By Maria Lopez Conde, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – State Secretary of Safety José Mariano Beltrame has vowed to reinforce policing in the famous Zona Sul (South Zone) beaches with an additional six hundred military police officers, among other initiatives, in response to a wave of mass robberies conducted by groups of teenagers that terrorized beachgoers from Leme to Leblon on two holidays in November.
The initiative to increase patrolling on Rio’s beaches will include reinforcement from the Shock Battalion troops that will guard the beaches: from where the water hits the shore to the bus stops that line the streets alongside Leme, Copacabana, Ipanema and Leblon. The increased police presence will operate from 9AM to 7PM on weekends and holidays.
“We’re going to do an intense policing. We’re going to place undercover cops on beaches. Other institutions will help us due to the fact that 10-year-old children have participated [in the mass robberies]. That happened during the holidays. That takes away the tranquility of people,” secretary Beltrame said in an interview with RJ-TV.
“We’re going to seek to anticipate those actions. These are people who come from other areas with the intention of comitting petty theft and robberies. What we have to do is introduce the police to the population,” Beltrame added.
The enhanced security measures started being implemented last week in response to an alarming rise in mass robberies, or “arrastões” (big drags), in Zona Sul beaches. Both media and police reported that large group of children and young men, alleged residents of Zona Norte (North Zone) neighborhoods, swept the popular Posto 8 area of Ipanema Beach on November 15th, a holiday in Brazil, and on November 16th.
Thieves also took advantage of sunny skies and crowded beaches on another holiday, Black Conscience Day, November 20th, to steal from unsuspecting sunbathers from Ipanema to Leblon, causing panic on the beach.
Video footage posted on O Globo’s website captured the moments when groups of young men charged the crowded beach, pulling away purses and valuables and causing beachgoers to reach for their personal items and run for safety.
The scene erupted into chaos, as the city’s municipal guards began chasing the swarms of young men who attempted to escape through a sea of beach umbrellas and tourists. Reports indicate police had arrested fifteen individuals, most of them minors, in connection to the beach robberies by Wednesday, November 20th.
“It was surreal. Everyone stood up at once and stampeded towards the sidewalk at once as if it were a tsunami,” American expatriate and manager of Ipanema’s Blue Agave bar, Alex Barwinski, told The Rio Times. Barwinski was heading towards Ipanema beach with a friend when an arrastão broke out on November 20th. “We didn’t know what to make of it,” Barwinski said.
In order to identify possible perpetrators, buses that travel to Zona Sul from Zona Norte, namely the neighborhood of Méier, will also be targeted by police officers. It is believed the group of young men that set off panicked stampedes on Rio’s beaches came from that area. Military police will increase their presence on those buses and question any suspicious activity or individuals.
In response to the incidents, the U.S. Consulate General in Rio de Janeiro issued a travel warning on November 22nd alerting tourists to an increase in “incidents of crime in areas frequented by tourists,” notably mass robberies in popular beaches across the South Zone. According to the U.S. Consulate, “the current uptick in crime is likely to continue through December.”
The state government had initially dismissed claims of arrastões, labeling the events that prompted confusion as fights. Later, Beltrame admitted that the incidents had, in fact, been robberies. Arrastões had once been recurring events on Rio’s most iconic beaches, but had largely been subdued as violence in the city decreased in recent years.