A study found that military police in Brazil’s São Paulo state have killed more than 10,000 people since 1995, highlighting the country’s failure to address violence carried out by the security forces.
According to a report published by Ponte, a newly established journalism project focused on human rights and citizen security in Brazil, military police in the state of São Paulo have killed 10,152 people in the last 19 years. The report — which examined the period between July 1995 and April 2014 — found that the number of civilians killed by police per head of population has risen since the 1990s, with an average of 0.89 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants between 1995 and 2000 compared to an average of 1.17 per 100,000 in the last five years.
Of these killings, 8,277 were committed by on-duty military police officers and the other 1,875 by off-duty officers. Ponte argues that it is important to take off-duty killings — which are omitted in Department of Public Safety statistics — into account to get an accurate picture of the violence perpetrated by police.
In a recent case of alleged extrajudicial killings, off-duty military police were accused of killing 12 individuals over a period of four hours in Campinas, São Paulo state, in January 2014. The murders were reportedly revenge killings following the murder of a policeman.
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High levels of killings by police in São Paulo state reflect a national problem. A 2013 report published by the Open Society Foundations in collaboration with Brazil’s Forum of Public Security identified a “culture of violence” within the country’s security forces, finding that in 2012 police killed an average of five people a day across Brazil. A 2008 study by O Estado de S. Paulo found that civil and military police had killed 10,216 people in Rio state in the previous 10 years.
Police Pacification Units (UPPs) — who have been tasked with “pacifying” Rio de Janeiro’s slums — have also been accused of using excessive force.
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The high levels of police killings in Brazil can be attributed to several factors including a corrupt criminal justice system, a lack of training for officers, and a general culture of violence among the security forces. In order to combat police violence, authorities will have to strengthen the justice system, punish perpetrators, and improve law enforcement training. Police officers who distrust the judicial system or perceive it as corrupt are more likely to take matters into their own hands.