The Brazilian police are one of those who kill the most in the world, with more than 6,100 deaths in 2021, or 17 per day on average, according to the count of the violence monitor of the news site G1, in partnership with the University of Sao Paulo (USP) and the NGO Public Security Forum.
The number of police officers killed is also very high: 183 last year.
“The police are very intransparent in Brazil. When there is a death in a shooting, the most common version is we were attacked and we had to fight back. It is rare that officers are really held to account” , explains César Munoz, of the Brazilian branch of Human Rights Watch.
“Pedestrian cameras can be useful both to monitor police officers and to protect them from unfounded accusations”, underlines this specialist.
6 to 8 cm long, these rectangular cameras attached to the uniform at chest level are already in use in the states of Sao Paulo (south-east) and Santa Catarina (south), with encouraging initial results.
According to official figures, the number of violent episodes involving police officers has fallen by 87% since the use of cameras, which has become widespread since 2021.
In Santa Catarina, this device has been used since 2019, with a 60% reduction in the use of force by officers.
– Un oeil sur Jacarezinho –
In Rio de Janeiro, 8,000 body cameras will soon be used for patrols in certain areas, from the chic district of Copacabana to the favelas of Maré or Jacarezinho.
A year ago, Jacarezinho was the scene of the bloodiest police operation in Rio’s history, with 27 “suspects” and an agent killed in a raid targeting drug traffickers.
With cameras on the uniforms “we would have elucidated more” the circumstances of most of the deaths, “in some cases, in favor of the police”, explained to the site G1 the prosecutor André Cardoso, who carried out the investigations which led to the indictment of four agents and two drug traffickers. Ten of the 13 investigations were dismissed.
“It’s often a real headache to reconstruct the scene. If we have images, it’s much easier to obtain evidence,” he added. According to him, the use of body cameras is “indispensable”.
These cameras would also make it possible to corroborate other denunciations of inhabitants of the favelas of Rio against the police, in particular the invasions of domicile, with thefts or depredations of objects.
A resident of Jacarezinho has also succeeded in proving the intrusion of agents into her home thanks to a hidden camera installed in her living room.
– Questions of protocols –
But “cameras are not a panacea”, warns César Munoz, who notably recommends more training and psychological support for the police, and the guarantee of independent expertise.
According to him, in cases of alleged blunders, expertise is often carried out by the police themselves. With the risk of manipulation of evidence, the bodies can be moved to support the thesis of self-defense.
Other Latin American countries use body cameras, such as Mexico, to fight against police corruption, or Chile, to monitor abuses in the repression of demonstrations in particular.
In Brazil, success will depend above all on how the cameras are used.
“Are they on 24 hours a day? Who decides whether to turn them on or not? Who monitors the recordings? How to protect the privacy of agents?” asks Melina Risso, from the Igarapé Institute, a security specialist.
In Sao Paulo, for example, the activation of a system with low definition and without sound is automatic as soon as the policeman starts his work day. The agent must himself activate a high-definition system with sound recording when he is called in to intervene.
The Rio police, for their part, explained that the activation of the cameras would be automatic and that the images would be kept for 90 days.