Behind the postcard which forms a Carnival which is already revving up the engines, the most emblematic beaches of Brazil, the bossa nova or a century-old hotel like the Copacabana Palace, Rio de Janeiro is a state where every day last year more than 11 people died violently, murders concentrated in the metropolitan areas of this spectacular city. The 4,356 deaths recorded in 2023 are the lowest number in 34 years, when state authorities began tracking them, according to the Public Safety Institute. Even more striking, the decrease in violent deaths in general (-5%) is a consequence of the fact that the police kill less (-35%), they have relaxed their easy trigger. In other words, 869 people died during police operations, more than two per day and almost 500 fewer than the previous year.
Brazil’s security forces are among the deadliest in the world. And among them, those from Bahia stand out for their easy triggering, which snatched the unfortunate first place from Rio de Janeiro. The annual report of Rio, prepared by the Public Safety Institute, and presented last Friday, surprised public security specialists. “This decline is surprising, considering that no policy has been implemented at the initiative of the state government (of Rio de Janeiro) aimed at reducing police mortality,” says Carolina Grillo, from the Federal University of Fluminense, who recalls that the beginning This point “was very high, in 2022 there were 1,330 deaths”.
Grillo, coordinator of the Study Group on New Illegalisms, warns against the temptation to celebrate the number of victims committed by uniformed police officers: “Even with a drop of 34.7%, police lethality remains at a low unacceptable level, it was more than double in 2012 and 2013. He emphasizes that a much greater reduction would be necessary to reach internationally acceptable levels, that is to say that security forces would be responsible for less than 10% of violent deaths. Currently, police in Rio, a state of 16 million people, commit 20% of homicides. In the previous four years, it reached 30%, a period that covers almost the entire term of former President Jair Bolsonaro.
When the NGO Human Rights Watch recently presented its annual report, police lethality was one of the concerns that this NGO most highlighted in the chapter devoted to Brazil. The director of its Brazilian office, César Muñoz, criticized “the lack of strong measures to combat the problem of excessive use of force by security forces.” And it warned that in 16 of 27 states, deaths at the hands of police increased in 2023 and that in two of them (sparsely populated Goiás and Amapá), officers committed half of the violent deaths.
Another specialist, Joana Monteiro, from the Getulio Vargas Foundation, wrote at 93 monthly average in the first half and 111 in 2022. “I don’t know what happened, the one who can explain it is the PMERJ” , the army said. Rio State Police.
The Rio Public Security Institute highlights in its report that seizures of long weapons increased by nearly 30% (610 rifles), more than 6,000 short weapons were seized, nearly 15,000 stolen vehicles were recovered and nearly of 37,000 arrested. in the act. And he highlights the investment of 2.5 billion reais (510 million dollars, 470 million euros) in technology, protective equipment for officers, in addition to work in barracks and police stations.
The proliferation of cameras attached to police uniforms is one of the factors that has contributed in recent years to reducing police mortality in Brazil, but their use is very uneven. And it is also at the center of a polarized political debate. The governors of Rio and São Paulo, close to former President Bolsonaro and aware that the security forces are one of their major sources of votes, are hesitant to adopt this method.
Specialist Grillo recalls that “in recent years, the Rio state government has resisted all Supreme Court decisions aimed at reducing police mortality, both with resources and through deliberate disobedience.” Groups of victims’ relatives and other social movements went to the High Court in 2019. And the Supreme Court ordered in 2022 to place cameras on all Rio officers. But it is only now, on January 8, that the most iconic of the military police battalions, the BOPE, which stars in the famous film, has started using the equipment of discord. Elite troop. Grillo also explains that “what has changed in 2023 is that with the entry of President Lula (da Silva) into government, Rio de Janeiro no longer has political support to continue challenging the Supreme Court.”
Proclaiming from the rooftops that “a good bandit is a dead bandit”, as certain political leaders did during the Bolsonaro era, no longer has the political approval of the top of power. “If previously the authorities openly expressed their support for the practice of police assassinations, the certainty of impunity is threatened in one way or another,” adds the coordinator of the Study Group on New Illegalisms.
Experiments in other Brazilian states indicate that uniformed cameras reduce the number of deaths of suspects as well as those of officers.
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