Brazil Police Strikes Signal Lack of Security Investment

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The city of Salvador in northeastern Brazil has suffered a crime wave since state police went on strike over pay and conditions, with demands echoing those of security officials in Rio de Janeiro.

Around 10,000 officers from Bahia state began striking Tuesday to demand better pay and conditions. Some armed police set up roadblocks, while others occupied the city’s legislative assembly. The government has declared the action illegal, and sent 3,500 federal troops to keep order in the city.

The strike has triggered a crime wave in Salvador, with more than 100 murders reportedly taking place since it began, which media reports say is at least double the previous week. Reuters reported that shops are being looted, while assaults and car thefts have shot up. Brazzil blog reported on a sense of chaos in the city, with trash going uncollected and ATMs empty of cash.

An elite federal force of some 40 officers has been sent to eject the strikers from the assembly and arrest their ringleaders, according to the AFP. The Wall Street Journal said that the situation had calmed on Sunday with the presence of the federal troops, but the strikers have refused to step down. One anonymous police officer reportedly told media “The government knows that 99 percent of us are armed. If they try to evict us there will be a bloodbath.” On Monday morning some 1,000 army troops were surrounding the assembly building, and had used rubber bullets against strikers trying to join their colleagues inside, wounding at least two, reported O Globo. The occupiers include women and children, according to the Rio-based newspaper.

InSight Crime Analysis

The state officers, who on average earn $867 a month, are demanding a 50 percent pay rise, according to the AFP. They are not alone in their dissatisfaction; police in Ceara and Maranho states have also recently carried out strikes, while Rio de Janeiro is currently being threatened with a strike by police, fire fighters and lifeguards starting February 10 — a week before the world-famous carnival.

Among those threatening to strike in Rio are members of the Police Pacification Units (UPPs). The fact that even these units, established as elite forces to bring peace to crime-ridden favelas, are unhappy about their pay is a sign that Brazil’s authorities are not putting enough funding into this element of their security programs. Salary levels for public officials are a key part of ensuring professionalism and avoiding corruption.

Brazil’s government may need to take this into account if it wants to brings about its aim of cleaning up cities like Rio and Salvador in time for the 2014 soccer World Cup.

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