Brazil has abandoned its public safety

. Oct 31, 2017
Brazil has abandoned its public safety Protest against urban violence in Rio. Photo: Fernando Frazão
Brazil has abandoned its public safety

Protest against urban violence in Rio. Photo: Fernando Frazão

Over the course of 2016, Brazil registered 61,619 murders. It’s the highest number in our history, and translates into 7 murders every hour. Another 71,796 went missing. These numbers help illustrate how the Brazilian state has so miserably failed to keep its citizens safe. In Rio de Janeiro, 70 percent of residents want to leave the city to escape everyday violence. Meanwhile, half of those living in metropolitan areas say they are aware of organized crime in their neighborhoods.

Brazil is home to 19 of the world’s 50 most violent cities, according to Mexico City think tank the Citizen Council on Public Security, Justice and Peace. But the worst part of this news? Brazil has no plans to make the country safer.

To begin with, the Brazilian doesn’t properly calculate crime statistics. The most comprehensive data we have is published annually by the non-profit organization Brazilian Forum on Public Safety (FBSP). Meanwhile, authorities still struggle to gather information from all 27 states and find solutions for what has become one of Brazil’s biggest problems.

According to FBSP’s latest report, which was published on Monday, all indicators of public safety grew worse between 2015 and 2016.

Meanwhile, investments from authorities (federal, state, municipal) were slashed by 2.6 percent.</p> <p>[infogram id=&#8221;d78feb26-5709-4f73-84d2-f7f709263a07&#8243; prefix=&#8221;a58&#8243; format=&#8221;interactive&#8221; title=&#8221;Violence in Brazil&#8221;]</p> <p>“We shouldn’t treat public safety as an ordinary expense, to be slashed according to the economic policy,” says Elissandro Lotin, a FBSP member. He refers to the austerity agenda pushed by President Michel Temer and Finance Minister Henrique Meirelles. Expenditure with public safety (among other areas) has been slashed by 10.3 percent. Despite the escalating violence in Rio de Janeiro, only <a href="">1.2 percent of federal funds</a> meant to be used on security issues were actually spent.</p> <p>Meanwhile, the government authorized <a href="">12 billion BRL in projects</a> that benefited congressmen. It was a strategy to save Temer from criminal prosecution, as the House voted last week on an indictment request against the head of state.</p> <h3>Frightening statistics</h3> <p>The FBSP report offers little chance for a silver lining. “The data shows how the Brazilian state has abandoned public safety,” says Lotin. He criticizes the country’s leaders for a lack of a long-term, multi-partisan strategy. The few good strategies carried out were eventually abandoned due to a lack of continuity from one administration to the next.</p> <p>[infogram id=&#8221;79afdde8-4907-4395-b242-81e270742715&#8243; prefix=&#8221;u6G&#8221; format=&#8221;interactive&#8221; title=&#8221;Missing persons in Brazil&#8221;]</p> <p>One such case is observed in the northeastern state of Pernambuco. In 2007, the state launched a program called “Pact for Life,” aimed at reducing murder rates – then at 4,285 cases. By 2013, murders were down to 2,854, only to rise again in the last couple of years. “Once there was a new governor in town, the program was no longer a priority,” Lotin explains.</p> <p>As Brazil still insists on a reactive approach to crime, choosing repressive measures over preventative ones, the body count grows larger. And that reflects how our police forces approach their duty. Brazil’s police are among the most violent in the world, and also among the most prone to criminal attacks. In 2016, the police killed 4,224 people; that number is 27 percent higher than it was just a year prior. The average profile of these victims is young, black, and male. “It shows how vulnerable the youth are to police action. We know that most of these deaths are never investigated,” Samira Bueno, also a FBSP member, told <a href=""><em>Folha</em></a>.</p> <p>But though the police have taken thousands of lives, they are themselves the targets of violence. In 2016, 437 officers were killed. Many lost their lives while performing other security services taken on to supplement their low income.</p> <h3>How did the situation get this bad?</h3> <p>To discuss why the state isn’t properly tackling public safety issues, we first need to analyze the country’s legal framework. “The Brazilian Constitution is pretty vague on the subject, citing public safety in only three articles,” says Renato Sérgio de Lima, FBSP’s director. Lima points out that there is not enough intelligence work aimed at preventing crime; the Brazilian government only acts <em>afterwards</em>.</p> <p>Brazil is also plagued by an overcrowded, underfunded prison system. Earlier this year, several rebellions broke out across different penitentiaries and resulted in the deaths of over 130 inmates – many of whom were beheaded. Concerning the issue, the Supreme Court Justice and former Minister of Justice Alexandre de Moraes repeatedly stated: “Brazil arrests a lot of people, but doesn’t do it like it should. Petty criminals shouldn’t be incarcerated with dangerous felons.”</p> <p>[infogram id=&#8221;3db36282-315c-4de9-959d-0fc6da4b6f9f&#8221; prefix=&#8221;RvM&#8221; format=&#8221;interactive&#8221; title=&#8221;Spending with public safety&#8221;]</p> <p>In a prison system dominated by criminal gangs, inmates are forced to join gangs to protect their own lives, which in turn fuels criminality outside the prison gates.</p> <p>It is no secret that the country’s public security system has many holes. Nevertheless, politicians have failed to push through reforms. The current national plan for public safety is nearly identical to a plan presented in 2002, meaning that little has changed in fifteen years.</p> <h3>The police must change</h3> <p>There are three main police forces in Brazil: Federal Police, Civil Police, and Military Police. The first is our equivalent to the FBI, and it is attached to the Ministry of Justice. The remaining two are state forces.</p> <p>To simplify the distinction between them, the Civil Police are the detectives, and the Military Police operate more like beat cops. The former investigates crimes, while the latter is supposed to prevent them from happening by monitoring specific areas. Not only do the Military Police fail greatly in preventing crime, but they are also believed to add to criminal activity. This is because 15 percent of all murders in Brazil are attributed to these cops.</p> <p>[infogram id=&#8221;32948da5-f33d-4d09-be09-273aa4af5d4a&#8221; prefix=&#8221;0ri&#8221; format=&#8221;interactive&#8221; title=&#8221;People killed by the police&#8221;]</p> <p>A growing number of people defend the demilitarization of the police. They believe that:</p> <ol> <li>there should be one only police force; and</li> <li>that their military status is one of the most infamous legacies from our <a href="">military dictatorial governments</a> (1964-1985). In 2012, the dismantling of the Brazilian Military Police was proposed by the United Nations. Even policemen backed it. A study conducted in 2014 of more than 20,000 security agents indicated that 56 percent believe the police should not be militarized.</li> </ol> <p>The daily reality endured by policemen is not easy, either. Salaries are notoriously bad, especially for work like theirs: they survive on under $600 a month, depending on the state. They must also work with outdated equipment – if they have it at all.</p> <p>“Aside from demilitarizing the police, the whole structure must be reformed, allowing policemen to envision a career and ascend to command jobs according to their merit,” Bruno Paes Manso, a journalist and researcher for the University of São Paulo, said in a 2016 interview. Nowadays, it is extremely difficult for a beat cop to become head of a department during his or her career.</p> <p>Supporters of the current system defend it by pointing out that the militarization of the police is specified by our Constitution. At least this was what the Brazilian government told the UN back in 2012, and it’s also what São Paulo’s secretary for public safety repeated last week. Sure, it’s constitutional – but that doesn’t mean it should stay that way.

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