Brazilian Army Takes over Security in Rio de Janeiro
By Andréa Barretto/Diálogo April 16, 2018April 16th marked two months since Brazil’s president authorized the Brazilian Army (EB, in Portuguese) to take over public safety in Rio de Janeiro. A rise in violence in the state of Rio de Janeiro brought about the measure. The situation is especially dire in the capital city, where the country’s main narcotrafficking groups are based.
Federal intervention at the state level is a procedure provided for in the Constitution—the supreme law of Brazil—to re-establish public order in certain situations. Authorities appointed EB General Walter Souza Braga Netto, chief of the Eastern Military Command, to the position of federal intervenor in Rio de Janeiro.
As intervenor, the general reports to the president alone, and has powers over the Civil Police, the Military Police, the Military Fire Brigade, and the prison system of Rio de Janeiro. It’s the first time federal intervention is ordered in Brazil. The goal is to “recover the operating capacity of public safety agencies and reduce crime rates in the state of Rio de Janeiro,” Gen. Braga Netto said in a press briefing a few days after assuming his position in early February.
The first operations concentrated on prison sweeps and police reinforcements using military support in some of Rio de Janeiro's slums, known as favelas. At the end of March, patrols deployed to other parts of the city, such as tourist spots and boulevards with heavy car and people transit. Marines joined the land force in the first week of April, marking the beginning of the Brazilian Navy’s participation in the federal intervention.
Roadway checkpoints were also conducted by service members deployed alongside state police, National Guard, and Federal Highway Police. The goal is to blockade Rio de Janeiro's borders and prevent criminals from fleeing to other states.
To coordinate the operations, Gen. Braga Netto set up a Federal Intervention Cabinet (GIF, in Portuguese). EB Lieutenant General Mauro Sinott Lopes leads GIF, which brings together representatives from various public safety organizations. During the 2016 Olympics, Lt. Gen. Sinott led the Joint Command to Prevent and Combat Terrorism.
Since mid-March, GIF teams have been visiting civil and military police facilities. “These visits are part of the inspection program, which is aimed at diagnosing security units and then quickly finding solutions to increase operating capabilities for each of them,” GIF’s press office reported in a release.
With the objective of increasing the police’s operating capabilities, a police training program was created. “We’re initiating an activity that we hope will continue. When we send a public security agent out into the street to carry out an operation to enforce state sovereignty, he needs to be trained for it,” Lt. Gen. Sinott said.
The first phase of training prepared 20 instructors who will pass on their knowledge within their police units. “This promotes homogeneity in training and serves to restore the police officer’s self-esteem,” Lt. Gen. Sinott said of the initiative. Classes in the Applied Tactics Traineeship include theory and practice, as well as training on shooting and techniques to move through confined spaces.
In the second week of April, another phase of training began, with the participation of strategic police units from Rio de Janeiro. The training kicked off with professionals from the 14th Military Police Battalion, who operate in Bangu, a district in the western part of Rio de Janeiro. Comando Vermelho (Red Command), one of the main narcotrafficking organizations in the country, controls that part of the city.
To ensure proper development of intervention operations in Rio de Janeiro, about $350 million must be earmarked. According to the decree that authorized this measure, the intervention will continue until December 31, 2018.
To provide better working conditions for the police, GIF received 16,500 units of non-lethal gear through a donation from a Brazilian defense manufacturer. The equipment will be passed on to the Rio de Janeiro State Security Secretariat, and includes 10 taser pistol kits, 500 hand-held tear gas grenades with tracking chips, and 10 non-lethal projectile launchers.
The cabinet also received lethal weapons—100 rifles and 100,000 rounds of ammunition—which companies in the Brazilian defense sector donated. EB said it will send the equipment to police units and already authorized the delivery of 15 AR-10 rifles, seized at Rio de Janeiro International Airport, to the Civil Police.
EB also donated equipment to the Rio police. In March, three Urutu armored vehicles were delivered to the Special Operations Battalion (BOPE, in Portuguese), an elite unit of Rio de Janeiro's Military Police. Brazilian service members in the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti used the vehicles.
Before the vehicles were added to the police fleet, EB’s trademark camouflage paint was covered with black paint, while BOPE emblems were added. The machine gun that equipped the armored vehicles was also removed, to reduce lethal capacity.
Military operations during the first two months of federal intervention demonstrate the efforts to bolster public security and reduce violence in Rio de Janeiro. However, Gen. Braga Netto believes that for a longer lasting impact involving other segments of society is a must. “For these results to continue and become permanent, it will also be necessary, as we propose, for the government and society to adopt other initiatives, such as social inclusion projects and making public services available,” he said. “Public safety is a need that cannot be met through police action alone.”