What is going on? Sirens and helicopters not effective enough to stem crime

Carioca "arrastões" used to take place on the beach, with everybody barefoot


Rio’s police have successfully occupied and “pacified” 13 favelas since late 2008. They’ve also begun to turn their attention to the extortionist paramilitary groups prevalent in poor neighborhoods where drug traffickers are absent. And the state is moving fast to increase its presence in the pacified favelas, with the innovative social UPP program.

The military police also successfully ended a ten-day battle between rival drug trafficking gangs in Madureira, late last week.

But a wave of attacks on motorists in a variety of locations throughout the city continues unchecked. An attack of this sort in Rio de Janeiro, on several cars at once, is called arrastão in Portuguese, which literally means dragnet. Like dragnet, arrastão refers to fishing using a large net, but in Rio it’s the robbers who do the fishing, not the police.

Officials so far haven’t said who is carrying out the arrastões or if the perps might by any chance be drug traffickers or militia members, pushed out of their territories. Middle and upper-class support for the state’s public safety policy, evident in Sérgio Cabral’s Oct. 3 landslide reelection to the governorship, could erode fast if such crime continues for much longer.

The problema may be semantic. Gustavo de Almeida, press advisor for the state’s general commander of the military police,  Mário Sérgio Duarte, thinks that the word arrastão is being used too loosely, to describe almost any robbery taking place in the non-favela parts of the city. The so-called wave, he says, may be just a random collection of crimes that are part of normal urban life. There’s no way of knowing the robbers’ origins, and they aren’t part of any organized movement to destabilize the state’s public safety policy.

He adds, in an exclusive statement for RioRealblog:

In no way do I wish to minimize the impact of or the trauma that these robberies cause for victims, and, of course, for the citizens of Rio who hear about these events. What I question, always, is the usage of the word for different ocurrences. In the distant past we used the word arrastão for any robbery committed by multiple agressors with multiple victims. Today, the press calls any “rapid” robbery taking place on a public roadway an arrastão (as if all robberies weren’t rapid).
I have serious doubts about this. Not that I deny the existence of arrastões in Rio de Janeiro. For example, the other day there was an attack on a bus with 45 passengers, on Avenida Brasil. Now, with that many victims, isn’t that an arrastão? Why is it just an “attack on a bus”? Is there some kind of chart we can use to quantify an arrastão?
So the use of this word serves to categorize events that are common (although undesirable, of course) in a large city like Rio de Janeiro, as serious crimes. The press colors these crimes as much more serious than they really are, and end up hurting the image of a city that today has a well-defined public safety policy, and a military police that is constantly improving, adapting its methods and procedures.
A month ago, we were asked about arrastões on Avenida Martin Luther King, which used to be called Avenida Automóvel Clube, in the north zone. We set up a meeting with the commander of the capital’s police command, colonel Marcus Jardim. The same day he went through the police blotter and found that in a two-week period, over fifteen miles of roadway, there had been six automobile thefts (in separate occurrences) and two motorcycle thefts.
Of course these are thefts we cannot minimize and that shouldn’t occur. But unfortunately what we have today in the western world is a model for a metropolis where the “ideal” is the “lowest possible rate”, with the recognition that zero is impossible.

TV Globo’s newsroom consciously avoids the word arrastão, but the same group’s print media has a different approach. A search for the word arrastão on the Extra newspaper’s “Caso de Polícia” blog turned up almost 20 cases of victims who fell into the fishnet since early September. Two people, including a child, died from bullet wounds in the attacks; two others were wounded. The military police have recently taken to using helicopter patrols and have made personnel changes in an attempt to create a more effective anti-crime strategy, but so far the results aren’t impressive. Last Monday night in Humaitá, near the Casa de Espanha, three armed men stopped cars and collected three motorists’ valuables, as well as keys to two of the cars involved. It took police fifteen minutes to arrive at the scene; they later appealed to drivers to pull over in traffic on hearing police sirens.

But locals know this can be dangerous. Just ten days ago one carioca lost his Fiat Uno to a “policeman” driving a motorcycle with the siren turned on. It was only when he was getting out of his car, at the officer’s order, that he noticed the uniformed fellow was wearing tennis shoes instead of regulatory black boots.

About Rio real

American journalist, writer, editor who's lived in Rio de Janeiro for 20 years.
This entry was posted in Transformation of Rio de Janeiro / Transformação do Rio de Janeiro and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to What is going on? Sirens and helicopters not effective enough to stem crime

  1. Pingback: Peace and the police/ Paz e a polícia « RioReal

  2. Suchmaschine says:

    Of course, what a great site and informative posts, I will add backlink – bookmark this site? Regards,

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