Alarming 2015 statistics on military police violence in São Paulo, Brazil, may yet spark renewed concerns over how police are being trained across the country.
New data released by São Paulo’s State Secretariat of Public Security showed that 532 deaths were caused by “police intervention” in São Paulo state between January and November 2015. This is a higher figure than 2006, when 495 people died in a year marred by violent clashes with the criminal organization known as First Command of the Capitol (PCC). This included 107 people killed in just five days.
Local Brazilian news outlet A Tarde reported that these new figures do not include deaths caused by off-duty military police officers, or cases involving intentional killings by officers. The secretariat’s report claims that the increase in military police killings last year is proportional to the increase in São Paulo’s population since 2006. However, the Ombudsman of São Paulo Police admitted that “the number of cases is astonishing.”
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Police brutality will likely once again fall under scrutiny in Brazil, ahead of the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in August. In 2015, Amnesty International claimed that police in Rio had killed 1,500 people over the past five years, accounting for 16 percent of all homicides during that period.
One major question is why military police killings are increasing in São Paulo, even though the long-running conflict between police and gangs like the PCC is not as acute as it was in 2006. One explanation could be the long-term effects of the brutal training regime that members of the military police must undergo. A recent study by a police captain from Paraiba State, Fabio França, uncovered systemic abuses suffered by recruits during training, including sleep deprivation, beatings, bullying, and the use of tear gas, as reported by the BBC. França, who has a PhD in sociology, gathered reports of recruits in an unnamed state, describing their treatment as “rituals of suffering.”
Other tactics have been deployed by states in an attempt to reduce the shocking number of deaths caused by police. The Economist has reported that in 2013, São Paulo’s own state security secretary introduced a measure preventing police officers from providing first aid, simply to remove any opportunity to cover up murders. However, it is unlikely that such tactics will have an immediate impact in a year set to see both increased police activity against criminal organizations, as well as a potential resurgence of anti-government protests.