August 7, 2019


This Brazilian State Seems to Have Turned a Corner on Violence. But Can It Last?(RICHARD LAPPER | AUGUST 7, 2019, Americas Quarterly)

Outside the prison system, violent crime has been falling across Brazil in recent months, partly as a result of more aggressive policing methods. But nowhere has the improvement been more apparent than in Ceará. When I visited in May 2018, the state was the third most violent in the country, as rival gangs fought a vicious battle for control of a booming drugs market.

Renato Roseno, a 47-year-old state congressman and left-wing activist, had shown me how gangs were using social media to broadcast the results of the violence. I remember in particular a WhatsApp image of a young man's tortured and dismembered body reassembled on a wheelbarrow. "It's madness," Roseno told me.

Fifteen months on, Ceará's poorer districts are still dangerous but the death rate has been cut in half, an improvement twice as great as the national average. From third place, Ceará is now only the 14th most dangerous of Brazil's 27 states.

Most surprising is that this progress is the work of an administration controlled by the left-wing Workers' Party (PT), that has often been at odds with the iron hand instincts of Bolsonaro and the far right. The PT has tended to advocate a softer approach, putting much more emphasis on prevention and development.

But late in 2017, ahead of last year's elections and amid popular clamor for a crackdown, party leaders in Ceará opted to take a different path. The shift has proved popular. Camilo Santana was elected for a second term as governor with a thumping majority in October.

"People were demanding a hard line against crime and the governor listened," André Costa, the state's security secretary, told AQ. "The demand (transcended any ideological consideration). It's not a question of being right wing or left wing. People were saying that the police had to act with greater firmness."

The state stepped up with increased spending in security. Thousands of new police officers have been recruited - there are now 6,000 more military police officers than there were in 2015. An additional 2,000 officers have been recruited to the civil police, effectively the state's investigative force. And there are more than 1,000 new prison guards. Police officers are also better armed than they were: The state bought 15,000 Sig Sauer 320s pistols, the model deployed by the U.S. military.

Money has also been spent on security cameras. More than 3,300 have been installed across the state. The same goes for investment in computing and information technology, with law enforcement agents now able to summon up crucial data about suspects at the touch of a button on their mobile phones. Costa said that increased spending in the most dangerous neighborhoods, on things like street lighting and cleaning up buildings defaced by gang graffiti, has also helped the security drive.

But the biggest improvements have come since Luis Mauro Albuquerque, a no-nonsense disciplinarian, was put in charge of the prison system in December. 

Posted by at August 7, 2019 12:01 AM