By Chesney Hearst, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Recent data from the Instituto de Segurança Pública (ISP), shows an increase in crime rates in Rio’s neighboring city of Niterói. Uneasy residents point to the lack of policing in areas and the city has responded with plans to reinforce officers.
The ISP findings from September 2013 showed that homicides increased 116 percent over the same period in the previous year, with thirteen murders reported compared to six in 2012.
This data comes after the recent murder of teacher Vânia Brandão Portes in Niterói’s previously relatively quiet South Zone. On December 6th, the fifty-seven-year-old Portes, a volunteer teacher of reading and writing to adults in favela da Grota do Surucucu, was stabbed to death by intruders in her home in the neighborhood of São Francisco.
“I’ve noticed in the past few years, increasing crime rates in Niterói, including drug, assault and murder cases,” Lawyer and resident of Icarai, Niterói, Tatiana Rosa told The Rio Times. “The high incidence of crime in Niterói absolutely makes me feel less safe and it affects my way of living.”
Military Police (MP) had been patrolling that neighborhood by bike for two years after the one police base responsible for the area had been disabled. “I have spoken with the locals and they asked about our policing approach,” Gilson Chagas, Lieutenant Colonel of the 12th Batalhão de Polícia Militar told O Globo. “We found the best patrol [of São Francisco] was with bicycles around the neighborhood. It was better than having police based at a [fixed] point.”
The ISP findings for São Francisco for September 2013 found the highest increases in crimes were for homicides, rapes and robberies of homes, pedestrians and theft of vehicles.
“We’re now watching the crime rates and trying to achieve solutions. Crimes committed [in homes and inside buildings] are very difficult to prevent, like the unfortunate case of a teacher,” said Chagas.
“We operate in an area of 469 square kilometers, which has 614,846 inhabitants. We have 820 military police and we will receive sixty more by the end of the month.”
In January, the State Department of Security also stated that the Niterói neighborhoods of Fonseca and Pendotiba would gain approximately sixty new officers each between the start of the year and March.
Authorities also announced approximately four hundred police officers were part of Niterói’s recently installed Companhia Destacada operation. Similar to a pacification force seen in Rio, the Companhia Destacada will patrol four of Niterói’s most dangerous favelas; Palácio, Estado, Arroz and Chácara.
However residents are hoping for more long term solutions as well. “I do believe Niterói needs more police patrols in many of its areas but I think that it’s also necessary to create public polices about the homeless, against drugs and that favor better education,” concluded Rosa. “It’s not enough to increase police patrols in the area if the government does not improve education and work toward crime prevention through the mobilization of society.”
Understaffed police stations have been a problem in Niterói for some time: in 1970 there were 3,200 active duty Military Police officers in the city; in April 2012 there were only 800, although the population increased by fifty percent in the same period. Jorge Roberto Silveira, then mayor of Niterói, acknowledged that the criminal exodus from Rio has exacerbated the situation.