Watching Them Watching You

The city government of Rio de Janeiro has voted 46 to 3 in favour of installing video surveillance cameras inside all new police vehicles, and overridden the veto of the Governor, Sergio Cabral.

Cabral, who is otherwise all in favour of video surveillance, did everything he could to stop this law, but in vain. The reason that the pro-police governor is so against this particular law and order measure is that the cameras are supposed to be installed not simply to ‘protect’ police officers but also to prevent abuse of power, corrupt practice and police violence against suspects. This is a huge issue in Rio (and Brazil more generally), and we saw a good example of this recently with the inhumane actions by officers after the fatal assault on Evandro, the founder of Afro-Reggae.

However, I do wonder how officers will take this development, how the cameras will be used in practice, and how many of them will conveniently experience technical failures at important moments…

(Thanks to Paola Barreto Leblanc for the heads up)

Bizarre happenings in Rio de Janeiro

My collaborator, Paola Barreto Leblanc writes to me “Something really bizarre happened this week. In a public street in Rio’s center CCTVs from some buildings and a Bank – private circuits – caught a criminal action led by police officers [Policia Militar – PM, or Military Police, in fact]. Instead of helping a victim of an attack they rob the robbers!” The news story is available on youtube:

The thing that adds an extra layer of particularly bleak humour to this nasty event is that the name of the PM officer involved is capitão Bizarro (Captain Bizarre)… however, the really sad fact about the whole incident is that the victim was prominent social justice activist and founder of the internationally-renowned favela music group AfroReggae, Evandro João da Silva. He did a lot more good for the city and for the improvement of the lives of the urban poor than any gang-members or police officers ever did and he will be sorely missed. The PM chief, Mário Sérgio Duarte, who we interviewed back in April, is once again in the papers and on TV, apologizing. I noted at the time that Colonel Duarte seemed ‘profoundly indifferent’ to CCTV – I wonder if he will change his mind now and in what direction…

As Paola also writes to me, the nexus of CCTV in Rio is an intensely confusing one, mixing drug-gangs, corrupt police, the media, who like anywhere else seem to be living off the images from CCTV cameras without much in the way of respect for the victims. We are now starting to work together on a paper on these developments.

Surveillance cameras in the favelas (4): more from the other side

The mainstream Bazilian media outlet, O Globo, is reporting that Fabiano Atanázio da Silva (AKA ‘FB’ or ‘Urubu’), allegedly a leader of the Amigos dos Amigos (‘Friends of Friends’) on Morro de Macaros, who recently tried  to take control of the neighbouring favela, Morro São João, resulting in many deaths and even bringing down a police helicopter, had also installed a video surveillance system in his favela, which monitored the entrances of the favela and watched the movements of police and residents. So, it seems that it is clearly the traficante gangs who were first to install CCTV in the favelas of Rio for the purposes of helping to maintain a violent authority over the local area. The form of surveillance is what Bruno Latour perceptively called ‘oligoptic’ – a spatially limited vision but one which is very powerful within its limits. And of course, given the massive extent of private security and both legal and illegal surveillance equipment available in Brazil, it’s hardly surprising that gangs with disposable cash would invest in security like this. However, what is particularly interesting is that by doing the same thing and installing a video surveillance system in Santa Marta against the wishes of the local community, the military police are seen as effectively operating like a gang. This isn’t such a startling statement and was one which was quite frequently put to us by community representatives who we interviewed in the favelas of Rio earlier this year.

(thanks, again, to the invaluable Paola Barreto Leblanc for the information).

Surveillance cameras in the favelas (3): the other side

As my collaborator in Rio de Janeiro, Paola Barreto Leblanc, points out to me, it isn’t just the police (see previous posts here and here) who have been installing surveillance cameras in the favelas. Accoring to UOL, in September 2008, the military police found a whole clandestine CCTV system of 12 cameras, and a control room hidden behind a false wall, in Parada de Lucas, a favela in the Zona Norte of the city. The cameras covered all the entrances to the favela. The system was allegedly operated by a drug-trafficking gang but since the room was, according to the reports, destroyed in the police attack, and no one was captured, it is hard to verify the story… however it is not surprising that a major illegal commercial operation would seek to have early warning of police (and other gang) raids in this way. Indeed, this system may well have been the reason why no traficantes were caught in the raid in question. From the interview we did earlier in the year, it seems clear that the favelas have intense human surveillance systems of mutual observation, whether they are gang-controlled, community-controlled or police-‘pacified’ morros. Very little goes on in the crowded informal settlements that almost everyone will not know about. Of course, the nature of the power-structure within the favela will determine to whose benefit such knowledge works. CCTV in a context like this can be seen as a sign of insecurity and weakness. Perhaps the Parada de Lucas gang felt that they were losing their grip, and the cameras in Santa Marta installed by the military police certainly seem to indicate a lack of trust in the community and the civil pacification measures – investment, infrastructure development, regular meetings and confidence-building – so far undertaken.

Surveillance cameras in the favelas…

Well, my fears have it seems, been vindicated already. Earlier this year, as part of my case-study on surveillance in Brazil, I visited the community of Santa Marta, a favela (informal settlement) in Rio de Janeiro. Santa Marta is interesting because of the amount of investment and effort that has been expended in occupying, pacifying and developing the place, by the new gubernatorial administration of Eduardo Paes, who has simultaneously cancelled Favela Bairro, the widely praised and more extensive favela development programs of his predecessor, Cesar Maia.

Leading the new Community Police efforts in Santa Marta was Capitao Pricilla, an indomitable and well-liked young female officer of the Military Police, one of several rising female officers with a new approach, and we heard from residents how trust was being rebuilt between police and community because of her. At the same time, there were storm clouds on the horizon as the city administration was insistent on cracking down still further with its policies of choque de ordem (the shock of order), which involved harassing illegal street vendors from the favelas, and demolishing illegally-built buildings, and also building walls along the edges of some favelas. The word ‘ghetto’ was mentioned on more than one occasion by our interviewees and in more casual conversations.

Now, just last month, the Military Police have decided to install seven CCTV cameras in Santa Marta, in different areas of the community. This has prompted complaints of invasion of privacy, an there have already, my sources report, been protests about this in he favela, but it seems that this is coming from further up the chain of command than Capitao Pricilla and the community police. She isn’t mentioned at all by the article in O Globo, despite being a bit of a PR star, and instead the justification for the cameras is given by one Coronel José Carvalho, who also stated that there are plans to put cameras into the other two areas currently being targeted for development, the famous Cidade de Deus, and the much less well-known and more distant favela of Batan. This also contradicts what I was being told by the Commnder of the police central CCTV control room we visited, which is quoted as being one of the places where the cameras will be monitored. What is interesting is the cameras seem to be being treated by police almost as a tool of urban warfare: a Major Orderlei Santos talks about their experimental use for determine the deployment of officers in the favela.

Could the old macho, male, approach to policing as a war on the poor be trumping the new trust being developed by community policing? I hope not, but everything points that way.

(thanks once again to Paola and David for keeping me in touch…)