Brazil Tries a Softer Approach to Crime

RIO DE JANEIRO—Sticking her head out of a squad-car window, a young Brazilian police recruit shouts to the passengers of a car in front of her to exit their vehicle.

But she is quickly scolded by her trainer, who tells her to use a megaphone, to speak calmly, address people as “citizens” and to “say please.” “Please,” she tries again, slowly and carefully. “Citizen, exit your vehicle. Please.”

The demonstration was part of an overhaul of Rio de Janeiro’s police academy. The goal: to fix an image many have of a corrupt, violent force that is distrusted by Rio’s own residents, particularly the roughly 1.5 million living in shantytowns, called favelas.

Among the changes implemented: The city’s police academy is no longer taught by officers forced into professorship as punishment for mistakes made on the street; teaching jobs are now well paid and competitive, said Juliana Barroso, a sociologist Mr. Beltrame recruited to rewrite the police-training curriculum. Non-police officers, such as professors and sociologists, bring an outside perspective to police education.

“It’s a long-term investment,” said Rio state’s security chief José Mariano Beltrame. “Society will value it when they recognize a prepared security operator, not only operationally, but with a more humane approach typical of the policing we so desire.”

Read my story on how security officials are grappling with this issue here: Brazil Tries a Softer Approach to Crime


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