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English Report

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.

Public insecurity in São Paulo: homicides, torture, and corruption

João José Sady*

In 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 2002.

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, and Embu.

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 Paulo.

1. www.ssp.sp.gov.br

2. www.ssp.sp.gov.br

3. www.ssp.sp.gov.br

5. www.diariosp.com.br on 06/30/2003

6. www.diariosp.com.br on 05/04/2003