By Patricia Maresch, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The recently appointed head of the Rio’s Civil Police, Martha Rocha, made surprise inspection visits to seven police precincts during Carnival weekend to meet with police officers as well as check for irregularities. The inspection began at the 14th Precinct in Zona Sul’s (South zone’s) Leblon where Rocha checked if all police officers scheduled for duty were working.
Chief Rocha questioned the presence of a motorcycle parked in the hallway of a police station in Nova Iguaçu one year after being seized. No major violations were found though, except for some irregularities in the paperwork from police patrol cars in Barra da Tijuca and Recreio. Chief Rocha announced that surprise checks will be held regularly in the future, either by herself or by the deputy Police Chiefs.
Rocha is the fifth Civil Police Chief in five years for Rio de Janeiro, Brazil’s second largest city of 6.3 million. She was named amidst a police corruption scandal, Operação Guilhotina (Operation Guillotine), in which the Federal Police arrested 38 police officers on suspicion of working with drug traffickers.
Rocha’s predecessor Allan Turnowski announced his resignation despite the lack of formal accusations against him, after his former deputy Oliveira’s arrest. Police corruption in Rio is endemic, and efforts to tackle it have thus far has been a challenge.
Critics say that to really stop crime in the city, police corruption as well as violence by and against drug traffickers have to be tackled at the same time. The city has to make significant progress on both ends before hosting the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympic Games.
José Mariano Beltrame, Rio’s Security Secretary, said that rooting out corrupt officers is his priority for this year: “I want the police officers to feel that they are being monitored.” These monitoring sessions apparently started this weekend, executed by Police Chief Rocha herself.
Fifty-one year old Rocha is the first woman to head the Civil Police Force in Rio de Janeiro and the only female police chief in Brazil. Rocha was born in Penha, Zona Norte (North zone) and is the daughter of Portuguese parents. A 27-year police veteran, Rocha began her career in 1983 as the only female officer in the 14th Precinct in Leblon.
She has been the head of a special division for Police Assistance to Women as well as a professor at the Police Academy. Rocha is known for being straightforward and a hard worker. Since February of this year, she has been in charge of improving morale of a divided institution with 12,000 police officers that struggles with confidence from Rio’s residents.
When asked how she planned to tackle police corruption she said: “Of course we will be concerned with the integrity of the Civil Police, but the word ‘crisis’ will no longer be part of my vocabulary. We need to work and look at the future. Where there is crime, the police will act.”