Veja’s “yellow pages” interview Sept. 15 with colonel Mário Sérgio Duarte, available in Portuguese online by way of the Acervo Digital icon at the top of the magazine’s home page, portrays a man determined to transform Rio’s main police force, the military police. Herewith some highlights in English:
- Illegal behavior on the part of police officers has reached “suffocating levels in the last several years”, says Duarte. Three hundred officers were kicked out in 2009 for corruption, extortion, robbery or murder. Being a military policeman, explains the colonel, is “a career for the few”. This is because most of those who wear a uniform and carry a weapon do not know how to deal with the power this implies. The only way to change this is to end impunity on the police force.
- Duarte has thus accelerated cases under investigation and in the judging process. Impunity derives from too much bureaucracy and protection among colleagues within the ranks. Discipline questions were judged in the exact same police station where the accused worked. Thus police justice tended to be incestuous. Duarte has transferred judging procedures to a central internal affairs office.
- The police undermine their own efforts. Duarte cites as an example the case of Antônio “Nem” Bonfim Lopes, the drug trafficker who rules Rocinha and Vidigal favelas. Nem has fled police action a number of times. “For money,” says Duarte, “a group of police officers has helped Nem and other criminals”.
- Over a period of 20 years, Rio’s criminals have amassed thousands of weapons. In the 1980s and 1990s, he explains, the received wisdom was that drug traffickers would disappear from favelas once the social problems had been dealt with. It was thought that the police caused more problems than they solved. The military police simply didn’t enter Rio’s favelas. “Electoral politics were always at the root of this complacency,” says Duarte. He calls for more severe sentences for convicted drug traffickers, who under existing rules are often paroled.
- Duarte says that while Rio’s leading drug traffickers are moving to the Complexo do Alemão, an agglomeration of favelas ruled by the Comando Vermelho (Red Command) gang, some traffickers are still in business in “pacified” favelas. “What we’ve done away with is seeing bandits walking around with automatic rifles and imposing their own laws, in a system that is totally outside the State. It’s just a beginning, I admit. As the police move into more territories ruled by drug traffickers, the idea is that they lose ground for their criminal activity, until it gets to a point where they just can’t do business,” notes Duarte.