This paper is based on an ongoing colective research project that has as its main objective to examine the role that continued gross human rights violations play in the democratization process in Brazil. One of the focus of the research is the role that agencies and actors in charge of applying the laws play in the continued gross human rights violations. The actual research consists of the reconstructions of a number of high profile gross human rights violations cases, including killings committed by the police that took place throughout the 80`s, during the democratic transition. This reconstruction uses as sources official documents, police inquiries, transcripts of the penal process, newspaper clippings, and human rights reports. Interviews were carried out with the policemen in charge of the investigations, with the public prosecutors who took the case before judges and with the judges. People living in the communities where the cases occurred are being also interviewed as are members of human rights organizations that intervened in the cases. In this paper we will be presenting some data concerning cases of police violence that happened in the state of São Paulo during the 80`s according with the press. We situate the cases within the broader picture of the growth of violence in São Paulo in this period that coincides with a dramatic shift in the role that the state plays in the economy, with an economic crisis that resulted in budget cuts that affected every aspect of collective life. This picture provides the background against which the role of the state is examined.