Since June 12, 2000, when a tragedy on a bus took place in the district of Jardim Botânico (Botanic Garden), in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the local Military Police had not been so demoralized on live television broadcast, for the rest of the world to see.
Bus number 174 was hijacked with several passengers who were released little by little after negotiations, until only one woman was left. When the kidnapper finally decided to surrender to the police, an officer from the Special Police Operations Battalion (BOPE), decided to shoot the perpetrator by his own initiative and missed the target, hitting the hostage in the head and killing her. The kidnapper was rapidly brought into the police car, but was asphyxiated to death on the way to the police station. The world press was present and the entire incident was broadcast live.
At that time, anybody with the least bit of knowledge on negotiation/crises management could easily identify the serious mistakes made during the process. Besides the fact that the area had not been isolated and the reporters were free to report the news without any concern for possibly interfering with the development of the incident, no other alternative tactics were mentioned other than the negotiation, such as the use of chemical agents and snipers. As if this were not enough, the negotiation, which must be conducted by a subject matter expert due to media interference, was led at the time by the commander of BOPE himself, and ended up compromising the name of the institution, because he was neither commanding nor coordinating. So much so, that the officer who “decided” to pull the trigger did so by his own initiative.
After the incident, many BOPE officers requested to be removed from the unit, which only recovered its self-respect after the release of the book “Elite Squad”, and the subsequent release of a movie with the same name.
Thirteen years later, we watched in real time the lack of preparation of poorly equipped police officers being attacked by vandals and looters. The officers not only failed to defend the historical patrimony, public and private assets, but also had their physical and moral integrity severely compromised.
The police officers are not the ones to blame in this process. In a country where people pay almost 40% in taxes, it is unacceptable that police officers are poorly equipped, badly trained, and unprepared to face situations of this nature. It is most likely that the resource management is incoherent.
Brazil has an excellent national industry focused on technologies for non-lethal riot control, especially the Condor company. But handling the equipment requires constant training and practice, as well as joint simulations. An institution that does not invest in refresher trainings is subjected to this type of exposure. In fact, we can be free of incidents for 100 years, but the security forces cannot afford to spend one second without being prepared. Whenever problems occur, there is no time to initiate processes of acquisition, distribution, instruction, and the use of equipment.
It is known by many specialists that the “camera syndrome” easily affects the average Brazilian police officer. As soon as police officers notice a reporter covering an incident, they start verbal arguments on many occasions, copying the attitude of Hollywood actors and often taking unnecessary and improper actions. We saw police officers carrying lethal weapons (rifles), shooting in the air for no reason. Professional troublemakers and agitators, like many of the ones who led the loots, are very well aware that after such episodes as the April 1996 massacre known as “Eldorado dos Carajás,” where 19 protesters from the Brazilian Landless Workers’ movement were allegedly executed by the Military Police troops from the state of Pará, and the October 1992 invasion of the Carandiru penitentiary, when 111 inmates were killed by the Military Police of the state of Sao Paulo during a rebellion, the officers hesitate to use lethal weapons to control disorder, fearing a lifetime in court explaining a possible abuse and even facing the risk of being sentenced.
However, the initiative of rescuing the quality and self-esteem of the Brazilian police, beyond just acquiring nice-looking uniforms, is the responsibility of the public security managers. Unquestionably, besides the equipment, instruction, and higher pay, it is essential that the Brazilian Criminal Code be revised. The biggest incentive for misconduct is the assurance of impunity. An insignificant number of vandals and looters have been arrested so far.
The international public opinion is closely following the evolution of the disturbances and considers the possibility that they may reoccur with greater intensity during the World Cup, scheduled to occur in only one year. Many tourists underwent difficult situations or were injured on their way to the stadiums; even the cars belonging to the FIFA were damaged and hit by rocks. The managers of the process must take urgent actions to mitigate the social tensions and properly prepare the security forces that will guarantee peace for the upcoming large scale events in Brazil.
*Fernando Montenegro, Retired Colonel of the Brazilian Army Special Forces, Terrorism and Public and Private Security Analyst