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Violence Statistics | Smoothing the Curve


Source:  Agência Brasil Topic: Public Safety

São Paulo – From January to July 2013, the number of cases of armed robbery followed by death grew 29.4% in São Paulo, according to a monthly review of police cases published by the state public safety secretary.  In the first seven months of last year, 68 persons died during robberies. In the same period this year, the figure was 88.

Statewide, the number of deadly robberies rose from 209 in the first seven months of 2012 to 234 in the current year, an increase of nearly 12%.  Public Safety Secretary Grella Vieira says that armed robbery is one of the major concerns of the state government.

“I have always said that lethal armed roberries are the crimes that concern us most because they have greatest impact on the perception of security. There is still much to be done, but we are adopting a series of measures that will require some time to be adopted or implemented,” said Vieira.

The number of first-degree murder cases also increased in the period in question, both in metro São Paulo and statewide. In the city, murder victims rose from 724 to 746, while statewide the number increased from 2,691 cases to 2,715. Rapes also increased during this period, from 1,721 reported cases to 1.834 in the city  and from 7,212 to 7,444 statewide .

Although these numbers increased in the seven months of this year, data indicate a downward trend when examined month by month. The number of homicide victims fell in July, down from 371 victims in June to 332  in July, the lowest number observed so far this year. Compared to July 2012, when 380 murders were reported, the numbers also indicate a decline in incidents,. In the state capital, first-degree murder fell from 115 in June to 87 in July, the lowest incidence for July in the last 12 years, according to official data. In July 2012, there were 102 murders, a 6.7% decline in comparsison.

The incidence of legal armed robbery rose from 30 in June to 31 in July, nearly equivalent to results from the same month one year ago (31 deaths).

The secretary says the numbers demonstrate a downward trend in the indices of these crimes.  “It is not anything definitive, but it is a downward tendency,” he said. He stressed however, that much work remains to be done to bring reduce the numbers with respect to violent crime.  “We are not satisified with these indicators. We need to continue to refine our approach.”

The secretary said that the peak of violence statewide in the second half of 2012, with elevated numbers of incidents, has been interrupted and that the expecation now is that the numbers will continue to fall.

“We interrupted the cycle of violence. We are investing in intelligence work in support of investigations, which is fundamental in avoiding future crimes. Integration, investigation and intelligence are the three axes we believe we need to orient our work, togther with structural measures which will, in the future, bring positive results.”

But as the Rio Times notes, there are almost always signficant outliers in this soft and soothing curve that bear watching :

November 13, 2012 — In the bloodiest weekend yet of the violent crime wave gripping São Paulo, 31 people lost their lives between Friday evening and Sunday afternoon, Folha reported. Experts are calling the surge of violence part of an escalating war between police and the First Capital Command (Primeiro Comando da Capital, PCC), a notorious gang involved in drug trafficking and organized crime. The deaths brought the toll to at least 154 between October 24th and November 12th, according to an Estadão survey, and 1127 so far this year – already exceeding the 2011 total of 1069. Gunmen appear to be targeting police officers, as well as killing citizens randomly, with 93 law enforcers killed so far this year -– seventy of whom were off-duty when killed – representing a forty percent rise on last year. Speaking off the record, police officials this weekend told local news they believe the attacks are a reprisal by the PCC for a recent police crackdown on drug trafficking. Reports emerged on Tuesday that military police leadership suspect a document listing the names and addresses of more than one hundred São Paulo police officers has been sold by corrupt police to PCC-linked criminals for R$8,000 and used to target victims.0


Click to enlarge

The Wall Street Journal — source of the graphic shown above — neatly sums up the third vector in the game of cops and robbers: too often, the police are the robbers.

Paulo Nascimento seemed to know what was coming when police caught him hiding in a home on a poor outskirt of São Paulo last November. The suspected car thief emerged pleading for his life with shrieks of “For the love of God!”

One officer slapped his face. Another kicked him in the rear. A third shot him.

Normally, Mr. Nascimento’s death would garner little attention in a country where police kill more suspects than almost anywhere else in the world. Police in São Paulo state killed one suspect for every 229 they arrested last year, according to government figures, compared with one per 31,575 in the U.S. in 2011.

A clip from the Brazilian news broadcast “Fantastico” shows cell-phone footage of the arrest and final moments of Paulo Nascimento in Sao Paulo in November 2012. But Mr. Nascimento’s death stood out. An anonymous neighbor filmed his final moments, and a television news show aired the video the next day. Prosecutors have filed murder charges against four of Mr. Nascimento’s arresting officers. The officers have pleaded not guilty; their trial is set to begin as soon as August. In a country where many weary of violent crime justify police vigilantism, the video and pending trial are giving momentum to reformers who say the take-few-prisoners approach by Brazilian police is out of step with the aspirations of an emerging democracy seeking to lift a vast underclass into prosperity. They are reminders of Brazil’s uneven development: Though the economy has surged, other areas such as criminal justice remain firmly in the Third World.

This is not say that progress has not been made in crime statistics, as a Wikipedian noted in 2007. It is that the lethality of the police has not accompanied the downward trend in violent crime, as Human Rights Watch found in 2009 (PDF).  Under the heading of “Police Killings” …

  1. “Resistance” Killings.
  2. Widespread Scope of Extrajudicial Executions
  3. The Ten Most Lethal Military Police Battalions in Rio de Janeiro
  4. ROTA: One of São Paulo’s Most Lethal Military Police Units .
  5. Killings by Death Squads and Militias
  6. São Paulo’s Death Squads
  7. Rio’s Militias

Our neighborhood bears the scar of this phenomenon.

During what was apparently a stop and search gone wrong, three policia miliar (PMs) pumped eight pistol rounds into a close neighbor — the pop-pop-pop-pop-pop-pop-pop interrupting our customary viewing of House, M.D., with subtitles.

The shots were fired not twenty meters from our front gate. Two rounds were fired from a lateral position and struck the victim in the side of his head. The others fired through the main windshield.

A sad, wilted corsage of daisies and a placard with a URL calling for community support now marks the spot.

The Brazilian states of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo have been plagued for years by violent crime, much of it carried out by illegal drug-trafficking gangs. Reducing this violence and containing these gangs represents a daunting and at times dangerous challenge for the police forces. Too often, however, rather than curbing the violence, police officers in both states have contributed to it through the unjustifiable use of lethal force. The Rio and São Paulo police have together killed more than 11,000 people since 2003. In nearly allthese cases, the officers involved have reported the shootings as legitimate acts of self-defense. In Brazil, these cases are referred to as “resistance” killings.

Given that police officers in both states do face real threats of violence from gang members, many ofthese “resistance” killings are likely the result ofthe use of legitimate force by the police. Many others, however, are clearly not.

After a comprehensive, two-year investigation into policing practices in Rio and São Paulo, Human Rights Watch has concluded that a substantial portion of the alleged resistance killings reported in both states are unlawful extrajudicial executions. In addition, some police officers are members of “death squads” or, in the case of Rio, illegal armed militias,which together are responsible for hundreds of murders each year.

Until police killings are classifed and investigated as homicides — justified or not — is difficult to gauge whether São Paulo residents should feel safe or not.