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.
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.
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.