Will Rio be safer?

“The military got itself into a mess”– public safety specialist, CESec’s Sílvia Ramos, at Museum of Tomorrow event

Carnival’s intensity and the current tensions in greater Rio might be two sides of the same coin. We felt what was coming. Despite the thrills we knew it was impossible to go any further with rising crime and the ever-more-decadent cops. We ran out of fun and breath.

No one knows the answer to the question this post’s headline. The military have been cautious and opaque, up to now. We don’t know with whom they’re speaking, what reports they read, how many soldiers they’ll be, nor what the plan is for the ten months until December, when they must depart, handing us all over to a new Public Safety Secretary, appointed by a new governor whose name and projects are as yet unknown.

One known result of the intervention is the great flow of information, ideas and beliefs regarding public safety coursing through the country, particularly in Rio. Over the last week this blogger read copious material on the subject and attended meetings and debates, almost daily.

At the Museum of Tomorrow the mayor of Pelotas, Rio Grande do Sul, described a new interdisciplinary municipal initiative to reduce crime

The interventors clearly face a series of Herculean tasks, to be carried out in an urban civilian environment where citizens’ constitutional rights were never ironclad. This — along with the historical weight of Brazil’s military past, the ongoing Car Wash investigations and criminal gang movements, in an electoral year, with politicians as nervous as ever.

This blogger was already aware of the management challenges presented by Rio’s Military Police. A consultant’s words, at a debate hosted by the newly resuscitated OsteRio, provided hair-raising details. Leandro Piquet Carneiro, from São Paulo University’s Public Policy Research Nucleus, told how our police asked him to come up with standard protocols for their day-to-day work. Piquet Carneiro brought the material he’d already produced for the São Paulo state Military Police. Rio spent months adapting it to the local context. The script was published. No one used it; and then a whole collection of manuals was discovered, produced by a gamut of groups within the force.

“The commander wasn’t able to unify [the force around the protocols],” the consultant concluded. “There’s so much fragmentation, though this is a ‘military’ police force”. What needs to be done, he says, is to “reestablish command, discipline and integrity.”

Concerned with the intervention, activists, cultural agitators and favela and peripheral residents met at the Crescer e Viver Circus school in Cidade Nova

Joana Monteiro, the state-run Public Safety Institute (ISP) director, also participated in the renewed OsteRio, which debated public safety early this week. She said that good police leave the force because they can’t accept the work conditions and overall climate. Promotions aren’t merit-based, she said. There was so much pressure to increase the number of pacification police during the administration of José Mariano Beltrame that the math test was removed from the entrance exam. Beltrame, in his almost ten years as state Public Safety Secretary, named seven Military Police commanders.

“Every time [you change the general commander],” explained Monteiro, “there’s a 30%-50% turnover of local commanders. There’s no incentive to long-term thinking.”

Both speakers pointed to on-the-ground policing as a top priority, one shared by the  interventor, General Braga Netto. It seems he’ll be able to wrangle funds out of federal hands to pay and increase the force size, and fix the half of all police cars that are broken down, something Governor Pezão failed at. If Braga Netto follows suit, violent lethality (fueled, last month, by deaths occurring during confrontations with police) and other crimes risk a continued Alpine trajectory.

At the Crescer e Viver circus school last week, the debate was over how to respond to the intervention itself. Some of the participants invited by circus founder Junior Perim fully rejected the intervention, lobbying for resistance. Others, who had prepared a document, preferred to try for dialogue with the military, to push them to respect citizen rights, particularly those of residents in informal neighborhoods of the metropolis. The bottom line was a diluted document  — and resentment on both sides.

With an eye towards the grey area that came into greater evidence with the military arrival in Rio, several intervention observatories have been created, as well as channels for making accusations. Artists and favela representatives have also acted. There have been formal complaints.

The Center for Safety and Citizenship Studies, CESeC, has scheduled a meeting for March 5 of supporting groups (state Public Defenders, Amnesty International, Redes da Maré, Fórum Brasileiro de Segurança Pública, Casa Fluminense, Instituto Brasileiro de Análises Sociais e Econômicas, Ibase, Laboratório de Análise da Violência, Lav/Uerj, and the Instituto de Estudos da Religião, Iser, plus others) for its new observatory, that will monitor the intervention and publish reports. There will be a chance for journalists to ask questions, at noon.

The November, 2017 launch of a journal with proposals on the federal role in Public Safety

Far from Rio, the new minister of the new Public Safety Ministry, Raul Jungmann, is starting to take the reins of the Federal and Highway police forces, as well as the prison system — to improve integration among these and thus serve public safety needs across the nation.

His mission is more long-term than that of General Braga Netto. Nevertheless, specialists and actors who participated last November in a policy proposal journal issue published by the federal Applied Economic Research Institute (IPEA), recommend even longer-term work, on something they see as fundamental: the federal government’s leadership, with guidance and incentives to state and city governments, towards implementing the most modern and effective policies in Brazil and elsewhere.

Otherwise, they say, police forces tend to opt for brute repression with inadequate training and no planning, using little intelligence or data. Monitoring  and evaluation are also missing, for policy adjustment. Police often end up prioritizing their own group or other political interests, instead of working together with agencies in the governments they serve.

Brasil lacks basic official instruments. It’s not the federal government that collects crime data, but the independent Forum Brasileiro de Segurança Pública. The Forum uses the Brazilian freedom of information law to get access to state numbers. The United States created a national crime data base in 1929.

Where is the army now? Tanks aren’t rolling along the beach nor crossing the Aterro, as some imagined. For now, the military seem to be focussed on state lines and occasional action at favela entrances, partially following the pattern established by Garantia da Lei e da Ordem (Law and Order Guarantee, or GLO) operations, which brought the army to Rio in an earlier phase, starting last June. They also carried out a sweep at a metropolitan prison where a rebellion was staged just as the intervention was announced. There are plans for other parts of Rio state.

Wherever they are deployed, the interventor and his troops will certainly come up against the web of favors and relations that benefited the state’s main players for so many years. The shape of our downward spiral contains the perverse fact that the more crime there is, the more work for security forces– i.e., poorly-paid off-duty cops, at private companies or as part of the Segurança Presente (Safety Present) project, which protects some parts of the capital in the absence of the actual Military Police.

The web came to light again with this article by a former O Globo newspaper reporter, set off by the recent arrest of Orlando Diniz, president of the Rio state Commercial Federation (Fecomércio), accused of embezzling funds totaling more than R$ 10 million. The article, on The Intercept Brasil site, describes the connections among Fecomércio, Globo newspaper and its Reage Rio! anti-crisis project, and, what do you know, the Segurança Presente program.

With Diniz’ arrest, one wonders if the federation will continue to fund it.

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.

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