Rio de Janeiro State’s Public Safety Secretary Jose Mariano Beltrame — who has led Rio’s efforts to modernize its police force through the creation of Police Pacification Units (UPP), among other projects — laid bare the results of his tenure, as well as the challenges ahead for the project, at a recent public event chronicled by Rio-based blogger Julia Michaels.
Beltrame trudged up the stairs of the Osteria dell’ Angolo restaurant. Getting to the top, he leant heavily against the doorframe, as if in great back pain.
Minutes later, however, he was animatedly discussing almost seven years of highs and lows, spent between favelas and his Being John Malkovich-ish headquarters atop Rio’s central train station.
“You have to put the police into the twenty-first century,” he said. “But you don’t have boots or radios. That is this country’s problem.”
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Beltrame said he expects public demonstrations — which center on social inequality and decades of failed government policies — to continue, and murmured that he’ll soon implement a new strategy on this count. Though Rio de Janeiro state Governor Sergio Cabral’s administration will be well on its way out by the time of the June-July 2014 World Cup, with a gubernatorial election next October, the Cup final and six other games will be played in Rio de Janeiro, which saw violent protests during the recent Confederations Cup.
Beltrame also announced the creation of an ombudsman’s office in Rocinha — Rio’s largest favela — to hear complaints about police abuse. This is the favela where police officers allegedly tortured a laborer to death in July; ten officers have been arrested in conjunction with Amarildo de Souza’s death and 13 more are expected to be indicted. Meanwhile, another favela resident has died in suspicious police-related circumstances, in Manguinhos favela.
Everyone, including the public at large in the OsteRio debate — one of a series of public debates on the future of the city — and Institute of Religious Studies’ (ISER) Pedro Strozenberg, who hosted it, took care to contextualize criticism amid praise for the achievements of Rio’s pacification program, which began in 2008. No one asked about the much-proposed unification of Rio’s military and civil police forces, and Beltrame didn’t directly answer specific queries about police abuse or the expressed need for increased dialogue with security forces.
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Beltrame was also diplomatic with his own criticisms, pointing the finger above all at “society” and calling for “structural change.”
Still, it was clear that the secretary faults the Brazilian judiciary and Rio’s municipal government for many of the difficulties he’s faced over the years.
“You go to a birosca (small bar) to seize a caça-niquel (illegal slot machine), and you find that the owner uses illegal hookups for electricity and water, that he has no building permit, that no one is inspecting the joelhos and pasteis (snacks) he’s selling,” Beltrame complained, adding that most of the Police Pacification Unit (UPP) offices still function in containers because of lawsuits preventing the police from constructing more permanent offices, onsite.
In the Pavão-Pavãozinho favela, he added, he must increase the number of police officers patrolling the area because residents are building skywards, despite city regulations to the contrary.
Beltrame praised the work of the city’s Pereira Passos Institute president Eduarda la Rocque (who was present) with the Social UPP, but said he’d like to see more integration with city agencies. “Public administration doesn’t function in an integrated manner,” he lamented.
Asked about police action against “milicias” (violent paramilitary groups operating mostly in the West Zone, extorting residents and shopkeepers, monopolizing key resources), he pointed out that the lack of legitimate businesses offering bottled gas and cable TV, for example, leads to the return of such groups, even when arrests occur, using stepped-up investigation and a new federal law that typifies paramilitary crimes.
Beltrame also mentioned the difficulties favelas have with polluted rivers and sewage, a responsibility of the state concession, CEDAE. He said that police officers deal with issues he considers beyond their responsibility, because other institutions aren’t meeting residents’ needs.
At the same time, Beltrame said, the Brazilian judiciary is perhaps overdoing its job. Most of those arrested last week after a teachers’ demonstration downtown have been released by court order. “Those who do the monitoring have more power than those with executive functions,” he said.
The cordial tone of last night’s debate is probably due to the fact that the gubernatorial election campaign is informally already under way, giving rise to fears for the future of pacification. Rio’s state election is very much up for grabs; Governor Cabral’s alliance with city mayor Eduardo Paes has fallen apart, and the one with President Dilma Rousseff (herself up for reelection) is also shaky. Her Workers’ Party is bent on fielding its own candidate, Senator Lindbergh Farias, instead of supporting Cabral’s party’s choice, Vice-governor Luiz Fernando “Pezão” de Souza. Meanwhile, other candidates have joined the fray, making the most of Cabral’s fragility.
Beltrame helped Cabral to an easy reelection in 2010. But now, in light of continuing street protests, his achievements are more vulnerable to criticism. Continuity is surely at risk. But last night, for most of those present, the value of the secretary’s work was clear, as he enunciated his accomplishments:
- Entry exams for public safety workers, with 400 new recruits being produced a month.
- Reformulation of the police academy and its curriculum, particularly to reflect respect for and information about human rights.
- 8,600 pacification police, with officers circulating between the academy, the UPPs and normal police work. (These officers are part of a total force of about 50,000 military police. Rio’s civil police force, above all responsible for investigative work, comes to 12,000 officers. The total of 62,000 officers stands in contrast with the 34,526-person — as of 2010 — New York City police force, serving a population of 8 million. According to Beltrame, the narrow alleys of Rio’s favelas require higher police density.)
- Increased police reports, as favela residents turn away from drug traffickers to resolve conflict, with, for example, a fourfold increase in numbers of citizens seeking help at the 15th precinct, in Gavea (near Rocinha).
- Increased arrests and fewer bullets being shot. In the 16th Battalion, in Bonsucesso (northern Rio), the police used 56,000 bullets in 2009. Last year, they used 2,000.
- 35 police pacification units, with only about four or five left to install, directly affecting about 500,000 residents — a number which jumps to 1.5 million when residents of areas contiguous to pacification units are included.
- A formal redefinition of police work, away from warmongering, towards peacekeeping.
Beltrame, who sees himself now “shifting into fifth gear,” noted that his strategic plan reaches beyond the end of Cabral’s term, laying the groundwork for his successor. The question is who, if anyone, will use it. While OsteRio attendees, mostly South Zone residents, are willing to consider the subtleties of pacification in light of the chaotic policy that preceded it, this may not be the case with most of the state’s voters.
“The UPP isn’t a solution, it’s a possibility,” noted ISER’s Pedro Strozemberg. “It’s a watershed.”