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Brazilian Police | Between the UPP and the DMZ

Generic detective badge available through police union e-commerce Web site

Generic detective badge available through police union e-commerce Web site

Police militarism is a bad thing. I will leave it to DCM to outline the argument, below.

But just try telling that to a man with a gun in his hand and a police-friendly alderman or deputy on his side.

Is it possible to replace the knuckle-dragging “Operation Armed Peace”  that led to the disappearance of a local man in Rocinha with a model more along the lines of a DMZ?

Rather than the UPP (pacification police unit), a demilitarized zone? Or maybe even just semi-demilitarized?

Source:   Diário do Centro do Mundo.

The slogan heard in the streets alarms passersby, who tend to ask, “And when you get robbed, who are you going to call?” — as though demilitarization of the police implied the total extinction of the police.

That is not what we mean. It is a matter of transferring this “public service” to a police force not modeled after the military.

Under Article 144 of the federal constitution, public security assigns to the judicial police only the power of investigating criminal infractions (which it presents to the prosecutor). The military police are assigned to street patrols and “the preservation of public order.” This in itself is problematic because, obviously, one organization washes its hands of a case the minute it passes the baton to the next. 

But the real question is the culture and hierarchy of the military police, acquired during training, which is based on the training of the armed services. Soldiers are trained to defend Brazil against enemies. This is a radically different posture from the police agent dealing with Brazilian citizens. We are not at war. More specifically, we are not war with one another. A police that acts “against” the people only makes sense in times of dictatorship. And we are not living under a dictatorship, are we?

“The police cannot be conceived of as a force to annihilate enemies. The citizen walking down the street, or marching in protest, or even the citizen committing some crime, is not the enemy. He is a citizen with rights and these rights must be respected,” says Túlio Vianna, a criminal law professor at UFMG, during a public lecturein July at MASP. The professor also condemns the existence of a separate Penal Code for military police agents who commit crimes.  “It is very convenient to face a justice system in which you are judged by your own peers. ”

The theme is a a thorny one even among the PMs. A PM  colonel from Rio Grande do Norte filed suit against a lieutenant who publicly supported demilitarization in a post to Facebook. A sign of the times: the state union for PM rank and file came out in favor of the lieutentant: ““Lt. Silva Neto has had the privilege of serving as an enlisted man during his military career, and for this reason has a broad perspective on the issue of militarism and its implications for the hierarchy … (…) For these reasons, the Association of Privates and Corporals expresses its sincere admiration for Lt. Silva Neto, and offer him the assistance of our legal team in defending himself against the charge made by Col. PM WALTERLER.”

The military hierarchy tends to promote abuses. Carlos Alberto Da Silva Mello is a police corporal in Minas Gerais and favors demilitarization. On the Web site of the EBC — the federal government news service — he wrote: “Good day, I am a PM and I view demilitarization as representing progress in public safety.

“The colonels are against it because they would lose dictatorial power. It would put an end to abuse of authority against troopers, and to the insularity that exists in the PMs  (…) An end to militarism is not the end of the police but rather the end of an authoritarian, inhuman and arrogant regime  (…) Society A sociedade has no idea what goes on inside the PMs. Every trooper, corporal and sergeant is in favor of demilitarization of the PMs. Militarism represents a step backward.  (…) abuses are constant during the training of troopers.”

The belligerent culture that exists in the PMs has been extremely visible since June. The lack of proper judgment in the use of “nonlethal” weapons, the gratuity of violence, the unchecked rage, the ambush tactics used. Sending in the Shock Troop, the use of gas and rubber bullets: these tend to cause tension by their very nature. DUring events in which the PMs refrained from such exhibitionism, there was no disorder, vandalism, or whatever you want to call it. This is no coincidence. Along with authoritarian (and illegal) acts such as gratuitous detention “for investigation,” which has been used systematically, we work within an environment that urgently demands the amendment of Article 144 .

As is sometimes alleged, disarmament of the police is not the point. If we think of London as an example of a disarmed police force, we are not closing our eyes and dreaming of a utopia  (although there are interesting aspects that we might dream of, such as survey showing that 82% of British police officers say they do not want to carry a weapon while on the job and nearly 50% said they had  experienced situations of “serious risk” in the three years prior to the study.)

What is needed is an ombudsman and an internal affairs office that is minimally efficient, if only to avoid repetitions of such surreal cases as the famous “I did it because I did it” — a BOPE officer from Brasília explaining his actions — or a delirious, unidentified  PM insulting various lawyers on the street, or the Shock Troop sergeant in RJ who yesterday responded with a “it is none of your business” when questioned about his lack of identifiation. Common to all these examples is the conviction that their acts will have no consequences (if you are not from Rio, I recommend you follow the recent news there every evening.)

Clearly, this issue tends to surface when the children of the middle class are victimized by police. The periphery of the city has been ignored and despised for generations. For this reason, let us take advantage of the moment. The benefits of a non-military police would be enjoyed by everyone.

One of the ways to accomplish this would be the unification of state judicial and military police, which could be accomplished by a constitutional amendment.  This is not something that happens overight, so the sooner we disturb the wasp’s nest the sooner we will see progress. What is not possible is to sit and watch expropriation of properties turn into scenes of carnage, as we did today.

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