Rio governor sends landmark bill, for Brazil, to state legislature
…on-duty police officers involved in drug-related corruption engage in serious criminal activities such as (1) conducting unconstitutional searches and seizures; (2) stealing money and/or drugs from drug dealers; (3) selling stolen drugs; (4) protecting drug operations; (5) providing false testimony; and (6) submitting false crime reports.
—From the Drug Policy Alliance website, describing the findings of a 1998 U.S. government report.
In an interview with O Globo newspaper in the wake of the latest crackdown on police corruption, State Public Safety Secretary José Mariano Beltrame announced a new crime-fighting measure: public servants who give evidence against coworkers can apply for reduced sentencing and stand to keep their jobs. “A person under investigation today risks losing his job,” said Beltrame. “Depending on the case, he or she can apply for reduced sentencing and, perhaps, not suffer a job loss, but undergo salary and benefits cuts. These are attempts that we have to make to bring people over to the side of Good. If an officer is indicted by an internal administrative board and wants to help, why not offer this benefit?”
Brazilian society, deeply hierarchical and authoritarian, lacking strong and accountable institutions, has historically prized solidarity within spheres of common interest, such as the family and workplace. The idea of abandoning one’s allegiance to a smaller group in favor of the common good is not easily accepted. Beltrame and governor Sérgio Cabral, who must still get the bill approved by legislators, are apparently attempting to encourage such a transformation by way of monetary incentives. Beltrame is also working on a bill which would authorize his department to investigate officers’ personal assets when these aren’t compatible with salaries.
Monday, O Globo reported that state legislators generally favor the reduced sentence bill, noting that the Ordem dos Advogados do Brasil (the Brazilian bar association) warns it could become a tool for revenge. The bill is set to be voted on by mid-April. Marcelo Freixo, the legislator on whom a character in Elite Squad 2 is based, said that Italy used a similiar incentive to fight the mafia there.
Rewarding a police officer who “snitches” is common practice in the U.S. and elsewhere– where police corruption is also a serious problem, as seen in the quote above. The Los Angeles Police Department, whose troubled history is not unlike that of Rio’s military police, suffered one of America’s worst police corruption scandals in the 1990s. In the so-called Rampart Scandal, an officer caught stealing cocaine from an evidence locker testified against his colleagues in exchange for a reduced sentence. This led to the indictment of about 70 police officers.
Rio’s latest police corruption scandal broke two weeks ago, with the arrest of 32 police officers in what has been called Operation Guillotine, for a variety of misdeeds, including trafficking weapons and drugs apprehended in the historic November 2010 occupation of two sprawling Rio favelas. Operation Guillotine led to the resignation and Feb. 17 formal accusation of Civil Police Chief Allan Turnowski (later rejected by the state prosecutor), charged with leaking news of the investigation to a suspect within his force. Turnowski’s fall has led many cariocas to doubt whether Beltrame — who has said he felt betrayed by the arrest of Turnowski’s former right-hand man for reselling confiscated weapons to drug traffickers — is up to the job of rooting out evil here. Past efforts have failed. What remains to be seen is just how different Beltrame is from his predecessors, the depth of his and Governor Sérgio Cabral’s dedication to their objective, and whether Rio’s improved socioeconomic situation will contribute to success.
The most recent police crisis, Beltrame told O Globo, “was a heavy and wearing challenge, but we have the task of showing police officers that they work for the institution, for society.”
Here is Miriam Leitão’s Sunday O Globo column on police corruption in Rio, based on an interview with José Mariano Beltrame.