Rio Police Chief Steps Down, As City Steps Up Security

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The resignation of Rio de Janeiro’s police chief in the wake of the murder of a judge, allegedly carried out by men under his command, demonstrates a firmer stance against corruption in the force, writes blogger Julia Michaels.

Three strikes, and Rio’s military police commander Mario Sergio Duarte was out:

The new military police chief is Colonel Erir Ribeiro da Costa Filho, who most recently headed up Rio’s newly-upgraded 190 emergency telephone number operation. He has experience in the militia-ridden West Zone of Rio, as well as in São Cristovao. Costa Filho has a history of whistle-blowing within the military police and in the case of at least one government official.

At a press conference, the new commander said that the military police’s internal affairs division will have to become proactive, and that the force’s leaders must set an example. “The police academy doesn’t teach a person dignity,” he added. “Dignity comes from the cradle, from the person himself.”

State Public Safety Secretary Jose Mariano Beltrame said he wants police to present their annual tax declarations.

The state’s response to all three strikes listed above and Duarte’s resignation itself indicate a firm stance — with laudable transparency and accountability — against police corruption and crimes.

In the wake of Oliveira’s arrest, Duarte turned in his resignation from the hospital where he underwent a prostate operation this past Monday. This morning he gave a telling radio interview (not available online, unfortunately) from his hospital bed. Duarte told interviewer Ricardo Boechat that he quit because he believes he holds ultimate responsibility, having assigned Oliveira to São Gonçalo. Boechat asked how Duarte came to make that assignment, knowing that the commander was under investigation for earlier wrongdoing, although not indicted.

“As careful as we are in making choices, weighing all the data, there will always be a chance of error, even if the officer has a completely clean record, ” Duarte answered. “Colonel Claudio was the third commander under me in Sao Goncalo and he was bringing down the crime rate. But the process of selecting commanders is very difficult. What is inadmissible is to say later ‘I didn’t know, I didn’t see, I was betrayed.’ The responsibility is mine.”

Duarte also said that military police may have behaved in a particular fashion in the environment that encouraged police violence, before the new public safety policy was implemented in 2008. Now, they have a chance to change — and he believed in giving the men and women under his command that chance.

Implicit in his words is the fact that Rio’s police force, largely underpaid, simply doesn’t have enough manpower prepared for the new public safety environment.

To learn about what state public safety secretary is doing about police attitudes and behavior, set to be implemented early next year, read this earlier post.

Reprinted with permission from Julia Michaels*, a reporter who has lived in Rio almost 30 years. See her blog, Rio Real, which is in English and Portuguese, and read the original post here.

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