At the Instituto de Segurança Pública

Paola and I had a very productive interview with Colonel Mario Sergio de Brito Duarte, the Director President of the Institute for Public Security (ISP) in Rio de Janeiro. The ISP is a state-level organisation with multiple functions including research on public security and the compilation of crime statistics; professional development for the police services (and also more broadly to encourage greater cooperation and coordination between military and civil police); and community involvement and participation in the development of security policy. The Colonel gave us an hour and a half of his time to explain his view on a wide range of issues around crime, security, the problems of the favelas, and the potential for surveillance, social interventions and policing in solving these problems.

As with many senior police (and military) officers with whom I have talked over the years, the Colonel is an educated, thoughtful man who has strong views based in his experiences as a front-line officer with the Policia Militar in Rio (including some years in BOPE, the special operations section) – as detailed in his book, Incursionanda no Inferno (Incursions into the Inferno). Despite how the title may sound, he was far from being gung-ho or authoritarian in his views, emphasising throughout, as with almost everyone I have talked to, that socio-economic solutions will be the only long-term guarantee of public security in Rio. And he certainly had no sympathy for the illegal actions of militias, despite understanding why they emerged and continued to be supported by some sections of the community.

However, it was also clear to him that current policies like Mayor Eduardo Paes’ ‘choque de ordem’ strategy which involves demolitions of illegally-built houses in the favelas, was absolutely necessary as well. He spent some time outlining his view of the history of how drug gangs infiltrated and gained control of many favelas, an in particular the importance of their obtaining high quality small arms – though he was vague on exactly where these arms came from – I have, of course, heard allegations from other interviewees that corrupt soldiers and policemen were one common source of such weapons.

From the point of view of surveillance studies, it was notable how profoundly indifferent the Colonel appeared to be towards he growth of surveillance, and in particular CCTV cameras. He argued that they might be a useful supplement to real policing, but he certainly did not appear to favour a UK-style ‘surveillance society’ – of which, at least in Rio, there seems little sign as yet. He was similarly indifferent towards other central state social interventions like the Programa Bolsa Familia (PBF), and initiatives like ID cards – of course they might help in some way, but he certainly made no attempt to ague, as the UK government has done, that such technology will make a big difference to fighting crime and terrorism (indeed it was interesting that ‘terrorism’ was not mentioned at all – I guess that, when you have to deal with the constant reality of poverty, drugs and fighting between police and gangs, there is no need to conjure phantasms of terror). Even so, the Colonel recognised that the media in Rio did create fantasies of fear to shock the middle classes, and that this sensationalism did harm real efforts to create safer communities.

There was a lot more… but that will have to wait until I have had the whole interview transcribed and translated. In the meantime, my thanks to Colonel Mario Sergio Duarte and to the very nice and helpful ISP researcher Vanessa Campagnac, one of the authors of the analysis of the Rio de Janeiro Victimisation Survey, who talked to us about more technical issues around crime statistics.