New chief of military police announced in Rio: Why the revolving door?

Rio de Janeiro's military police announced its fifth change in command in seven years. The security institution has been plagued by challenges including controlling troops during 2013 street demonstrations.

• A version of this post ran on the author's blog, The views expressed are the author's own.

José Mariano Beltrame announced [late last week] the fifth change in command of Rio’s military police since he began racking up his own record seven-plus years as state public safety secretary, in 2007.

Mr. Beltrame said that as of January the new commander will be Col. Alberto Pinheiro Neto, former BOPE (elite squad) commander, who leaves his post as head of TV Globo’s security force to return to active military police duty. From now until January Col. Íbis Silva Pereira will run the military police and then become Pinheiro Neto’s chief of staff.

José Luis Castro Menezes is the departing commander, defenestrated (with a slight delay due to the elections) by  a corruption crisis — affecting top echelons of the military police — that broke in September.

The reasons for the parade of commanders over the 47,000 men and women of the military police reveal the troubled institution’s greatest challenges. Previous substitutions took place because of a lack of adequate control over troopsalleged incompetence in policing the 2013 street demonstrationsa fatal personnel choice; and apparent difficulty in modernizing the force.

Beltrame’s continued supremacy, as determined by reelected governor Luiz Fernando “Pezão” Souza, indicates confidence in his ability to still try and get management of the Military and Civil Police forces right, despite enormous problems.

This time, the Silva Pereira/Pinheiro Neto duo may be a good cop/bad cop approach. Until the Brazilian police undergo deep reform, including demilitarization, which requires constitutional change, administrators will have to perform the acrobatic feats of conducting the transition from a war on crime to crime prevention, keeping order in the ranks, and reducing corruption. Plus the additional task of hosting the Olympics with full, just security.

humanista and Foucault reader, Silva Pereira admires Carlos Magno Nazareth Cerqueira, the community policing pioneer assassinated in 1999. He plans to make the police more agile, modernize work conditions, and deepen the fight against corruptionPinheiro Neto is a specialist in management and operations planning, and headed up the Complexo do Alemão [favela] occupation.

According to specialists, paramilitary gangs have been moving away from direct roles in state and Rio city politics to focus on getting rich on their illegal activities. They are said to be collecting fees during normal police shifts, in uniform, and driving police vehicles.

The September crisis, which involved the suspicion that bribes and payoffs were shared at various levels of the police hierarchy, suggests that corruption is more common than many of us would have liked to believe. Indirectly, the accusations that have appeared in testimony given by former Petrobras director Paulo Roberto Costa and a black market dollar dealer in a kickback scheme at the oil company and among politicians reinforce the sense that integrity is scarce among Brazilian officials, in and out of uniform.

If Beltrame stays until the end of Governador Pezão’s term, he’ll be sitting in his office atop the Central do Brasil train station for another four years. [...] How many more military police commanders will we see in that time?

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