Teenage gangs are descending onto Rio De Janeiro's beaches to rob tourists en masse, according to authorities, a crime wave possibly linked to the pacification scheme in the city's slums.
Dozens of youths enter the beach simultaneously, reported Merco Press, snatching all valuables they can get their hands on before fleeing, or diving into the sea.
The number of military police patrolling Copacabana beach has been quadrupled, in response to the new outbreak of "arrastoes," the Brazilian term for the crime, said the news site. O Globo said police would also be mobilized on nearby roads, and passengers transferring off buses from slum areas onto those bound for beaches would be checked.
The city's Citizens' Security Secretariat said a campaign of "shock of law and order" was being planned, according to Merco Press.
The US Consulate in Rio issued a warning about the "mass robberies, in which large numbers of teenagers have robbed entire areas of the beach."
InSight Crime Analysis
Most of the robberies are being carried out by teenagers from slum areas that have been occupied by police as part of the Rio's major pacification program, according to police sources consulted by O Globo, leading them to question if the attacks are a form of revenge. A total of 34 slums have been "pacified" under the scheme, in which military policy take over a community and "restore order" in preparation for the installation of a community police unit.
"What’s happening in Rio today represents a power play," wrote Merval Pereira, an O Globo columnist. "Since the police’s pacification program was put into place, the bandits have been losing control over large swathes of the territory in which they used to act and are looking to take back what was theirs."
The pacification program has been lauded as a major success for bringing down violent crime rates. However questions remain over the scheme's sustainability and there has been evidence that crime is being shifted elsewhere, and accusations of murder and torture leveled at police in "pacified" slums.
It is understandable authorities want to bring the security situation back under control as they look ahead to the World Cup in six months. However any talk of "shock of law and order" by Brazilian police should be greeted with caution, given the force's extremely high rate of brutality, especially towards the low-income young men who are reportedly carrying out these robberies.