent for the PSDB's candidate Geraldo Alckmin, a four-time ex-governor.
At a campaign stop Monday in Rio's Madureira neighbourhood, the 63-year-old who frequently praises the country's 1964-1985 military dictatorship, got a rapturous reception.
Calls of "myth" have now become a standard feature of his rallies.
He's no great orator and in person can appear to lack the charisma of a leader like Lula.But with Brazilians desperate to ditch the status quo after years of recession, rampant corruption and ever-growing violent crime, his provocative positions make him stand out.
In Madureira, which is surrounded by sometimes almost lawless favelas and where residents live with the constant danger of gunfire, Bolsonaro's pitch for looser gun control to allow self-defence met with particular approval.
"Guns don't feed violence, just as flowers don't bring peace," Bolsonaro said, responding to critics who say that flooding society with even more guns will only increase the bloodshed.
'Shoot 20 times'
Bolsonaro has built his brand in large part by outdoing the 12 presidential rivals on social media. He has some 8.5 million followers on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Although well on the right, he has attracted surprising levels of support from some in the center and even the left.
Sixty percent of his supporters are under 34, showing that his pro-dictatorship talk sounds different to people who can't remember the period in person. He has sought backing from the Evangelical movement, which is socially conservative but includes both the rich and often the very poor.
His vice-presidential pick, retired general Antonio Hamilton Mourao, last year suggested that the Army might be obliged to "impose a solution" in Brazil if politicians continued on their current path. Bolsonaro says he would put generals in charge of six ministries.
Bolsonaro's opponents are passionate. Forty-three percent of women, for example, say that they will not vote for someone who revels in misogynist statements.
"There's a small possibility" of a win, said David Fleischer, professor emeritus of politics at the University of Brasilia.
If Bolsonaro did win the first round, "the other candidates would gang up on him and the other parties would coalesce behind the other candidate," Fleischer said.
But even if Bolsonaro doesn't win a run-off, the fact that he already has such sizeable support means Brazilian democracy is at risk, warns Ruy Fausto, a leftist academic. "It's enough to show you that the country is in trouble."