A recent survey found favela dwellers in Rio de Janeiro are more afraid of police than illegal militias and drug traffickers, a telling indication that the liberal use of violence by Brazil’s police forces has eroded trust in law enforcement.
Promundo, a Brazilian advocacy group promoting gender equality, polled 1,151 residents of the city’s northern zone (“zona norte”) and southern zone (“zona sur”) between the ages of 15 and 59, reported UOL Noticias. In the northern zone, which according to UOL Noticias is an area recognized for having a high homicide rate, 59 percent of respondents said they fear the police, while 58.4 percent said they were afraid of drug traffickers. (See graph below)
In the southern zone, the difference was more stark. Slightly less than 53 percent of respondents reported fearing the police, while just 42 percent expressed fear of drug traffickers.
The survey also found Rio residents are less fearful of the city’s militias than they are of police. In the southern zone 43.8 percent of respondents said they are afraid of militias, while that number reached 53.3 percent in the northern zone.
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Surmising what could be behind high levels of police distrust among favela residents is not difficult. Police in Brazil are notoriously violent; according to one security body, military and civil police forces killed over 11,000 civilians between 2009 and 2013.
Indeed, Tatiana Moura, executive director of Promundo, drew a direct correlation between the results of the survey and law enforcement’s penchant for using lethal force.
“We attribute this to the violent police presence over the decades in these communities,” Moura told UOL Noticias.
It is not just violence, however, that is engendering fear in these areas. Police corruption, while a serious problem throughout Brazil, appears to be most acute in Rio de Janeiro state. In a 2013 government survey more than 7 percent of Rio residents said they had been forced to pay a bribe to police, more than double the national average of 2.6 percent.
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Overall, the survey’s results suggest Rio law enforcement face an uphill battle in improving the city’s security climate. Police often rely on locals to report crimes, but citizens are much less prone to collaborate with police if they fear those in uniform more than the drug traffickers and armed militias in their communities.