A new report from Amnesty International offers a harsh critique of heavy-handed policing tactics in the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro, once again bringing intense scrutiny to a long-running issue in the country.
In its report — “You Killed My Son: Homicides by Military Police in the City of Rio de Janeiro” (pdf) — Amnesty International (AI) found that Rio’s military police habitually use excessive force during security operations in the city’s favelas, and regularly commit extrajudicial killings.
Between 2005 and 2014, AI documented 8,466 cases of registered police killings in the state of Rio de Janeiro. Of these, 5,132 occurred in the city of Rio de Janeiro, with the number of police killings in the city representing nearly 16 percent of all homicides in 2014.
According to AI, police killings are typically classified as “resistance” killings. This places blame on the victims and absolves officers of responsibility. Of the 220 homicide investigations into police opened in 2011 in the city of Rio, AI reports that, after four years, only one case led to a police officer being charged.
AI also found evidence suggesting police frequently alter crime scenes, either by planting evidence or removing bodies without due diligence.
Of the 1,275 registered homicides conducted by on-duty police between 2010 and 2013, 99.5 percent of victims were men, 79 percent were black, and 75 percent were between 15 and 29 years of age.
InSight Crime Analysis
In Rio, Police Pacification Units (UPP) — intended to suppress criminal activity and restore security to communities — were implemented in the city’s favelas beginning in 2008. While this initially resulted in a drop in police-related homicides, they have begun rising in recent years.
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Police reliance on excessive force is in part driven by a culture of violence — which is promoted by intense training and the dehumanization of criminals — and officers’ knowledge they will face scant judicial oversight.
As such, efforts to mitigate the problem of police brutality need to focus on reducing impunity for officers implicated in using excessive force, as well as weeding out the harmful aspects of police culture promoting violence against suspected criminals.