Zero-tolerance “Shock of Order” in Rio’s Centro

By Zoë Roller, Contributing Reporter

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Mayor Eduardo Paes’ Operação Choque de Ordem (Operation Shock of Order) came to Centro this week. The Prefeitura created Choque de Ordem in 2009 to combat disorder in Rio’s public spaces, and it has carried out operations all over the city. This will be the second permanent Unidade de Ordem Pública (Public Order Unit) in Rio; the first was installed in Tijuca four months ago.

Operação Choque de Ordem makes a sweep of Botafogo, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, News

Operação Choque de Ordem makes a sweep of Botafogo, image recreation.

As of September 5th, 420 officers of the Guarda Municipal (Municipal Police) will patrol Centro twenty-four hours a day. Based in Praça Procópio Ferreira, the operation covers seventy streets and plazas, including Cinelândia. Notoriously disorderly areas like the Uruguiana and Saara street markets will be included next if the unit proves to be successful.

The officers are instructed to take a zero-tolerance approach to disorder, with a special emphasis on street vendors and pamphleteers “occupying” public spaces. Each guard is equipped with a GPS device to monitor their position, and any irregularities are reported to a central information center. The unit relies on nonlethal weapons like dogs, tasers, and pepper spray.

The UOP in Tijuca, with 220 guards on forty streets, is largely focused on street crime and parking violations. According to the Prefeitura, muggings have decreased by 35 percent in the areas patrolled by the unit, and O Globo stated that residents have seen improvements.

Tijuca resident Ricardo Novaes de Soraes disputes the operation’s positive image: “Choque de Ordem was bad because to put order on the population, they hurt people and took everything away from the people who needed these things to survive. The cops are corrupt. They don’t offer any other resources to the people they’re kicking out.” Mr. Novaes de Soares reported seeing police officers harass a disabled man who used to sing for money on the street.

Public disorder is a nebulous concept, especially since Choque de Ordem’s operations range from fining dog owners on the beach to preventing assaults. Overall, the campaign targets unregulated activity in public spaces, cracking down especially hard on unlicensed street vendors.

Loads of food, beverages, clothing, jewelry, and pirate media have been confiscated from vendors who stroll the beach or set up shop on the sidewalk. Even well established businesses like Zona Sul and Hortifruti have been fined for promotional displays in front of their shops.

Operação Choque de Ordem in Tijuca stopping vans, taxis and mototaxis, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, News

Operação Choque de Ordem in Tijuca stopping vans, taxis and mototaxis, image recreation.

While Choque de Ordem nominally focuses on infractions in public spaces like plazas, it also demolishes illegal constructions, cuts off power connections, and shuts down informal transportation (such as “kombi” vans). The operation has also been used to ticket unsanitary restaurants and remove illegal advertising.

Choque de Ordem has garnered comparisons to Rudy Giuliani’s zero-tolerance law-enforcement policy as mayor of New York, which was based on the “broken windows theory” that allowing public spaces to deteriorate invites crime. During his term, the NYPD went after relatively minor offenders like vandals and vendors to send a message to more serious criminals. Giuliani also introduced CompStat, a statistical analysis tool to map crime patterns.

The similarity is no coincidence: Giuliani Partners, Rudy Giuliani’s firm, has a security consulting contract with Rio de Janeiro, to help prepare the city for the 2016 Olympic Games. It remains to be seen whether the flaws in Giuliani’s approach will repeat themselves in Rio. Crime levels did decrease during Giuliani’s mayoralty — though some experts have attributed this to nationwide economic improvement.

Critics argue that by classifying street vendors and performers under the same umbrella term — “disorder” — as muggers and predators, Choque de Ordem threatens informal workers with unemployment. A 2005 report indicated this ‘informal’ sector accounts for about forty percent of Brazil’s gross national income, and was the fastest growing social class on earth.

6 Responses to "Zero-tolerance “Shock of Order” in Rio’s Centro"

  1. Tom Straub  September 13, 2011 at 2:45 PM

    I only hope that the Olympics coming to Brazil doesn’t have the same effect it has had on other countries. In the years run up to the Olympics, life in the cities where the Olympics will be held is made to be an inconvenient urban hell through “zero tolerance”. Then after the Olympics leaves, there is no more need for the extemely expensive Olympic “upgrades” to the country, and the unhappy, mad populace simply lets the whole thing degrade into unmaintained icons of public policy malfeasance. Of course, then the government who unleashed this on the populace gets replaced…

  2. Mark McCaffrey  September 15, 2011 at 2:33 AM

    Yes, they want to “sanitize” the city for the Olympics and the World Cup, but they shouldn’t forget that if you kill Rio’s spontaneity, you kill Rio. Don’t ticket the girl from Ipanema for passing by. Get the muggers, not the lovers, and if you’re going to put those kombi vans out of business, make sure you’ve got something just as efficient to take their place. There are lots of elderly ladies who depend on them and you don’t want to mess with the elderly ladies of Rio de Janeiro.

  3. riva  September 18, 2011 at 9:10 AM

    well well.. I doubt they will manage to do anything about it… if they didn’t do for the last 500 years they won’t do it for the next 2/3/4, you can be sure. Mugging and disorder are national hobbies and it happens from top to bottom, everywhere… including the police soooo I wouldn’t expect too much!
    I agree with Tom Straub it is a lot of money spent in the benefit of a few and when the event is gone we are left with a bitter taste and big bill to pay… hope we don’t end up like Greece in a few years time, unable to pay the public debt :(

  4. DLR  September 19, 2011 at 3:54 PM

    Let’s look at China with 1 billion more citizens –
    No Crime
    No Corruption
    Fastest growing economy the world has ever known
    25 million new jobs a year,
    Hmmmmm they have 0 tolerance, and simply kill the person who does these things guess what no muggings, no theft, no corrution in fact 2 years ago the exicuted the mayor of Shanghi for corruption, this is how you eleminate this problem like China,

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