Pity Brazil’s Military Police. FEB. 19, 2014. Vanessa Barbara. New York Times.
- In 2012, 1,890 Brazilians were killed by the police.
- 351 occurred in São Paulo — 20% of all homicides.
- Organized crime retaliated by killing 11 police officers and another 100 off-duty.
- Police officers are 3 times more likely to be murdered than the average Brazilian.
- 70 percent of Brazilians distrust the police — they have lost their legitimacy.
In São Paulo, lower ranked military police officers earn an annual salary of $15,248, including benefits and danger pay allowances. They work in 12-hour shifts, night and day, for an average of 42 hours a week. But only in theory. Officers claim the rules are often ignored, with extended overtime, short notice of scheduling changes and irregular or no lunch breaks. Some take on additional jobs to supplement their wages, not only as private security guards (which is illegal), but also in a program called “Atividade Delegada,” through which the city hires policemen in their spare time, offering the equivalent of $64 for eight extra hours patrolling the streets.
There are two main kinds of police in Brazil. The civilian police concentrate on criminal investigations, while the military police have the duty of maintaining public order and working to prevent crimes.
The military police are not part of the armed forces, and yet they operate according to military principles of rank and discipline. They cannot strike or unionize, and are subject to a military-style penal code (meaning transgressions at work can be treated as mutiny or treason, and officers are tried in a special court). They are prohibited from “revealing facts or documents that can discredit the police or disrupt hierarchy or discipline.
They also can’t openly disapprove of the acts of civilian authorities from the executive, legislative or judicial branches of government, and are forbidden to express their personal political opinions.
“I love my job, I really do,” one member of the military police recently told me. “But our work goes unrecognized. Our errors are scrutinized. We have fractions of a second to decide between accelerating or braking, shooting or retreating; either way we are blamed. He noted that police officers were sometimes the only agents of the state stationed in poor neighborhoods dominated by organized crime. “Everything is on us.
But their main complaint is the impunity of criminals. Many believe Brazil’s judicial institutions are too lenient and inefficient. Officers are tired of arresting the same suspects over and over.
According to Adilson Paes, a retired police lieutenant colonel who conducted a study on police brutality, some officers turn vigilante as a result. This was also the conclusion of an investigation into policing in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo conducted by Human Rights Watch: Many deaths of civilians “resisting arrest” are in fact extrajudicial killings, the report found, and “some police officers are members of ‘death squads,”’ which are “responsible for hundreds of murders each year.
This often leads to a cycle of retribution between the police and organized crime. Just a month ago, in Campinas, a city 60 miles from São Paulo, a policeman was killed in front of his wife during a robbery; within a few hours, 12 people were found executed — apparently by the police, as revenge. And sometimes corrupt police officers themselves are involved in organized crime.
Lately, more Brazilians have been taking notice, as police brutality is increasingly directed against journalists and political protesters (many from the middle class), instead of just the same old black and poor citizens who live in favelas.