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Military Police / Polícia Militar / Polícia Militar do Estado

Five separate police units are responsible for maintaining law and order in Brazil: federal police, highway and railroad police, patrol officers and military police - the latter includes the fire department. The military police was assigned to the Brazilian armed forces in 1967, three years after the military coup, with the task of pursuing political resistance fighters. Today, the military police are responsible for traffic controls and fighting crime. Each of the country's 27 federal states has its own military police that answers to the respective governor.

Brazil's military police is notorious for its brutality. According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), 372 people died in clashes with the police in the state of Rio de Janeiro in the first six months of 2011: 252 people were killed in the state of Sao Paulo. In 2012, the UN Human Rights Council admonished the Brazilian government to dissolve the military police and increase the fight against the death squads in the country. It is not a new phenomenon. The world was shocked when in April 1996, military police shot dead 25 people at a protest march by landless workers in the Amazon region. On October 2, 1992, military police were called to quell a revolt in Carandiru penitentiary in Sao Paulo. They stormed the building and executed 111 prisoners.

Most Brazilian police are organized by the State government rather than by cities. There are two distinct police forces: the Military Police (MP) and the Civil Police (CP). The MP are in charge of policing streets and other public places. The CP are responsible for initiating investigations for prosecutors. Between the two police forces, residents had more sympathy for the CP. The MP were less trusted because of their more rigid procedures, impersonal approach, and the use of force. Police abuses directed at persons and gangs perceived as criminals by the residents are supported; however, because police violence has its own dynamic, based on notions and policies that are socially and racially discriminatory, it is inevitable that innocent common people also become the objects of a police brutality that is not justifiable, even within the logic that approves of the brutal treatment of criminals.

The State Police forces, nominally under the supervision of the state governors, are in fact associated closely with federal authorities. The State Police, by definition, are powerful forces in their states because municipal police generally do not exist (although municipal guard forces are allowed, according to Article 144 of the constitution). The city of São Paulo is a notable exception. Its mayor, Jânio Quadros (elected in 1985), created a municipal police force. All police functions not performed by DPF personnel are responsibilities of the state forces. State Police consist generally of two separate forces: the Civil Police and the Military Police, sometimes referred to as the State Militia (Polícia Militar do Estado). The Secretariat for Public Security (Secretaria de Segurança Pública--SSP), an important agency of each state government, supervises police activities. The SSPs are subordinate to the National Council of Public Security (Conselho Nacional de Segurança Pública--Conasp).

Each state also maintains a Civil Police force, which, according to Article 144 of the constitution, is responsible for "the duties of a judicial police force and for investigating criminal offenses, except military criminal offenses." Given that there are virtually no municipal police, the state forces are stationed in populated areas and are responsible for all police functions. Cities are divided into precincts through which the Civil Police operate, using methods familiar to police squads in most other countries. Police chiefs are known as delegates (delegados), and the force is usually commanded by the general delegate (delegado general ), whose rank is equal to that of the commandant of the Military Police. A delegado must have a law degree, and is selected by public examination. Lower-ranking officers are known as investigators. Promotion to the higher ranks of the Civil Police usually requires a law degree.

In 1997 there were 385,600 members of state Military Police organizations in Brazil. They are ultimately under army control and considered an army reserve. A Military Police Women's Company was established in Rio de Janeiro in 1982. According to Article 144 of the constitution, the function of the Military Police "is to serve as a conspicuous police force and to preserve public order." The Military Police of any state are organized as a military force and have a military-based rank structure. Training is weighted more heavily toward police matters, but counterinsurgency training is also included. Arms and equipment of state forces include machine guns and armored cars, in addition to other items generally associated with police.

Article 144 of the constitution stipulates that: "The Military Police forces and the military fire departments, and the auxiliary forces and the Army Reserve are subordinate, along with the civilian police forces, to the governors of the states, the Federal District, and the territories." Since 1969 the Ministry of Army has controlled the Military Police during periods of declared national emergency. Before 1930 these forces were under individual state control, and known as "the governors' armies." They sometimes outnumbered regular troops in many states. In the 1930s, the Federal Army took steps to reverse this situation. In 1964 most Military Police members were on the side of the successful conspirators.

The Military Police are auxiliary army forces that can be mobilized quickly to augment the armed forces in an emergency. In the past, Military Police units were often commanded by active-duty army officers, but that has occurred less frequently as professional police officers have achieved higher ranks and positions. The commandant of a state's Military Police is usually a colonel. The command is divided into police regions, which deploy police battalions and companies. Firefighting is also a Military Police function; firefighters are organized in separate battalions. State traffic police are either the State Highway Police (Polícia Rodoviária Estadual), or the Traffic Police (Polícia de Trafêgo) in the larger cities. Both are part of the state Military Police.

Elements within the Military Police in some states have been notorious for their vigilantism and death-squad activities, many against minors. On July 19, 1993, sixteen Military Police members were arrested in the state of Alagoas and accused of killing sixty-nine people. On July 23, 1993, eight street children were killed outside of Candelária Church (Igreja da Candelária), in Rio de Janeiro. The international response was one of outrage. Four military policemen, including a lieutenant, were arrested and eventually convicted. On August 30, 1993, thirty armed men wearing hoods entered Vigário Geral, a favela in Rio de Janeiro, and set fires, destroyed homes, and shot randomly, killing twenty-one people. Favela residents claimed that the assassins were Military Police avenging the killing of four of their members by drug traffickers in the shantytown. Later investigations substantiated those charges. Because of such activities, the Federal Police have been called in to investigate.

Various studies conducted in Brazil and abroad have linked the Military Police to the death squads. Social scientist Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, of the University of São Paulo's Center for Studies of Violence (Núcleo de Estudos de Violência--NEV), stated in 1993 that "Brazil's Military Police are among the most violent police forces in the Third World." According to one explanation, vigilantism is an expression of frustration with a legal system that is perceived to be inefficient and corrupt, a court system that is backlogged, and jails that are overcrowded. Indeed there is significant popular support for death-squad activity.

Fears of violent crime remains consistently top the list of concerns for most Brazilians. In addition, many Brazilians believe that the Military Police (regular uniformed police of each state with a "military" rank structure) is corrupt and lacks the firepower to take on organized crime networks and drug-trafficking gangs. This is reflected in polling that shows widespread and steady support for an increased role by Brazil's armed forces in providing public security.

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Page last modified: 22-06-2013 22:03:43 ZULU