RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) – Rio de Janeiro’s state security secretary acknowledges that cuts of $550 million to his budget pose a risk to the Olympics when they open in three months.
“If I said the cuts won’t impact anything, I wouldn’t be accurate,” Jose Mariano Beltrame told The Associated Press during a sit-down interview this week. “I wish I could have more policemen. I wish they could work twice as much on the streets.”
Security sits at the top of a long list of worries for South America’s first games: Zika virus, polluted water in venues for sailing and rowing, slow ticket sales, and political and economic turmoil as President Dilma Rousseff fights against impeachment.
Beltrame said Rio will deploy about 65,000 policemen and up to 20,000 soldiers to guard the games, the largest contingent in Brazilian history. The number is about twice as large as London’s force four years ago. Some of that effort is aimed at keeping gangs from hillside favelas from reaching Olympic venues.
The military is expected to protect the venues as the police work the rest of the city, guarding subway lines, bus routes and busy streets.
Beltrame is expecting protests, and said police will draw on experience from the 2014 World Cup and the Confederations Cup the year before.
“In any event of this size they happen,” he said.
Beltrame said the cuts, which come to a little less than a fifth of security’s operating budget, will reduce bonuses, overtime pay, and keep him from hiring more police. He called new equipment, technology, and integration the legacy of the Olympics.
Fewer police could mean slower response time, and hurt team spirit.
“The morale issue does affect people,” Beltrame said. “But the institutions are not going to stop.”
The cuts have disheartened many policemen. More than 300 retired in the first two months of this year to avoid cuts to their pensions. The average retirement rate is about 30 per month.
Police in Rio earn about $500 monthly, and many rely on yearly bonuses that have ranged from $1,200 to $3,700. Those will be cut this year to between $400 and $800.
Rio’s financial problems stem partly from the slump in the oil and gas industry, which accounts for a third of the state government’s revenues. At the same time that oil prices have slumped, Brazil’s state-run oil giant Petrobras is at the center of a $3 billion corruption investigation, and the country is buried in its deepest recession in decades.
Beltrame was asked about preparations for the risk of a terrorist attack during the Olympics.
“We didn’t have to do anything extra since the World Cup in 2014,” he said. “Since 2007 we have terrorism as our No. 1 concern, regardless of what happened in France, Belgium or in the Middle East in the last few years.”
Rio’s policing tactics have been strongly criticized.
Amnesty International said in a statement last week that at least 11 people have been killed in police shootings in Rio’s impoverished favelas since the beginning of April. It said at least 307 people were killed by police last year, accounting for 20 percent of the homicides in the city.
“Despite the promised legacy of a safe city for hosting the Olympic Games, killings by the police have been steadily increasing over the past few years in Rio,” Amnesty said.
Former state public security secretary Luiz Eduardo Soares was even more worried than Beltrame, calling the budget cuts “a disaster.”
“We have serious problems in our day-to-day work, but we have adapted well to exceptional situations like the World Cup in 2014 and the visit of Pope Francis in 2013,” Soares said. “But the cuts will affect morale. Officers are underpaid, they fear delays in being paid, and their working hours are not respected.”
Rio will use both military and civil police, but most of the hands-on work goes to the military police.
“If they weren’t military police, they would go on strike,” Soares said.
Soares said Rio has one policeman for every 300 residents in wealthy areas like Copacabana and Ipanema. Poor areas have about one for every 2,000 residents.
He expects the imbalance to grow during the games.
“In an economic crisis like this, the situation tends to be radicalized,” Soares said. “This is a political decision to show the city as an attractive place to foreigners. The price of the cuts will be paid by the underprivileged.”