Record Killings of Rio Police Are Part of Institutional Failure

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A record number of police have been killed in Brazil’s state of Rio de Janeiro so far in 2017, in a seeming illustration of the police’s poor training and how they have become a central actor in the battle over that state’s lucrative criminal markets. 

Fifty-one police officers have been killed during the first four months of this year in Rio de Janeiro, the highest number recorded in the first four months of a year since these statistics started being recorded 23 years ago, Globo reported

If this rate continues, the number of police officers killed is set to surpass last year’s: 147 killed of the over 46,000 police officers. In comparison, the report found that 54 of the more than 89,000 total police officers on patrol in the state of São Paulo were killed last year. 

According to the report, the majority of these cases are concentrated in Rio de Janeiro’s favelas, the poorest neighborhoods in the city and also where a number of the state’s criminal groups operate. 

InSight Crime Analysis 

These figures help to illustrate an institutional failure to protect police, and they highlight the systematic shortcomings in training and the use of lethal force, which has made Brazil’s police a major actor in the violence that plagues this country. Some would argue that it starts with a culture of physical and psychological torture in Brazil’s military police training, which has also directly impacted the way in which these officers serve society and in turn are treated by society. 

The result is a huge amount of lethal violence dispensed by police and absorbed by them as well. According to research from Brazil’s Institute for Public Security (Instituto de Segurança Pública – ISP), between January 2016 and February 2017, killings by police generally increased, reaching a peak of 105 killings in December 2016.  

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In a 2016 academic study on state and criminal violence in Latin America, José Miguel Cruz, a political science professor at Florida International University, argued that state institutions are a “fundamental actor in today’s criminal violence,” citing the large number of people killed by security forces in Brazil as an example.

While at times the use of lethal force by police officers is warranted, killings carried out by Brazil’s police forces are often unlawful. Last month, a video surfaced that showed police in Rio de Janeiro executing two men lying on the ground.  

Police are also at times themselves involved in organized crime activities. Just this week, a former military police officer was arrested and accused of being the supposed leader of a criminal organization operating with help from Brazil’s Red Command (Comando Vermelho), the country’s oldest criminal group. 

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