Trained for street cockfight

brasilobserver - Aug 21 2015
Solenidade de Formatura do Curso de Formação de Soldados da Turma III/2013
Graduation of Rio’s Military Police soldiers in 2014 (Photo: Clarice Castro/GERJ)

(Leia em Português)

Brazil’s Military Police soldiers criticize training focused on servitude to officials, lived in an environment where psychological, physical and disciplinary abuse is routine


By Ciro Barros, from Agência Pública

“Come on, come on, you’re an animal. You’re an ass, you’re fat!” Former soldier Darlan Menezes Abrantes mimics the speech of the officials that trained him at the gym when he joined the Military Police of Ceará, in February 2001. “Sometimes it was lunchtime and the superiors were screaming in my ear that I was a monster, a parasite. It seemed that they were training a dog. The soldier is trained to be afraid of officials and that’s it. The training was just messing with emotions; one is trained to leave the barracks like a pit bull, crazy to bite people. How am I going to serve society like that? It’s ridiculous. The police have to train quick thinking, the ability to make decisions. Today policemen seem to be training like a cock to go street fighting,” he reflects.

Darlan remembers without nostalgia the seven months in the defunct Training Course and Enhancement of the Military Police in Brazil’s North-eastern state of Ceará. “Whenever a teacher was missing, we were forced to do cleaning around the barracks. And worse: those who complained could get imprisoned the whole weekend. The hierarchy is above everything else in the military scheme. Training was only that thing of united order and stay all day marching under the hot sun. There is a feudal system; you have officials who can do whatever they want and soldiers who put their heads down. You’re just trained to be afraid. The soldier who sees the official trembles in fear,” he says.

While he worked as a cop, Darlan was studying theology at the Baptist Theological Seminary of Ceará and Philosophy at UECE (State University of Ceará). The former soldier says that he began to question some orders and instructions while attending the academy and soon earned a nickname: “Mazela”, a common slang in north-eastern Brazil for a lazy person. Gradually spread among the troops the idea that the questions of “Mazela” were the result of a pure laziness with respect to military exercises.

“I got this reputation in the barracks,” he says. “It’s a brainwash. Militarism is a kind of religion that creates fanatics. United order, military laws, regulations, battle songs… These little stupid things that policemen will learn: how to fix the right uniform. You can be arrested if you are not with a cap. These things only disrupt the lives of police officers. Sometimes I took a crowded bus, arrived with a crumpled uniform and was arrested for Friday, Saturday and Sunday. That’s ridiculous,” he exclaims. “And that’s before and after training: if you go today to Fortaleza’s Military Police Cavalry you will see policemen weeding, picking up horse shit, sweeping the floor, washing the colonel’s car, opening the door to the demigods [officials]. I never agreed with that and got this ‘lazy’ fame,” he says.

Bullying is the rule in the formation of military policemen in short courses whose main concern is to reinforce the military culture in the future soldier; with little theoretical learning in subjects such as criminal law, constitutional and human rights; addition to being subject to strict disciplinary regulations. That’s what the survey “Opinion of Brazilian Policemen on Reform and Modernization of Public Security” published in 2014 found. More than 21,000 public safety professionals were heard (between civilian, military, federal policemen, agents of scientific police, forensic experts and fire-fighters) of all units of the federation, more than half of them military police, especially “Praças” (lower patent). Of these, 82.7% said they had full training of one year before exercising the function, 38.8% said they have been victims of physical or psychological torture in training and 64.4% said they had been humiliated or disrespected by superiors. 98.2% of all professionals (including professionals from other areas) survey respondents said that inadequate training is a very important factor to understand the difficulty of police work.

Despite the alarming figures, the theme is still little discussed within corporations and beyond. In several states, the internal regulations of the Military Police explicitly prohibit cops to speak about the profession. They also say they have little room to denounce the violations suffered by them on a daily basis – the closed and hierarchical structure of militarism gives few loopholes to complaints or criticism of the police in relation to their own training, mainly outside the barracks. Even if those complaints relate to non-compliance with primordial human rights.



The institutionalization of human rights violations within the Military Police in the formation and training of its members is reflected directly in the way they react in everyday life with the population. A crucial example is the final report of the Truth Commission of the State of São Paulo, where the sociologist and former Secretary of Public Security of the State of Rio de Janeiro, Luiz Eduardo Soares, said in testimony given on 28 November, 2013 “The BOPE [an elite squad of Rio’s Military Police] offered by 2006, torture classes. 2006! Torture classes! I am not referring to ideological inclinations (…), we are talking about institutional procedures,” he said.

It was this reality that then recruit Rodrigo Nogueira Batista, coming from the Navy, was presented to participate in the Summer Operations at Beaches two months after joining the Military Police, described by him as a kind of internship that recruits do with older police officers in noble beaches of Rio – Ipanema, Copacabana, Barra da Tijuca, Botafogo, Recreio.

Former Military Police soldier, Rodrigo Nogueira, imprisoned since 2009, speaks about his book “Como nascem os monstros” (or “How the monsters are born”) (Foto: Bel Pedrosa)

Former Military Police soldier, Rodrigo Nogueira, imprisoned since 2009, speaks about his book “Como nascem os monstros” (or “How the monsters are born”) (Foto: Bel Pedrosa)

“My class went to this internship after two months of training, two months taking part-time lessons and then to the street. There we were with truncheon, shorts and Military Police shirt, so the population see that and feel what they call ‘sense of security’,” he recalls. “They put an armed older policeman and two or three ‘iron balls’, as they call the recruits, exactly because they make difficult the movement of the older policemen. We arrived and the older was distressed about our presence because he wanted to get money from the guy who sells mate, from the small shops”, he recalls. On the street: “barbarism prevailed: young people stealing, smoking marijuana… Everything you imagine. When falling in our hands was only beating, beating, beating, pepper spray, much pepper gas. It was there that I had contact with the torture techniques that the Military Police does on several occasions,” he says.

“You now see the case of Amarildo,” he says. “Those officers who participated in the Amarildo case, at least according to the investigation, are doing the same practices I did, what others had done well before me and that comes from many years. It comes from a culture,” he added.



The culture of violence born with the dehumanization of the Military Police training, the soldiers report. “Military Police soldiers have no rights. We have to sleep in dirty quarters, falling apart. Each of us had to bring hammocks to sleep. Married colleagues who did the training had many difficulties because we spent three months without pay. The soldier only has the right to say yes sir and no sir and marching all the time,” says the former soldier Darlan Menezes Abrantes. “How can an undemocratic police take care of a democratic society?” he asks.

Author of a book entitled “Militarismo: um sistema arcaico de segurança pública” (or “Militarism: an archaic system of public security”), Darlan was expelled from Ceará’s Military Police in January 2014, after 13 years of service. What caused the expulsion, he said, was the book. “I went to some universities here in Fortaleza to distribute the book and I was outside the Academy [State Academy of Public Security of Ceará] at lunchtime. Then the students came, took the book and carried inside. During one of the classes, some students asked a teacher why here in Brazil we had military police while in most countries of the world it was not militarized. Students told us that they had seen it in my book. It was enough. They began to investigate my life, opened a Military Police Inquiry, and I was prevented from working on the street,” he says.

Darlan Menezes Abrantes, author of the book “Militarismo: um sistema arcaico de segurança pública” (or “Militarism: an archaic system of public security”)

Darlan Menezes Abrantes, author of the book “Militarismo: um sistema arcaico de segurança pública” (or “Militarism: an archaic system of public security”)

In Chapter 11 of Darlan’s book, there are some anonymous phrases spoken by his colleagues about the Military Police. “The officials are leeches,” says one of the sentences; “Military Police is the most cowardly police that exists – it only arrests poor people,” says another. “In my interrogation they wanted me to say the name of each officer who spoke the sentences for each officer to be punished. My lawyer claimed confidential source, like you journalists have. In another session, this time that I was answering the process, I tried to argue with a captain. ‘No, captain, it is my right to write the book.’ He ironically took a blank sheet of paper and threw in front of me, saying, ‘Here, your rights’,” he says.

The Military Police of Ceará claimed that the expulsion was based on several articles of the Disciplinary Code and the Military Penal Code and that the conduct of the former soldier went against modesty and decency of the class. In São Paulo and Ceará, it is forbidden for policemen to “publish, disseminate or contribute to full disclosure of facts, documents or administrative matters or technical police, military or judiciary that can compete for the prestige of the Military Corporation”. Darlan denounced his expulsion to the prosecutor of Ceará and filed a reinstatement of lawsuit which has not yet been heard. Sought by the Agência Pública, Ceará’s Military Police did not explain the reason for Darlan’s expulsion or comment on his statements.



“Imagine a teacher who cannot speak of education or a doctor who cannot speak of health. In many states, the police cannot talk about public safety,” says sociologist Ignacio Cano, from the Violence Analysis Laboratory of UERJ (State University of Rio de Janeiro). He has authored a study that analyzed the “conduct manuals” of military police in order to compare the disciplinary codes and laws of public security corporations in Brazil.

“The Military Police disciplinary regulations are outdated, antidemocratic, many of them pre-constitutional”, defines the sociologist. “They were created to ensure the hierarchy and discipline within the corporation and the corporation’s image, and are not meant to protect the people nor the police,” he argues. “Most of the training is for the police to learn rules, both laws and the internal rules of the corporation, and to run up and down to stay in shape. Physical education is not given with a health purpose; it is also in this logic of discipline. What some experts and police officers say is that implicitly these abusive articles were overturned with the Constitution. The fact is that the statute is still in force,” he says.

According to his study, at least 10 federation units have regulations dating previous to the Constitution, inspired by the Army Disciplinary Regulations. Some states adopt exactly these regulations in the Military Police. This was determined from a decree of the dictatorship, Decree-Law 667 of 2 July 1969. Article 18 of the decree states: “The Military Police shall be governed by Disciplinary Regulations drafted along the lines of the Army Disciplinary Regulations and adapted to the special conditions of each corporation.”

“In the regulations we have reviewed, we saw extreme cases in this study, as regulations stipulate that if a police officer in a top position beating a lower level police officer to force and fulfil an order, then it’s okay, it’s a normal thing. This is one of the most extreme cases,” says Ignacio Cano. He cites other abuses arising from over-regulation. “There’s a whole special moralist regulations that applies to private life. Policeman cannot do things that most mortals do: get drunk, tell a lie, and go into debt. He may be punished for these things. This creates a moral superman vision that does not exist; these subject officers to permanent risks of punishment for conduct that most Brazilians do,” he explains.

There are several examples of this regulation of police officers private lives. In Espírito Santo state, according to the regulation, it is forbidden for officers to “keep close relationships not recommended or socially reprehensible, with superiors, peers, subordinates or civilians.” In the Amazon, it is forbidden for police to “talk foreign language, except when the position held by the military police so requires.” In nine states, constitutes a disciplinary offense for the police to enter “into debt or take on higher commitments to their possibilities compromising the good name of the class.”

The hierarchy is the supreme value in the manuals of Military Police. The disciplinary regulations of the police in Alagoas and Mato Grosso prohibit: “to sit where officials are or vice versa, except in ceremonies, festivals, or social gatherings.” In seven states, it is a disciplinary offense for the officer who does not offer a place to a superior. Only nine states classify transgressions typified in public categories (Light, Medium, Severe and Very Serious); in the other it is left to the top command to stipulate the severity of the transgression.

“The human rights of police officers are often harmed by these regulations. And then we want them to respect the human rights of citizens when they as human being and workers do not have their rights respected,” says Cano. “When you deal with the police in an authoritarian and arbitrary way, what you are promoting is that they treat citizens equally. They tend to discount on citizen the repression suffered in the barracks. They tend to be authoritarian, arbitrary, and authoritative. They have no dialogue in the barracks, so why will they dialogue with the citizen? They tend to expect from the citizen the same moral they have,” says the sociologist.

Military police try to contain a demonstration held in July in Favela da Rocinha, Rio de Janeiro to remember the two-year anniversary of the disappearance of Amarildo during a police operation (Photo: Fernando Frazão/Agência Brasil)

Military police try to contain a demonstration held in July in Favela da Rocinha, Rio de Janeiro to remember the two-year anniversary of the disappearance of Amarildo during a police operation (Photo: Fernando Frazão/Agência Brasil)

Main name ahead of the website “Rede Democrática PM BM”, the first sergeant of Federal District’s Military Police Roner Gama is an example of corporate restriction on freedom of expression of its members. “This negative charge from the dictatorship is reflected in punitive procedures that still exist today. The policemen, for example, cannot manifest on social networks on certain internal aspects of the corporation. I myself am responding to various inquiries and investigations by expressing myself here in this website. Today I’ll answer in internal affairs by a comment someone made on the website. It’s a boring, embarrassing thing. The Military Police is the only institution in the country in which the agent cannot question the superior. A public servant cannot question procedures? It’s something out of context we live in. It is totally absurd,” he says.

With over 20 years of experience within the Brazilian and Latin American police academies, anthropologist and professor of the Department of Public Security of the Fluminense Federal University (UFF), Jacqueline Muniz says: “In Brazil, we have an aristocratic logic guided by privileges that perverts the sense of hierarchy and discipline. It is a continued abuse of power, as with obsolete and unconstitutional disciplinary regulations,” she says.

“Even the policemen say on the streets and in my research that their motivation is punishment. This reflects environments of little citizenship, transparency, few acknowledgments of constitutional rights of one of the main players in a democracy. The policemen enforce the Constitution on the streets, not the dog who barks and wags its tail. They do not have to cut the grass of their superior, turning driver of the colonel’s wife, serve coffee. This culture makes the policemen feel unsafe in the street just by an institutional insecurity and an unsafe policeman is worse than a poorly paid one. He lives all the time in fear of being punished. The cops always say, “if I do too much, I am punished; if I do less, I am punished; if I do not do, I am punished’. There is a lack of qualified benchmarks for police work and it also depends on us to institute a professional training process” she says.

“Police cannot be improvised. An experienced officer is very costly to society; he cannot be replaced because died or because they suffered an accident,” concludes the anthropologist.



In 1989, Saul Humberto Martins, now nearing 50 years old, dreamed of entering the Military Police of the Federal District. He says he found the beautiful profession that saw many bad things in the streets and thought he could contribute as a police officer. Saul entered the corporation by contest and worked as a police officer for 18 years until being hit by an accidental shooting during an instruction in April 2008, which made him paraplegic.

“That day there was a course. I was not part of the course, I was in another area, but was asked to provide support. And I went,” he recalls. In the course, for policemen with more than ten years of experience, Saul should simulate he was a criminal and, in many situations, try to take the weapon from the hands of another officer. He then took off his ballistic vest to be more mobile.

Before the training, all participants were asked to unload their weapons. However, during the instruction, a participant said he had a headache and wanted to leave the barracks to go to the pharmacy. He left the place, loaded the gun and placed at the waist and got a car to buy medicine. When he returned, the soldier forgot the loaded gun. “As soon as he arrived, an officer entered the back of the car and said ‘now it’s time for you to make the approach’. They entered the education site, which was indoors. When they entered, the official advised: ‘addresses those people there’,” he says. In the simulation, Saul was instructed to react to the approach. When he responded, the soldier shot out the loaded gun.

“The shot took my scapula, punctured lung, spine and lodged in my bone marrow. I fell on the flour paraplegic,” he says. The episode was filmed. Saul was a month hospitalized. The Military Police internal affairs of the Federal District ordered the official instructor of the course and the soldier who fired the gun to nine months in prison (converted into community service), but they remain in the corporation. Saul is now evangelical minister and waits his compensation in court.

“The person giving instruction on the day of my accident was no instructor. Simply because he was an officer he was there giving instruction, but he was not prepared to give that instruction. After my accident there were several other cases. Had a colleague who was not well oriented in a shooting instruction, he fired, the capsule hit him in the eye and he came out blind. We had another who was shot in the knee and had to amputate the leg. We had the case of Silva Barros sergeant who was shot in the bedroom Military Police Battalion,” he recalls. “We need better prepared instructors. We have good instructors, but the problem is that they want to put the official sinks in education just because they are official. It has very good instructional sergeant who cannot turn instructor because they want to have that privilege. Purely by the hierarchy,” he reflects.

On the training itself, Saul criticizes the excessive focus on the united order training. “The guy is in the gym and 50% of the course is to learn militarism. We need a more technical and professional training. The police have to have more shot training, not to kill anyone, but to know when you need to shoot,” he says.

The Agência Pública tried to contact some of the injured police officers in the Federal District, but they refused to talk. In a statement, the Military Police stated that “makes continuous training in order to increasingly improve and update its staff, and these trainings are conducted with fire arms to simulate real situations of danger and police action. All care measures are taken, but unfortunately accidents happen not only here, but anywhere in the world, and besides, we have one of the lowest rates of accidents causing serious injury or even death,” concludes the note.



“Our public security system brings a lot of stuff from the time of the dictatorship, including training,” says the military policeman from Santa Catarina Elisandro Lotin. “We’ve done numerous complaints [about the training courses]. Recently, here in Santa Catarina there was a police academy with 200 women and they were forced to stay in a position to support and do push-ups on hot asphalt at three in the afternoon, several of them were left with burns on his hands. Then you will reach them and tell them defend society?” he asked.

In April, the Curitiba Military Police used tear gas, pepper spray and rubber bullets to contain a demonstration of support for teachers of public schools that were on strike in the state (Photo: Agência Paraná)

In April, the Curitiba Military Police used tear gas, pepper spray and rubber bullets to contain a demonstration of support for teachers of public schools that were on strike in the state (Photo: Agência Paraná)

Vanderlei Ribeiro, president of Aspra (Association of the Military Police and the Fire Department of Rio de Janeiro) since 2008, assigns the “amateurism” of training to the “culture” of the Military Police. “We are poorly trained, ill-equipped and misled by the militaristic culture that exists in the military polices throughout Brazil. The training requires from the beginning an authoritarian behaviour that will be reflected in the population. Military culture is perverse; it does not prepare the policeman to understand that he has a social commitment. The police academy does not have any qualification and does not prepare anyone to act on the street. Training is aggressive, does not respect human rights, is arrogant, authoritarian and police only know to do the same when leave the academy,” he says.

For sergeant Leonel Lucas, member of the Military Brigade of Rio Grande do Sul and president of ABAMF (Antonio Mendes Filho Benevolent Association) it is not only the training needs to improve. “Unfortunately, we still have some Nascimento captains [reference to “Tropa de Elite” movie] giving instruction in the training courses. That’s why I think the first thing that has to be changed is the academic training of senior officers, when we change the head of who’s in forming upstairs and senior officers begin to receive a more humanistic education, it will be reflected for those who are in the lower ranks.”



A matter that divides the opinion of police and public safety specialists: is it possible to offer a more humane and efficient training to police officers without changing the military nature of Military Police? In almost all the interviews for this report, the issue of demilitarization of the police appeared revived by the Constitutional Amendment 51/2013 authored by Senator Lindbergh Farias (Workers Party).

The anthropologist Jacqueline Muniz thinks so. “The military structure itself does not limit the effect of the training process for the police, which prevents the police apply what he has learned is the abuse of power. There are police with military inspiration, as Gendarmarie, in France, the Carabinieri, in Italy, and the Spanish Civil Guard, that were democratized, have high degree of training and of police rights and duties are guaranteed as full citizens. And these policemen are very well evaluated by their societies and have even lower levels of violence, corruption and violation,” she said.

Elisandro Lotin goes in the same line. “You can have a military police since its performance on the street is focused on human dignity, citizenship, since unlink all that logic that the army still insists on having control of the military police: the arms to the training, the number of effective. From that untying [Army], that does not mean demilitarization; we can have a national array of activities of the military police in Brazil focused on human dignity in labour rights for public safety professionals, appropriate codes of ethics and democratic conduct,” he argues.

Vanderlei Ribeiro disagrees. “The militaristic structure is incompatible with the ostensible policing. Militarism is for the Army. First you have to move the structure to after you talk to change the formation. There is no other way. You can get the best specialist in the country to teach to the police, but what he will do on the street is different from what he learned there because the entrenched culture does not allow other behaviour. Here in Rio de Janeiro had several agreements with NGOs, several university professors were there to teach the courses and not changed at all because the whole point is military. It’s no use having comrade sociology class if they will arrive on the street and will kill if they are trained in this militaristic concept,” he says. “No use you make classes of human rights if the police are military. When you go to the street what predominates is the military idea is the military logic,” says the former soldier Darlan Menezes Abrantes.

“In interviews with police for my dissertation, a line caught my attention. They said: ‘We went into service and become operational we go into enemy territory. In enemy territory, I kill or I die. Do not ask me to intercede for the life of the enemy’. After studying about this speech, I was studying the Doctrine of National Security and it needs an enemy to be present. The dictatorship, the enemy was who? Who challenged the dictatorship. Finished democratization and this idea persists today the enemy is those facing the police, who commits an offense or who live in certain areas. The speech of many authorities is the discourse of war, to return to the territory of the enemy, to occupy the hill and return to the state. It is the discourse of the National Security Doctrine. In line tip, the message comes thus: ‘There is an enemy, then annihilate’. Perhaps this explains the police lethality,” concludes Lieutenant Colonel Adilson Paes de Souza.

“When you see a soldier policing, something is already wrong. Or comrade is soldier, or police. The soldier has a premise that is what? Kill the enemy. So that’s the main thing. The soldier is formed to eliminate the enemy and not the police, at least should not,” said the former military police soldier Rodrigo Nogueira Batista. “This confusion of responsibilities between soldiers and police, they cannot be solved easily. Things keep happening in the eyes of everybody and nobody does anything. For example, those people who were returning from a party within a white car and were chased by a patrol. Nothing was coming from the car and the policeman gave 15 rifle shots into the car. This can only happen on the head of a soldier, the head of a policeman does not happen this way. A police would chase, surround. But he was not going to shot at who’s not giving shot at it. Only the head of the soldier, who thinks it’s a war. The guy was there, he gave the siren and the car sped up to escape the police. ‘Oh, it’s a bad guy, I’ll shoot’. Could be someone drunk, could be everyone doing an orgy in the car, could have a drink in the car and the guy being afraid of being caught, the guy could not have license, the guy could be deaf… There are millions of things, but the guy did not stop to analyze these things because he was not conditioned to think, to contextualize the type of service he’s doing. He was trained for what? Accelerated, ran, bullet!” says Nogueira Batista, today in prison.