Public Safety, hot topic. Will all the talk make a difference?
In Rio everybody’s turning into a public safety kibbitzer. The South Zone doorman thinks the military folks should “go up the hill”, to stop the shooting he hears at least once a week, coming from the Pavão-Pavãozinho favela. The Uber driver wants to do away with human rights. The new Public Safety Minister, Raul Jungmann, preaches tying funds going to states to improved public safety indicators– a sensible recommendation from specialists, tough to implement in the ten months left to the Temer and Pezão governments — and to the federal intervention in Rio, itself.
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And the R$ 1.2 billion that president Temer earmarked for the generals whose tents have been pitched for two months in Rio? Not here yet, says the intervention chief, general Walter Braga Netto, in one of his scarce public remarks.
Bullets fly meanwhile, more than before his arrival. In the absence of official plans, targets, a budget or accountability, civil society has taken up the job of monitoring the intervention. Last week the Observatório da Intervenção, part of the Centro de Estudos de Segurança e Cidadania, said it had counted 1,502 shooting incidents from February to April of this year, 16% more than the 1,299 during the previous two months. In the Rio de Janeiro season of camouflage-style jeeps, soldiers and helicopters, there were 940 homicides, 209 deaths caused by police and 19 police officers lost their lives. Seventy police “operations”, involving more than 40,000 police and military, came up with only 140 weapons and caused the deaths of 25 people.
There’s a new element in the violence panorama: the chacina –three or more deaths in a single event. The collaborative platform Fogo Cruzado registered 12 chacinas with 52 deaths; the same two months of 2017 saw half this number, six, with 27 dead. “The existence of multiple victims in police intervention episodes and confrontations with criminal gangs may be a sign of the times in this new period, with Rio under [federal] intervention,” says the Observatório’s report.
Wholesale action seems to be a trend. Civil police raided an event (party or concert, no one knows for sure) allegedly organized by milicianos (paramilitaries) at the start of the month, arresting 159 men (the women were let go) in one fell swoop. With the ensuing confusion — despite an alleged two years’ worth of investigation — over who was in fact a miliciano (four men died in a shootout during the raid), many of those arrested spent weeks in jail. Information is also lacking about the weapons found onsite, with several of those arrested saying they were searched for arms at the entrance to the event (opinions have also been expressed, in bulk, about the innocence or guilt of those who participate in such gatherings).
The explanation for the mess, according to an official close to the facts, is a feud between two groups within the Civil Police. What Rio most needs, in addition to reduced violence, is unity (and there may be a connection between the fragmentation and the violence). In recent months in the metropolitan region, we’ve seen deadly battles between diverse milicianos, police, and drug traffickers. Sometimes, the three functions come together in a single person or group; as the numbers show, the fighting almost always wounds or kills innocent bystanders.
To make matters worse, the São Paulo gang, Primeiro Comando da Capital, PCC, has reportedly been making headway in Rio. Known for its management expertise, the PCC is up against an apparently disorganized market, composed of various gangs and groups. How does the PCC deal with this? On hearing this question a person close to the intervention team made a hand gesture as if to shoot a gun.
Bringing down bodies isn’t an option for the interventors as they also deal with disorganization — within the police forces — some members of which in March publicly revealed little desire to cooperate or obey. Police sources point to too much autonomy in Military Police battalions, not enough central control.
As the violence increases, so do accusations against politicians and officials who governed Rio of late, such as current governor Luiz Fernando Pezão and even former state Public Safety secretary, José Mariano Beltrame, whose reputation is much cleaner than those of elected officials. In this environment, October’s gubernatorial election is a huge unknown.
Time is short; will Rio survive 2018, something city councilwoman Marielle Franco hoped to do? She was killed in March, possibly by milicianos. As crime statistics close in on the the numbers of the pre-UPP years, interventors in fact decided to close some UPPs. Specialists disagree about the wisdom of doing this.
The only upside of this dispiriting situation is that public safety has never been discussed as much as it is now — not even when pacification was invented, in 2008. In that year there were no smartphones or Ubers — and civil society didn’t count shootouts.
It’s the end of an era. What will the next one be like?