RIO DE JANEIRO – The Brazilian army, ordered to take charge of public safety in crime-wracked Rio de Janeiro state, has been forced to adapt its combat training regime to help prepare police officers for operations in urban areas.
The challenges of adapting to this new crime-fighting role were apparent during a training session in Rio, where journalists were invited to watch army instructors train police officers to position themselves while entering a favela (shantytown) controlled by drug gangs.
Instead of just training the police to eliminate their adversaries, the army instructors were focused on showing the officers how to position themselves to be less exposed to gunfire, how to identify possible threats, how to distinguish and protect innocent civilians caught in crossfire, and how to tend to wounded colleagues.
“We had to give instructors prior training so that they would know how to explain to police officers that they aren’t fighting enemy combatants but Brazilian citizens in criminal contexts and that we aren’t preparing them for war,” Col. Carlos Cinelli, spokesman of the army Joint Operations Command, told EFE.
The training session included actors playing armed gang members and even an innocent woman carrying a baby who was attempting to escape a simulated shootout.
“During my eight years as a police officer, this is the first time I have participated in such a realistic training session,” Cpl. Larissa Rocha told EFE.
The army decided to offer training courses to the police after President Michel Temer ordered the Brazilian military to assume responsibility for public safety in Rio de Janeiro state in February.
The military intervention seeks to stop a wave of violence that has hit the state since the 2016 Olympic Games were held and which led to the death of 6,731 people in 2017, including 10 children killed by stray bullets.
“One of the goals of the intervention is to provide the police with the necessary abilities to operate, which is why the army is helping, not only by supplying guns, ammunition, patrol cars and other material, but also training,” Cinelli said.