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Private Police Accused of Targeting Black Youths and Homeless in Rio de Janeiro Ahead of Olympics

Homeless people near Flamengo being questioned by Private security agents

Private security agents question homeless people near Flamengo.

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil — A team of privately funded security officers are patrolling the streets in tourist areas and hauling homeless people off to police stations — and sometimes to shelters 80km away from this Olympic city.

Since Dec. 1 last year, the operation called Seguranca Presente (Safety Present) has targeted three locations in Rio.

The Seguranca Presente officers are currently serving military police officers working on their days off and ex-army officers, wearing identifiable high-visibility vests, color-coded by area.

Agents have detained 869 people — 584 for possession of drugs and 40 for theft — and also removed 209 homeless people in the past two months.

The operation is paid for by Fecomercio, a federation of 59 businesses in Rio, to the tune of US$12.7 million. The move is controversial as it is the first time a security detail in Brazil has been paid for by the private sector.

The 400 agents who patrol the promenade at Flamengo beach — known as Aterro Flamengo, the area surrounding the Rodrigo de Freitas lake that will host Olympic rowing events — and Meier, a shopping district, have been accused of unfairly targeting black youths and the homeless.

But others disagree.

“The idea is innovative and the statistics as well as the testimonies we have been getting from people show that it has been well-received,” said Fecomercio’s labor relations manager Marcelo Novaes.

The Rio de Janeiro government said it regards the project, the first of its kind in the city, as “fantastic” and “absolutely positive.”

Agencia Publica journalists accompanied the security officers one afternoon.

“We approach everyone with a suspicious attitude. For example, if the person runs away when we arrive, or if they try to hide something,” said Lieutenant Gabriel Cavalcante.

A couple chatting on a bench were approached “because they could have been smoking marijuana,” explained Sub-Lieutenant Jannuzzi, who gave only one name.

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