The number of people killed by police in Brazil’s biggest state has plunged 40 percent and experts are crediting what seems an unlikely reason — a new rule that forbids officers from transporting or otherwise helping shooting victims.
They say it makes the summary execution of suspects more difficult as the government moves to end long-standing impunity in such slayings.
On the face of it, the no assistance rule implemented amid much criticism a year ago would seem contradictory to saving lives. Police were told they could no longer offer first aid to shooting victims, including people they shot themselves, nor could they take them to a hospital.
Yet police officials and watchdog groups said this week the rule has helped save lives in two ways: Shooting victims receive better medical care from ambulance crews than they would get from police and it’s now harder for officers to carry away a shooting victim in their car only to execute them in another location.
“Before [the rule] was enacted, those wounded in shootouts were tossed into police vans that would take one to two hours to reach hospital,” said Guaracy Mingardi, a Sao Paulo-based crime and public safety expert. “In several cases, the suspect was executed inside the van taking him to hospital.”
The rule is part of a big change in attitude by officials to crack down on officers who execute suspects.
“Until the end of 2012, law enforcement authorities did not care if police were killing or not killing,” Mingardi said. “They then made it clear that police officers who killed in confrontations or executed suspects while being taken to a hospital would no longer enjoy the impunity [they once had].”
Sao Paulo State Public Safety Department said police killed 335 people last year, compared with 546 during the previous year.
When the no-assistance measure was introduced in January last year, Sao Paulo State Police Commander Colonel Marcos Chaves said it was aimed at making officers’ actions more transparent.
“Officers are always seen with suspicion whenever there is a shootout. No one knows if it actually occurred and if the scene of the crime was altered. The new measure will end these suspicions,” Chaves said.
In the 1990s in some Brazilian cities, including Rio de Janeiro, police officers were promoted and paid cash bonuses for engaging alleged criminals in shootouts that resulted in death.