Low wages and the serious economic crisis in the country have
resulted in a brutal proliferation of the use of police as
private militias. As a result, there is a greater number of
cases of police brutality and killings.
insecurity in São Paulo: homicides, torture, and corruption
João José Sady*
2002, 17,245 people were killed in the state of São
Paulo, and this absurdly high number can be broken down as
follows: 11,847 were ruled voluntary manslaughter, 5,073 involuntary
manslaughter, and 505 armed robberies 1.
With a population estimated at 38,424,383 2,
this number implies a rate of 32.14 murders (including armed
robberies) for 100,00 people. The total is startling when
compared to the rates in other countries, such as can be seen
by the following homicide rates (data from 1987 3):
Italy, 1.88; England, 1.97; France, 3.86; Germany 4.34.
In most cases, young people are the targets in those killings,
which usually happen in low-income neighborhoods. The data
is even more striking when we observe the distribution in
the 15 to 19 year old age group. We can use Cidade Ademar,
on the outskirts of São Paulo, as an example. The rate
there amongst 15 to 19 year olds is 441.5 cases for 100,000
inhabitants. And if we take as reference a neighborhood that
is not as vulnerable, such as Vila Mariana, the rate there
goes down to 22.3 for 100,000 inhabitants.
The majority of the deaths do not happen to prevent a criminal
act. The homicides committed in the heat of the crime constitute
only 4.2% of the total number. Despite the fact that the killing
of civilians in confrontations with the police has gone up
alarmingly (78.8%) from 2001 to 2003, even yet, in 2002 the
number was not very high (610) compared to the total, accounting
for 4.9% of the deaths. Therefore, direct conflict between
criminals and their victims or between police and delinquents
do not constitute the main causes of the killings that happen
in São Paulo state.
Existing studies 5 have pointed out
that the majority of homicides are between people who know
each other (71%) and are premeditated (76%). A good number
of them (42%) stem from personal conflicts, while 24% stem
from conflicts between criminal gangs. The criminal groups
cannot resolve their disputes in court, so they use bloody
solutions to put an end to disagreements about their activities.
The insertion of police agents into this scenario is extremely
complex because some factors lead to a prominent participation
of public officers in those deaths. The systematic use of
informants creates the need to get rid of witnesses. Along
this line, the group called GRADI (Group of Repression and
Analysis of Crimes of Intolerance), which by all indications
presented this type of profile, gained great notoriety in
The elimination of a police program to control post-shooting
traumatic stress in the state of São Paulo coincides
with a jump of almost 80% in the death rate of civilians in
confrontation with the police. In addition, the generalized
tolerance with the use of violence against citizens in poor
communities contributes to police brutality. Low wages and
the serious economic crisis in the country have resulted in
a brutal proliferation of the use of police as private militias.
Young people are the most visible victims of this phenomenon.
The national rate of homicides in the year 2000 was estimated
to be 20.8 per 100,000 inhabitants, while in the range of
15 to 24 years of age, it was evaluated at 52.1 per 100,000
inhabitants. It's interesting to point out a recent study
in the city of São Paulo, which indicates that 20 adolescent
lawbreakers 6, on average, are killed
every month. The majority of these victims are low income,
young criminals, living in poor communities, especially in
regions such as Ribeirão Preto, Guarulhos, Sapopemba,
The research suggests police involvement in the following
situations: a) the ties that some bad cops have with criminal
businesses, and the use of police weapons to solve gang disputes;
b) the involvement of bad cops with the "private security"
business, acting as militia groups; c) the misuse of weapons
by bad cops.
It is very difficult to eliminate these practices because
of the population's profound fear of the police. To prevent
this situation, it's necessary to create a culture of legality
and human rights in the police institutions. The high rate
of homicides can also be prevented if there is serious investigations
about these deaths. The government should create an external
board of inquiry with the participation of public attorneys
and civil society.
João José Sady is a lawyer, with a Masters and
Doctorate in Social Relations Law from the PUC/SP (Catholic
University of São Paulo), and a Professor in the Law
School at the University of São Francisco - São
www.diariosp.com.br on 06/30/2003
www.diariosp.com.br on 05/04/2003