Nothing seems impossible now, not even reducing police corruption

[UPDATE FEB 16, 2011: An internal power struggle led yesterday to the departure of Civil Police Chief Allan Turnowski and the appointment of Martha Rocha, a career police official, as his replacement. Perhaps a woman chief –Rio’s first– will carefully put aside differences and get down to the hugely difficult business of cleaning up the incestuous relationships among the city’s police, paramilitary groups, druglords and politicians. “We must have a strong Internal Affairs Department, because a good police officer doesn’t fear a strong Internal Affairs Department,” she told reporters. “He wants a strong Internal Affairs Department”.

Read below to understand how Operation Guillotine fits in the larger context; accusations and the possibility of additional indictments and arrests are all part of a roiling process of change and adaption to new standards and procedures being imposed by the State Public Safety Secretariat, headed by José Mariano Beltrame. Yesterday governor Sérgio Cabral underscored Beltrame’s autonomy to carry this out as he sees fit. “In Rio de Janeiro, thank God, the time is past when Guanabara Palace participated in or allowed other politicians to meddle in public safety policy,” he stated. “[Beltrame] has my backing.”

Here is an excellent analysis of the power struggle, in Portuguese. State Public Safety Secretary Beltrame says the investigation may turn up “much more than seen so far”, and that the state will invest in technology because “the biggest problem of corruption is the freedom people feel to act.” After Operation Guillotine went public, O Globo reports, the Disque Denúncia hotline received 68 calls regarding police behavior, three of which were about this particular corruption scheme– up from a total of 21 calls on police corruption in general, last week]

Heads roll in Operation Guillotine

Yesterday’s arrests of 27 Rio de Janeiro military and civil police officers is the other side of a coin that dropped last November, when Brazilian police and military took control of two major favelas hitherto run by drug traffickers.

The invasion and occupation of Vila Cruzeiro and the Complexo do Alemão, were thought to be tasks for later this year, when enough other favelas were occupied such that the state Public Safety Secretariat was ready to take them on. But ten days or so of vehicle torchings, allegedly ordered by jailed drug traffickers, altered the timeline.

After those key areas were occupied–without a hitch–, police and public safety officials were cheered and the forces’ long-tainted public image  improved to the point where next month’s samba school parade will feature dancers proudly dressed as elite squad BOPE officers. Yet late last year, residents of the two occupied favela complexes complained that police were robbing them during house-to-house searches. And many other cariocas, turned cynical  by lifetimes of crime victimization and high-level impunity, repeated stories of seemngly endless police corruption and violence. The New York Times, in addition to other media, reported on the strange fact that the cops found very small sums of cash in the Complexo do Alemão, a nerve center for Rio’s arms and drug trade. Like 36% of RioRealblog’s poll respondents, many cariocas believed that the current public safety policy was doomed and that the city would soon enough revert to its old ways.

These traditions included cocky civil police officers, one of whom carried out favela invasions wearing non-regulation camouflage fatigues. Once an invasion was pronounced successful, he always lit up a Cuban cigar.

Last August, when Rocinha’s druglord Nem was ambushed coming out of a party early one Saturday morning– and his men dashed into the São Conrado Intercontinental Hotel to take cover (taking hostages as well)– one theory was that the ambush occurred because of a squabble over protection money Nem was paying regularly to police. The news that yesterday’s bust resulted from the discovery of leaks about a planned 2009 police action in the Rocinha favela brings some dots to mind that are begging to be connected. It could be that the “Operation Guillotine” arrests significantly weaken Nem’s access to police information and to resold weapons, easing the job of occupying and pacifying Rocinha and Vidigal, Nem’s contiguous territory next to the Sheraton Hotel on Avenida Niemeyer. This task is expected to be undertaken some time this year.

At any rate, the ground under carioca police boots did begin to shift sometime in 2008 or 2009– as police pacification units went into action and provided a stark contrast between jaded oldtime cops and fresh recruits whose training focused on community service, not dealings with druglords. And then came the Complexo do Alemão invasion, with unprecedented media coverage. Police were quickly prohibited from wearing backpacks while carrying out searches.

Earlier, under the aegis of  governor Sérgio Cabral and his Public Safety Secretary, José Mariano Beltrame, different levels of government and Rio’s various police forces began to work together for the first time in history. Information began to flow among previously insular institutions and presumably, comparisons and evaluations were made– leading to change. In May 2009, Allan Turnowski took the post of Civil Police Chief, promising to fight corruption, raise salaries, and change a hallowed work schedule that allowed and even encouraged officers to lead double lives.

Turnowski’s former right-hand man, Carlos Antônio de Oliveira, was one of those arrested yesterday, which put the chief in an uncomfortable situation. It’s still not clear what Turnowski knew of Oliveira’s dealings, which allegedly include selling confiscated weapons to drug dealers, among other crimes. [The recently departed chief has now been accused, based on wiretap evidence, of leaking news of a police investigation to a cop who was eventually arrested for paramilitary activity.] It may just be that the task of wiping out corruption in the 12,000-man state Civil Police force needed one big bust like yesterday’s, to truly get moving. To Turnowski’s credit, he fired Oliveira in August 2010, reportedly for “failing to meet goals”.

We’ve seen two sides of the coin now in  Rio— less narcotraffic-controlled territory and fewer corrupt police. What that coin is truly worth is still an open question. But at very least, smoking cigars and wearing camouflage fatigues on duty has fallen out of fashion. That guy was arrested yesterday, too.

About Rio real

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

2 Responses to Nothing seems impossible now, not even reducing police corruption

  1. Baby Pickel says:

    Enjoyed the Saturday morning reading! Could I ever share a story with your site?

  2. Pingback: Tweets that mention Nothing seems impossible now, not even reducing police corruption « RioReal --

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