Wrong Turn by Police in Rio Unveils Olympic Security Theater

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A wrong turn by an out-of-town police officer in Rio de Janeiro resulted in a shooting that killed one cop and injured two others, providing a peek behind the curtain of the security theater on display for this month’s Olympic Games.

Three officers from the National Force — a federal military police institution that has been assisting with Olympic security — were on patrol in Rio’s North Zone on the evening of August 10, when the officer driving their vehicle accidentally entered a neighborhood called Boca do Papai.

According to official accounts cited by local media outlets, gunmen then attacked the officers. The driver of the police vehicle, Hélio Vieira Andrade, a native of Roraima, Brazil’s northernmost and least populated state, was fatally wounded by a bullet that struck his head. Vieira’s colleagues escaped with less serious injuries.

Boca do Papai is one of several “favelas,” or informal neighborhoods, that make up a larger area known as Complexo da Maré. Hundreds of security forces occupied Complexo da Maré beginning in late March in order to prepare for Olympic events to be held nearby.

Within hours of the August 10 attack, Justice Minister Alexandre de Moraes said authorities had identified two suspects in the shooting. Law enforcement officials later identified three suspects, whom they described as leading figures in the local drug trafficking scene. None have yet been arrested.

On the morning of August 11, authorities mounted an operation to examine the crime scene under heavy security, including armored vehicles, canine units and military snipers that cut off entry and exit from the area.

In comments reported by Folha de São Paulo, Defense Minister Raul Jungmann lamented Vieira’s death, but said there not should be “the least shadow of a doubt that Rio is a safe city.”

InSight Crime Analysis

The Brazilian government has mobilized some 85,000 security personnel and plans to spend more than $215 million on security for the Olympic Games, which are being held in Rio this month. But as illustrated by the events in Boca do Papai, this massive investment of resources has generated uneven results that have led some experts to criticize the government for engaging in “security theater” — the practice of trying to improve perceptions of security without adequately addressing underlying problems.

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As the New York Times recently put it, “the overwhelming show of force has not exactly vanquished crime.” Several Olympic athletes and other high-profile personalities have recently fallen victim to various crimes including mugging and kidnapping, and authorities have warned that cyber criminals are likely treating the Games as a “great playground.”  

Meanwhile, many Rio residents have complained that the heavy security presence has been accompanied by incidents of police brutality, often directed at the city’s most disadvantaged citizens, and some say it has not led to any lasting improvement in security. According to one Rio resident who spoke to the New York Times in November 2015, the government’s security strategy for the city “should have been called ‘makeup.’ Government makeup. Because the police came in and changed nothing.”

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