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Brazilian states use innovative approaches to reduce crime
Diálogo / April 21, 2014

By Larry Luxner

State governments throughout Brazil are employing innovative approaches to reduce violence, such as developing police zones to in high-crime areas, launching programs to steer youth away from crime, and hiring mediators to settle disputes in neighborhoods frequented by gangs.

In the state of Paraná, authorities are using international funding to launch a broad security project known as “Paraná Seguro.” The ambitious program provides training for police officers and sports programs, cultural activities, and job training for teenagers, to divert them from street crime and gangs.

Paraná Seguro will provide sports and cultural activities for more than 130,000 youths and job training for another 43,000 teenagers. The program was made possible by international cooperation. The Inter-Development Bank (IDB) is providing a $67.2 million loan to support the project. Local governments are providing $44.8 million.

The ambitious program “seeks to increase the effectiveness and capacity of law enforcement entities to deter crime,” according to the IDB.

Providing additional law enforcement training will help law enforcement officers at the local, state, and federal levels coordinate their efforts to achieve maximum results, said Dino Caprirolo, lead specialist at the IDB’s country office in Brasília.

Paraná Seguro offers programs designed specifically to help juvenile offenders reintegrate into society and avoid committing further offenses.

Here are some of the goals officials hope Paraná Seguro achieves in Paraná by 2019:

• Reduce the homicide rate by 16 percent among people between the ages of 15 and 24

• Reduce the school dropout rate from 8.2 percent to 5 percent

• Improve police investigations of homicides

Sports and cultural programs and job training for youths and improved police training are not the only methods officials are using to improve public safety in Brazil.

In the cities of Lauro de Freitas, Vitoria and Contagem, located in the states of Bahia, Espíritu Santo and Contagem, respectively, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) is providing mediators who talk to gang members to try to get them to resolve their conflicts peacefully.

“We offer dialogue mediation. When we arrive in a given area, we say were from the UN and people listen because we have the concept of peace,” said Érica Mássimo Machado, program officer at the UNDP office in Brasília. “They allow us to serve as mediators. That’s a great advantage for us.”

UN mediators work in neighborhoods troubled by gang violence, and cooperate closely with local Brazilian officials. “We target specific neighborhoods and we try to identify human capital,” Mássimo Machado said. “We don’t have a magic wand and we don’t perform miracles. But this connection with the UN is what differentiates us from other entities.”

Police also have taken steps to reduce violence.

For example, police in Pernambuco divided the state into 26 specific zones. This organization helped police commanders determine which zones needed the most law enforcement resources, said José Luiz Ratton, sociology professor at the Federal University of Pernambuco (UFPE).

“Until 2007, Pernambuco was one of the most violent states in Brazil. It is no longer one of the most violent, and our capital, Recife, isn’t even on the list,” Ratton said.

“Essentially, this was thanks to the launching of a multinational program observed and followed up by civil-society agencies along various vectors including prevention, repression of violence and the enhancement of institutions, particularly in the area of capacity-building for law enforcement agencies.”

Brazil’s crack cocaine epidemic helped push the homicide rate to record levels in recent years, prompting authorities to divide the state into 26 security zones, Ratton said. This reorganization helped improve security, he said.

“We were able to earmark more resources for those areas that had shown a higher number of homicides,” he said. “In the capital city there are five security areas, and we have established protocols and indicators that have to be followed up every week and month. As a result, we’ve been able to benchmark those levels with the national levels, and we also created a system of rewards for line officers who were more successful. We had a downward trend of 12 percent in one year. Thanks to these protocols, we have seen a whole range of policies implemented.”

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