May 22, 2008

This is our regular column called Ask a Brazilian”, the idea being that you can quite literally ask a question of a Brazilian – for those issues you aren’t sure about but perhaps dare not ask someone else. It is meant as a bit of fun and answers should not be construed as expert opinion or the definitive reply on the matter. For that reason we ask you to please send comments and experiences in order to add to our replies.

What I’d like to know is exactly what the function(s) of the PMERJ/PM (Policia Militar, Military Police) is. If any. I’ve asked my friends here, in São Paulo state, Minas state etc., and they all look at me mystified and either laugh or answer “eu nao sei!” (I don’t know!). I’ve never seen them help in case of an auto breakdown, or an altercation, have seen them just watch traffic violations, and several times been in night clubs where they’ve been socializing with the girls and drinking chopp or mixed drinks in uniform (on duty). I have seen them stop motorcycles – myself included – for reasons my wife couldn’t find out. Is there something I’m missing in their duties that I can’t see? When I first started coming here – mid 70’s – when the military was in control, there seemed to be much more law and order under them than there is now, with much less of an obvious presence.

Thanks in advance for your comments.

Dave, EUA & RJ

Oi, Dave,

I like to hear you are surprised. We got used to it.

Rio needs a civil war, that is already happening, but only against civils and between arm dealers. The police? Looking forward to being alive at the end of the day, making some if they can. So much money running around anyway.

And going to war with old 38’s versus brand new R14’s? Suicide.

Brazil desperately needs “order” for the “progress” that we are in. And we progress even in the mess.

How come they are drinking in a bar? Them drinking in a bar doesn’t even bothers me anymore. How come they don’t care about the marvelous Rio de Janeiro, the most beautiful city I’ve ever seen, and it’s people.

Even if there were thousands of PM’s that really choose to save Rio from it’s desperate need of help, chaos is still superior. Money. Politics. We need superheroes, there must be some, but they are few, and they are poor.

Thanks for sharing your surprise,

To give you a true example, have you seen “Tropa de Elite”? I think it’s Elite Squad, in English.

Best Regards,

Vanessa T. Bauer

Readers comments:

This is a response to the question about the policia militar in São Paulo. I have a good friend who is a lieutenant in that organisation in SP and when I visited her last September she carried her service gun with her in her handbag and when driving her own car she had the gun wedged between her bum and seat for protection. Apparently the reason for stopping bikers is that many robberies on the roads are carried out by motorcyclists. In fact on the way back to the airport to take me to the plane, she took her gun out and held it across her chest as she was driving and this was when she explained about the bikers as a couple of them passed our car.

— Ron

This is an added comment to Dave’s question regarding the PM (or MP) in Rio. The reason you don’t see them doing anything about traffic infractions, is because that area falls under the “Policia Civil”. That is why you will see ppl speed when going by a PM or running traffic lights, etc. Now, you will not see them (or perhaps, not see it as often) when a PC is on the scene. There were times when PM also issued traffic tickets, but that was taken away from them. Basically, it’s a huge mess and a constant battle.

In regards to why they stop ppl (cars and motorcycles) for no apparent reason… well, it is nothing more than a way to get “a little extra”… that means that even if you have done nothing wrong, they will hold you until you decide your time is more precious than losing about R$50 (or even less). Of course, if you have the time to waste and are not in a dangerous place, they will eventually give in and send you on your way (if they see they will not get anything from you)… I’ve personally been on both ends of the situation. It is a crappy situation, but then again, you have to think that these ppl have to risk their lives for a bad salary (and I mean literally risk their lives, bc once a thief/dealer/thug finds out a person is a cop, they tend to shoot them on the spot, no questions asked). And Vanessa is right, how can PM compete with the most advanced arsenal (and I do mean arsenal) with their crappy guns… and most don’t even have bulletproof vests.

So, they do what they think they can. Go out there, offer some/little reassurance when they are in scene and try to get more money for their living.

Now, don’t get me wrong… in no way do I agree with such actions. It’s all a question of ethics and, unfortunately, many of them have none…but, how can you blame them, when the very core of their superiors are just as bad or worst?? And yes, there are the PM and PC and others who are honest and do care… but, they are a very small minority.

Now, I don’t know that we need a civil war or anything, to restore order. I do think we need leaders with some thick blood. Leaders who will say, “ENOUGH” and shake the whole system. Out with the old and in with the new order. Climb the “morros” and take out the trash. Hit the pavement and protect the citizen (crap, we are prisoners in our own homes… count how many buildings you see that are not “behind bars”). Have harsh penalties for crimes (I never understood how a person can be condemned to 200+ yrs., when the constitution states the max. # of yrs. they can serve is 30). Create better conditions for police officers (better pay, better equipment, etc.)… and start giving value to the ppl. Better pay, better conditions (hospitals, etc.)… then, the citizen may start to care and help to make a difference. Once all this happens, then Brazil will be ready to move into being a 1st world country… until then, we can have as much money and prestige… but while we continue to live as savages and prisioners, it will all be an illusion (I mean, when you can’t buy what you want for fear of it being stolen… and you killed in the process… what is the point of having money???).

Sorry to get away from your question a bit, but it all ties in. In short, the PM is supposed to take care of protecting the citizen and combating crime. As Vanessa suggested, do watch “Tropa de Elite” (Elite Troop/Squad)… it paints a pretty good picture of how the system works… and it will show you that corruption runs loose, but it will also show you there is honesty as well (and pay close attention, bc the movie will show that police are willing to kill their own for greed… pretty shameful).

All in all, don’t give up in Rio… or Brazil… it is a great place and there is hope. Just pay attention and live according… don’t give fate a chance to make the worst or a great experience.

— Lawrence

Well, I tried to get the official side of the story first.

According to the PMRJ’s website (Ask a Brazilian: Contractor Frustrations
Ask a Brazilian: English Books and Brazilian Boys
Ask a Brazilian: Cold Cahaca
Ask a Brazilian: Interruptions
Ask a Brazilian: Travel and Security Concerns
Ask a Brazilian: Gestures and Toys
Ask a Brazilian: Hispanics or Latinos, and Duvets
Ask a Brazilian: Overbearing Sogros
Ask a Brazilian: Hotels and Bank Transfers
Ask a Brazilian: Swimming, Showers and New Year’s
Ask a Brazilian: Making Friends
Ask a Brazilian: Female Etiquette
Ask a Brazilian: Washing Machines
Ask a Brazilian: Picking Teeth
Ask a Brazilian: Lozenge or Candy?
Ask a Brazilian: Liberal or Jealous?
Ask a Brazilian: Truck Wheels
Ask a Brazilian: Tolerance
Ask a Brazilian: Screens
Ask a Brazilian: Brazilian Wax
Ask a Brazilian: Flashing Lights
Ask a Brazilian: Lemon and Limes
Ask a Brazilian: Shocking Showers