Off-duty military police in São Paulo killed more people in the first seven months of 2013 than in the same period of any year over the past decade, in a rise likely linked to a bloody war with Brazil's biggest gang.
According to an investigation by Folha de São Paulo, the killing of 129 people between January and July this year represents a 52 percent increase on the 85 killed up to July 2012. However, on-duty killings have seen a steep decline, with 290 occurring up to July 2012, compared to 172 this year.
Overall this accounts for an almost 20 percent decline in total killings perpetrated by military police (PM), while the number of PM officers killed has dropped by a third -- from 42 up to July 2012 to 28 during the same period this year.
PM Commander Benedito Meira blamed the increase in off-duty killings on "bolder" criminals, telling Folha de São Paulo, "these deaths occur in the context of increased property crime," adding "a PM has a duty to react, even when off duty."
According to experts consulted by the newspaper, the rise in off-duty killings is likely the result of two factors: the continuation of a bloody war with Brazil's notorious First Capital Command (PCC) gang, which erupted last year; and increased restrictions on what actions officers can take while on duty.
Source: Folha de S.Paulo
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Brazil's PM are part of a dual policing system at the state level, alongside civil police. Across the country, the PM number approximately 400,000 officers -- compared to 123,000 civil police -- and are responsible for enforcing public order.
The PM have a reputation for brutality and a long history of corruption and extrajudicial killings, so the suggestion that rising off-duty killings carried out by them are the result of a spike in property crime seem fanciful. Current and former police are also involved in militia groups, which began in Rio de Janeiro as vigilante organizations but involved into criminal structures involved in activities such as extortion and assassinations.
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As suggested, the rise is killings is more likely linked to the bloody tit-for-tat war between the PM and the PCC, which began after jailed gang leaders were transferred to facilities hundreds of miles from São Paulo. The city was gripped by a wave of murders as gangs targeted police and police responded with revenge killings, and it is likely the fallout from the clashes continued in the first part of this year.