I grew up in a county where the police didn’t have the greatest reputation. Yet even so, I remember being told that if I were lost, I should find a police office. It was expected that when our car was pulled over by the police, they would ask for a bribe. However, when my family received extortion letters that threatened us children (and specifically my younger brother) with kidnapping and death if money wasn’t paid, we went to the police. In my child’s mind, they were a bumbling presence – sometimes blurring the line between right and wrong, but when push came to shove, they’d choose the side of law and order – to do what was right – they were the good guys, while the Sendero Luminoso were the bad guys.
Unfortunately, the police in Rio like to avoid being categorized as “the good guys.” And while I’m not one to defend the drug traffickers (they are brutal, violent, and often do horrible, horrible things), you expect it of them. They’re SUPPOSED to do bad things. They’re the bad guys. You don’t expect it of the police. Or rather, you don’t want to expect it of them – you hope against hope that you’ll find the good police officers you know are a part of the force – the incorruptible ones who won’t take bribes, who won’t shoot my next-door neighbor, the mother of two young children who is on her way to work (even by accident). There have to be some. They can’t all be corrupt…
The police are not the enemy. But the betrayal of the public trust comes when those who are given authority by society turn and abuse their power. The levels of violence seem to have been exacerbated by the current governor of Rio – elected on a “get tough on crime” platform, the police have acted in line with his rhetoric. This, combined with poor training of police officers, a culture of brutality and excessive force, police impunity, and other reasons, leads to the following (compiled by the ISP [Institute of Public Security] for 2006 and 2007.)
– 1265 people were killed in the city of Rio in 2007 by the police. (This is a record. The previous “best” was in 2003, when 1195 people were killed.)
– The police in Rio kill one person for every 16.6 they arrest. In comparison, police in SP kill one person for every 151.2 people they arrest.
– In 2006, police in the entire United States (population 300,000,000 +) killed 375 people. Police in Rio (population of approx. 10,000,000) killed 1,063 people.
That same year, police in Portugal (population similar to the city of Rio) killed 1 person.
– In 2006, the police perpetrated 14% of all violent deaths. Police used lethal force more often when they were off duty and out of uniform.
“Polícia não é para matar” ~ Silvia Ramos
(Police are not for killing.)