Gustavo de Almeida easily admits he has one of the worst public relations jobs in Rio de Janeiro: press attaché for the general command of the military police. “Shit happens every day,” says Almeida, who lives with his cell phone “practically attached to my skin”.
A veteran journalist of 42, Almeida came on the job ten months ago and is part of a new era for Rio’s military police, which began during the first term of current governor Sérgio Cabral. It used to be, says Almeida, that the police knew how well they were doing by the number of deaths, arrests and drug they came up with. Now, the bottom line is “prosperity, economic growth, full streets at night, people working normally, favela residents with the right to move around as they please “.
These items are much harder to quantify than kilos of marijuana and dead criminals, but Almeida seems to like difficulty. And his hardships often mess with human nature. “When you have an event,” he explains, “there are two courts. The formal court of the law, of reason, where you have the right to a defense and can appeal a decision; and the court of public opinion, where you have no right to a defense. And the only defense you have is to apologize.”
An apology is what his boss, commander colonel Mario Sérgio Duarte, made after the death of 11-year-old Wesley Gilber Rodrigues last July, victim of a stray bullet in a public school classroom. Almeida says that before the new communication policy was in place, the military police would simply say the bullet hadn’t come from them. Even when the police aren’t at fault in a case like this (“the end of the world” in his words), he adds, they are responsible.
Under the guidance of colonel Duarte, the military police are now set up for professional communication. Duarte, who recently gave a must-read interview in the yellow pages of Veja magazine (summarized here in English), possibly the space boasting the highest readership in the Brazilian print media, also hired a public relations agency, FSB Comunicações.
And he’s got Almeida, blessed with the gift of being able to sum up meaning in just few words. The last ones of this post are his:
“The new press office of the military police isn’t the ‘advocate’ of the military police, we’re communications managers. We don’t defend the police just for the sake of defending them; instead we analyze to what degree our employee acted in defense of the citizenry. And we communicate what happened, analyzing the reasons for it and what actions were taken.”