In The Media

Rio police grapple with crime wave, late paychecks, as Olympics loom

by Staff (feat. Robert Muggah)

CBS News
July 6 2016

Less than one month away from the Summer Olympics, Rio says all of the venues are complete. The Brazilian government brought out its military Tuesday to guard the Olympic sites.

Rio expects more than 10,000 athletes and half a million tourists. But the city that is already plagued by violent crime is battling a crime wave ahead of the games, reports CBS News correspondent Ben Tracy.

CBS News went on patrol with Rio's police in one of the poorer neighborhoods known as favelas.

"We can guarantee you 99 percent of safety here," a police said.

But these so-called police pacification units or UPP have tried to reclaim dozens of violent areas controlled by drug traffickers, where daily gun battles are common. One UPP commander said there will be more police on the street during the Olympics, but more tourists means more opportunity for crime.

Online videos from last December show just how brazen street theft is in Rio, with children ripping jewelry right off people's necks in broad daylight.

And now, the police are angry because they haven't been paid on time. Rio is broke due to a massive recession. Police stations are taking public donations - including toilet paper - because the government can't afford to supply them with anything from printer paper to fuel for their squad cars.

Rio's mayor lashed out at the state government saying it is "completely failing at its work of policing and taking care of people."

Robert Muggah is a security expert based in Rio. He's concerned about new figures that show a 27 percent jump in the number of muggings and a nearly 14 percent increase in homicides, compared to the same time last year.

"Now we have this sort of security crisis right before the Olympics," Muggah said. "More than $550 million was shaved off the public security budget in 2016 at precisely the moment when we need to really amp up security."

Human body parts recently washed up on Copacabana Beach next to the Olympic beach volleyball arena. Gunmen stormed a hospital to free a suspected drug trafficker and ended up killing a patient, and some Olympic athletes have been mugged on the street. But during the games, the Brazilian government said 47,000 police officers and 38,000 soldiers will be on patrol in Rio -- twice the size of the security force at the 2012 London Olympics.

Rio's state security secretary said the city's security apparatus - including command centers - was successful during the 2014 World Cup held in Rio and the Pope's visit in 2013. Despite budget cuts, he said there is enough money to secure the games, but the security of the city before and after the Olympics will be worse. That is true in some of the poorest favelas, where the police are not always friendly.

The police brought the CBS News crew to a particular favela to show off a success story. But in many of the nearly 1,000 other favelas in Rio, the police have become the enemy.

In the past year, there has been a stunning 135 percent increase in the number of people killed by Rio's police officers.

"Really, we have some of the most ruthless police on the planet," Muggah said.

Muggah thinks tourists will be safe during the games because police resources are being taken from poor neighborhoods to protect them.

"But for those people living in Rio de Janiero, I think the situation is going to get worse," Muggah said.


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