Are Rio’s Criminal Gangs at War with the Police?

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Police in Rio de Janerio have staged protests against rising anti-police violence. But are the growing numbers of murders the result of a general deterioration in security, or is Brazil facing another war between the police and organized crime?

On December 14, around 2,000 Rio police marched to call for reforms to protect police and provide more support for victims of anti-police violence — which has cost 83 lives so far this year, reported Folha.

According to statistics compiled by Rio police reporter Roberta Trindade, the murders mean police killings have now risen in three consecutive years, with 71 in 2012 and 81 in 2013, reported BBC Mundo.

In addition to the murders, 205 police officers were shot and wounded in Rio during the first 11 months of 2014, representing a 43 percent rise in total attacks against police compared to 2013 and a 112 percent rise on 2012, according to Trindade’s statistics. Over one third of victims were off duty at the time of the attack.

Several police officers that spoke to BBC Mundo said the rising violence is a result of an undeclared war on the police by Rio’s criminal networks, who are “hunting” officers.

However, Rio’s Security Secretary Jose Mariano Beltrame denied there was any concerted campaign to target police, while experts that spoke to BBC Mundo said they had no proof of such a policy from criminal groups.

InSight Crime Analysis

So far there is little evidence that growing anti-police violence in Rio is the result of a broader strategy by criminal groups. However, Brazil has a history of such conflicts, and the very fact that police believe this is the case could spark further violence.

Brazil’s police force are notoriously violent — killing over 11,000 civilians over the last five years, according to a recent report — and have been consistently criticized for their use of lethal force and for committing extrajudicial killings.

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This abuse may lead to acts of retaliation against the police, resulting in cycles of violence between police and gangs. This appeared to be the case behind a wave of violence involving the police — both as victims and perpetrators — in Sao Paulo in 2012.

As has been well documented, police in Rio are quick to rely on extrajudicial killings. If they are once again feeling threatened, they may well turn to such tactics to take revenge against their perceived enemies, or to assert their control in certain communities. This increases the risk of criminal groups targeting police in retaliation, raising the possibility that even if there is no war against Brazil’s police right now, it may become a self-fulfilling prophecy if violence continues unchecked.

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