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Guest Blog: 'Detectives at Work in Brazil' by Dr Rafael Alcadipani

Guest Blog: 'Detectives at Work in Brazil' by Dr Rafael Alcadipani

Over the last 5 years, I have been engaged in an ethnographic research study of police detectives in one of Brazil’s major cities. My initial research question was ‘what do detectives do in their daily work?’ To answer this question, I adopted an ethnographic approach, meaning that I observe detectives in their daily work, both when they are inside police stations and when they are performing their duties on the streets of Brazil. When outside, for the sake of my protection, I wear a bullet proof jacket and I also socialize with detectives outside of the professional environment to build strong personal relationships.

This research has given me unique access and understanding of the real-life and practical factors impacting police work in one of the most violent regions of the world. The statistics are stark, every minute a woman is raped in Brazil, and every nine minutes a person is killed, leading to a total of almost 60,000 murders per year and making Brazil the homicide capital of the world. The police themselves were responsible for the deaths of 3,332 people in 2015. The policeman who kills is also the policeman who dies - 358 police officers were killed in Brazil in 2015. Two thirds of all murdered police officers were killed while off duty. The primary cause being that Brazilian police salaries are extremely low and officers are thus forced to engage in extra-curricular and often illegal work to make a living wage, making officers vulnerable to criminal repercussions, including murder.

One of the most emotionally challenging moments of my research work to date, was when a detective who worked in the unit within which I was conducting fieldwork, was shot dead, in front of his mother. Criminals came to steal his car while he was leaving to engage in work outside official police duties; when they realized he was a police officer they fatally shot him with five bullets into his head. This is one situation which exemplifies the dangers involved with being a police officer in Brazil. As a result of the dreadful bureaucracy which hampers internal police activity, the family of the murdered detective have yet to receive his pension and are living on the voluntary financial support of his police friends. Bureaucracy is one of the most significant problems impacting Detectives in their day to day activities. For example, completing the paper-work for a simple arrest can take up to 5 hours, all investigations require that formal letters are sent to other officers requesting assistance with investigation related tasks, and dealings with courts involve processing large amounts of paper-work.

Police working conditions in Brazil are extremely poor. In addition to some of the dangers outlined above, officers are personally responsible for repairing police vehicles, and have to buy their own equipment including mobile phones, voice recorders, car trackers and so on. A Brazilian weapon manufacturer named Taurus are the official supplier of weaponry to the forces, however, their guns are poor quality and sometimes don’t work when deployed; resulting in fatalities to both Police and suspects due malfunctioning pistols.  The working conditions are so poor that in some locations, detectives even have to supply their own toilet paper. Detectives rarely receive formal management training at the Police academies due to lack of resources, this means that police chiefs are insufficiently trained in appropriate police practice, the result often meaning a lack of strategic planning and low operational standards.

Brazil has two police forces, one military force, which is responsible for both crime prevention and riot control and a civilian force which is responsible for all criminal investigations as well as completing paper-work resulting from military police arrests. The military police force has the largest visible presence, being almost four times the size of the civilian force, and receiving significantly more government funding. The consequence is that over recent years, the civilian police force has been systematically dismantled, with depleting resources and reduced numbers of personnel. This has resulted in a perception that the government is deliberately hampering the force to reduce their ability to investigate corrupt Government officials. 

Operating under such extreme conditions, the question arises – ‘what do detectives do in their daily work?’ Officers find themselves in the paradoxical position of, on the one hand trying to avoid difficult situations at work e.g. evading involvement in the extremely protracted bureaucratic processes; and on the other hand, trying to achieve job satisfaction and achieve their purpose of helping society through solving criminal cases and arresting perpetrators.

Dr Rafael Alcadipani is a Visiting International Fellow of the Crime & Security Research Institute

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Crime & Security Research Institute Reporting Magazine 2017

Crime & Security Research Institute Reporting Magazine 2017