Police amnesty to end under Rio's new military chief

“We are going to suspend this act because [although] the idea is very good, we will review it to establish objective criteria to resolve any doubts we have about it,” the new Chief Commander of the city’s Military Police said.

Police amnesty to end under Rio's new military chief

World Bulletin/News Desk

The Secretary of State for Security (SESEG) in Rio de Janeiro announced Col. José Luís Castro Menezes as the new Chief Commander of the city’s Military Police on Tuesday.

His first undertaking was to suspend an act that exonerated police officers of minor infractions so they could progress in their careers and quickly return to active duty. Up to 450 officers are believed to have had the “petty crimes” wiped from their records, including such transgressions as not turning up for work.

“We are going to suspend this act because [although] the idea is very good, we will review it to establish objective criteria to resolve any doubts we have about it,” Menezes said in his first press conference in the role.

Menezes replaces Colonel Erir Ribeiro da Costa Filho, who was dismissed on Monday after public disagreements with the Secretary of Security, José Mariano Beltrame.

Ribeiro had brought into effect the amnesty act – which served to delete records of “minor offences” committed by police officers since 2011 – that Menezes will now suspend.

Secretary Beltrame had voiced his opposition to the way in which the act had been presented and said “wear and tear” in the department meant it had been time for Ribeiro to be removed from the position.

Menezes said some changes would be made to police strategies in the city, but that overall the city’s security plan – which includes the notorious “pacification” program for the region’s favelas (shantytowns) – would stay in place.

The new police chief insisted his team would not be “reinventing the wheel” but rather enact some adjustments to the way in which Rio was policed.

A statement from Rio state governor Sérgio Cabral also confirmed that there were no changes planned in terms of the city’s pacification program, although Development Minister Fernando Pimentel said the next UPP (Police Pacification Unit) – as the permanent police stations set up in newly pacified favelas are known – may be subject to a small delay while Menezes settles into the role.

Some 33 UPPs are currently in operation in and around Rio de Janeiro, with up to 40 planned by the time the city hosts the Olympic Games in 2016.

Commentators have noted that Col. Menezes is the fifth military police chief that Rio de Janeiro has seen under Secretary Beltrame.

Police to maintain dialogue with protesters

One of the events which made Menezes’s predecessor’s position untenable were accusations of excessive police violence in attempting to police the protests seen in Rio during the past two months.

Mass anti-government protests were held nationwide and although in other parts of Brazil they did sporadically turn violent, those in Rio regularly escalated into bloody confrontations between police and protesters.

The excessive use of tear gas bombs by police, in particular, has been widely criticized.

However, the police chief insisted that the crimes committed by officers during the protests had not been included under the amnesty act and would be punished.

Moreover, Menezes says his team will reach out to protest groups and aim to maintain a dialogue to avoid a repetition of the ugly scenes, many of which coincided with the FIFA Confederations Cup as international media were focused on the city.

The chief did not defend the police’s response, but did aim to mitigate the violent scenes partially by saying the protests had been “unfamiliar territory” for the force and that, during his time as a member of the military police, “a similar ‘articulation’ by young people had not been witnessed”.

Menezes said the police had taken lessons from the protests and were changing, something highlighted by the fact that there had been no clashes between his officers and demonstrators at the last four protests.

Where is Amarildo?

The sensitive subject of the disappearance of Rio bricklayer Amarildo de Souza, who has not been seen after he was questioned by officers policing the “pacified” Rocinha favela where he lived and had grown up, was also broached at the press conference.

Investigations are ongoing, but the police have been described, even by politicians, as “prime suspects”. The scandal is extremely likely to have played a role in the removal of Col. Ribeiro.

Protesters have demanded answers from Rio’s politicians over the disappearance. “Cadê o Amarildo?” (“Where is Amarildo?”) quickly turned into a symbolic mantra across Brazil in protests against police brutality.

Secretary Beltrame said he had no problem in removing anyone found to be involved in the disappearance from their job, including the head of the UPP in Rocinha, insisted transparency would be maintained – a key issue with the notorious police amnesty act.

Amarildo’s loved-ones have given up hope of finding the bricklayer alive; after pleading for his body to be returned for burial, the family has now sought to register the 47-year-old’s death with the local authorities.

Güncelleme Tarihi: 07 Ağustos 2013, 10:00