Press note on police killings in Jacarezinho

Rio de Janeiro’s public security authorities must 

stop relying on lethal interventions as a policing strategy


May 7th – Rio de Janeiro


The Igarapé Institute is deeply saddened by the brutal killing of 25 people, including a law enforcement officer, during a police raid in Jacarezinho, a neighborhood in the northern part of Rio de Janeiro. It is unacceptable that the state government continues to sanction a public security strategy that privileges the use of lethal violence, especially in vulnerable areas. The use of excessive and indiscriminate force puts civilians and public security forces at risk. According to the Public Security Institute (ISP-RJ), Rio police were involved in the killing of 453 people between January through March 2021. In 2020, a total of 1,245 residents were killed during police operations. 


For over a decade the Igarapé Institute has supplied data-driven and evidence-led recommendations on how to build more responsible and efficient public security policies. Since 2018, the Institute has released several public security agendas (e.g. “Safer Rio” and “Public Security is the Solution”) advocating for preventive and intelligence-led policing. The Institute repeatedly stresses the importance of the use of proportional force to protect society and public security professionals. The Institute’s publications also underline the importance of treating police officers as guardians, not only as warriors or heroes.


This week’s massacre in Jacarezinho occurs amidst the most severe public health tragedy in the country’s history. More than 400,000 Brazilian men, women and children have died as a result of COVID-19 since it was first declared a pandemic in March 2020. In September 2020, Brazil’s Supreme Federal Court issued an order to restrict police operations in Rio de Janeiro’s favelas to exceptional cases. Their intention was precisely to reduce the indiscriminate use of force against vulnerable communities, especially during the pandemic. The decision was taken within the scope of ADPF (Arguition of Non-Compliance with Fundamental Precept) 635, known as “ADPF das Favelas”. The Court’s decision has been flagrantly disrespected. 


The use of extreme force is a result of a failure of oversight and accountability. Rio de Janeiro’s state executive, the governor, commands the police while the public ministry is responsible for oversight over the activities of the civil and military police agencies. Yet just before the Jacarezinho raid, the Action Group Specialized in Public Security overseen by the Public Ministry (GAESP/MPRJ) was shut down. A public security coordination cell was created instead, but it is clear that there are minimal checks and balances over the actions and indiscretions of police.  


The rationale for the Jacarezinho intervention is not clear. On the one hand, it was described as an operation to confront a criminal organization responsible for homicides, robberies, kidnappings, drug and arms trafficking and the recruitment of minors. Yet instead of confronting these crimes, the raid left two dozen people killed, several injured, and incalculable numbers of people psychologically traumatized, including minors. Heavy-handed operations rarely erode the power of criminal groups, but rather generate immense pain and suffering and a profound loss of trust.


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About the Igarape Institute

The Igarapé Institute is an independent think and do tank focused on public, climate and digital security and strengthening the quality of democracy. The Institute deploys data-driven research, designs new technologies, and undertakes strategic outreach in order to improve public policy from the global to the regional, national and local levels. The Institute works with national and city governments, the private sector and a wide range of civil society partners to mobilize evidence-informed solutions for complex challenges. The Institute was ranked Brazil’s leading human rights NGO in 2018 and the world’s top think tank on social policy by Prospect Magazine in 2019.  

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