Police training: revolution in the ranks, and above

Why not go all the way?

Last week, O Globo newspaper reported that the landfill leachate from the state-of-the-art sanitary landfill in Seropédica, which finally permitted the closure of the Gramacho landfill (immortalized in artist Vik Muniz’s film Wasteland), is being trucked daily 150 kilometers to a treatment station.

Accidents are occurring at an alarming rate, with fatalities, on the new Transoeste Rapid Transit Bus system, in the West Zone. O Globo reports that specialists say signage isn’t adequate.

The new dedicated bus lanes, in the South Zone? Taxi drivers say the cameras aren’t functioning and no fines have been levied on bus or automobile motorists who break the new rules. Unsuprisingly, more and more bus drivers are going back to their old erratic ways.

Not to be obsessed with transportation (though it is just slightly central to the city’s overall health) but the new Chinese metro trains, delivered eight excruciating months late, don’t quite fit our stations. Who ordered them and why aren’t the specs right?!

So much of the transformation of this metropolis involves challenges that have yet to be fully met.

Faux-German architecture for an old stables

A visit last month to Rio de Janeiro’s Batalhão de Choque headquarters and a conversation with State Public Safety Undersecretary for Prevention and Teaching, Juliana Barroso, illustrated Rio’s heartening yet difficult times.

The Batalhão de Choque is the part of the state military police corps specialized in crowd control, a sort of riot police. Its enormous headquarters, in a rundown yet central location near the Sambadrome, is a former stables, built in an unspecified era when imported cast-iron supports and staircases, wooden ceilings and faux colonial German architecture were in style.

In New York or Paris, this venue would grab the attention of urban planners looking to recycle buildings in sustainable and creative ways.

Marketplace, housing, arts center…?

Yet only the concrete façade is slated for historic preservation; and alas, the military police main headquarters is set to move here from their current location on Rua Evaristo da Veiga, with plans to knock down and replace all the internal structures.

Juliana Barroso is carrying out another sort of remodeling, of the police force itself. How much of the its innards and façade will be around in 2015, when the next governor takes office, remains to be seen.

“The challenge is to transform the culture of Rio’s police, both military and civil,” she says. For the last year, Barroso and her staff of thirty have been reformulating Rio state police training for a current corps of 44,000, expected to reach 60,000 by 2016.

When she read the newly published police pacification impact study, Barroso says she wept. One of nine final recommendations was that training be intensified and improved. Pacification police are part of the military police. Currently, they receive only about a week’s special training in proximity policing.

Playing dead for a head camera

The study caught many of the problems arising from the fact that until this past April, military police training was haphazard at best. For example, instructors were unpaid volunteers from the force.

“The curriculum was very theoretical, and didn’t include skills to orient police behavior—knowledge, procedures, attitudes,” explains Barroso.

Brought in from Brasília to change all this, she spent months analyzing the situation and coming up with a proposed curriculum, with the help of the International Committee of the Red Cross, universities, and other government agencies. A key change was the application of human rights material to all courses where relevant; previously, students merely learned about international treaties Brazil had signed.

The new curriculum also utilizes case studies and students’ personal experience, with the expectation that  they’ll seek out complementary material.

Undersecretary Juliana Barroso, right, in an interview with an O Dia reporter

A R$65 per hour instructor pay rate was provided, and 14,000 candidates signed up. Out of these, 355 professionals were chosen and trained. Instructors are observed and evaluated, and themselves take refresher courses.

Internal presentations and feedback contributed to curriculum revisions from January to April of this year, when the new system was implemented for military police cadets and officers. The curriculum itself is to be revised every two years.

“My biggest concern is the internalization of the process,” says Barroso.

Next, she’ll transform the academy curriculum of the Civil Police, responsible for investigative police work.

Doesn’t look like a police station

Under Barroso’s guidance, riot police are now taking one-week refresher courses at the far end of their stunning and crumbling headquarters. On a Friday early last month, in a newish bunker just beyond an improbably bucolic corner, small groups of crowd control police were being tested on weapons lethality concepts they’d studied that week.

Weapons pyramid

“There’s a pyramid of weapons, with verbal intervention being the base,” said instructor Captain Gilberto Martins. The weeklong course is for officers with anything from one to ten years of service. By the end of this month, 400 men will have learned to think carefully about which weapons fit which kind of situation.

Theater was involved in the test, with part of the students posing as drunken troublemakers. Sitting around a wooden table, they sang and beat out a rhythm with their hands—until one man threatened to knife another. Choosing their weapons, the police were then to move in and get the situation under control.


One group overdid the fear factor as they approached the rabble-rousers (bringing to mind the still too-frequent civilian shooting incidents where residents say the cops “came in shooting”), arming themselves with shields as well as guns. Another correctly stationed a rifle-bearing officer at the perimeter to cordon off the area, then covered an officer’s approach to the suspect until he could immobilize the latter with a stun gun.

After each intervention (filmed with a head-camera for later evaluation), the instructor held a short discussion to evaluate it.

Right and wrong

Watching made one think, once more, of the work needed to fully meet the challenges entailed in this city’s transformation. “I pay your salaries, you’re a bunch of deadheads,” shouted one “suspect” as he was led away—mimicking what he later said military police officers often hear from South Zone civilians.

Meanwhile, this year 6,000 police will receive training under the new curriculum. That leaves only 54,000 (assuming all are subject to refresher classes) to go, by 2016.

“I pay your salaries!”

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 Police training: revolution in the ranks, and above

  1. ARvWD says:

    As always, salient comment. They can’t do the job required with the resource they have, so the hope must be that this is a pilot, rather than a cosmetic sticking plaster paraded for journalists. If the current funding holds, they will have done 40% of the task. Funding needs to be more than doubled. Are there proposals to increase the training budget? A question for Juliana Barroso …

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