Categories
Security Politics

Why Are Police Becoming More Like Soldiers?

Image: Sdlewis/Wikimedia

This article was originally published by openSecurity on 1 September 2014.

In the last decades, militarisation of the state and surveillance of the population have grown exponentially in many western countries. Police forces, civilian institutions and even urban spaces have followed this trend of securitisation. Images of heavily armed police forces clashing against protesters in the US, UK, France and many other countries are becoming increasingly common. Leaked official documents have detailed the extensive surveillance programmes several states use to spy on their denizens, under the auspice of “national security”.

While the “war on drugs” and the “war on terror” have often provided the pretext, those affected by militarisation and surveillance are mostly neither criminal kingpins nor “terrorists” but ordinary citizens. It has been political activists and groups, those who express dissent and protesters, as well it is true as small-time criminals, who have been on the receiving end of police SWAT team raids, extensive (often illegal) surveillance and assaults by heavily-armoured riot police.

Categories
Security Justice

From Cops to Counterinsurgents – the Militarization of America’s Police

Image: Thomas Hawk/Flickr

This article was originally published by OpenDemocracy on 14 August 2014.

Jason Westcott was afraid.

One night last fall, he discovered via Facebook that a friend of a friend was planning with some co-conspirators to break in to his home. They were intent on stealing Wescott’s handgun and a couple of TV sets. According to the Facebook message, the suspect was planning on “burning” Westcott, who promptly called the Tampa Bay police and reported the plot.

According to the Tampa Bay Times, the investigating officers responding to Westcott’s call had a simple message for him: “If anyone breaks into this house, grab your gun and shoot to kill.”

Categories
Government Security Conflict

São Paulo: Insecure Citizens, All of Them

Primeiro Comando da Capital 15 33
Primeiro Comando da Capital (PCC) is a non-state armed group in São Paulo, Brazil. Photo: Marco Gomes/flickr.

In recent years, São Paulo, Brazil has like many other Latin American cities, been held up as a model of public security for other cities in the global South. Dramatic declines in homicides by more than 80% in some urban districts, has created a sense that the city is safer than ever. By extension, many have supposed and some explicitly argued that heightened public security policies are the reason for such declines.

A recent spate of hundreds of homicides, killings by the police force (known until recently as resistencias seguida de morte), and assassinations of police officers, tells a much different story. This violence lays bare the sub-structure of homicide regulation in the city. Since the early 2000’s, São Paulo’s decline in homicides has been intimately intertwined with the increasing influence of a non-state armed group known as the Primeiro Comando da Capital (PCC). The PCC, which controls many of the historically violent parts of the city, has its own regulation of death. This underscores the breakdown of the monopoly on violence in the city and exposes the relative impossibility of public policy advancement. More importantly, though, this new wave of violence reveals the degree of insecurity in this city where those most responsible for delivering public security policy – the police – are not secure.

Categories
Government Security Global Voices

Brazil: Questions Surrounding Rio’s ‘Pacifying Police’ Units

The 18th Rio UPP was launched in November 2011 in the Managueira neighborhood which has 20,000 inhabitants. Image by SEASDH on Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).
The 18th Rio UPP was launched in November 2011 in the Managueira neighborhood which has 20,000 inhabitants. Image by SEASDH on Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).

In recent years, the state government of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, has adopted a security policy based on the installation of Pacifying Police Units (Unidades de Polícia Pacificadoras), known as UPPs. The aim of the UPP strategy [pt] is to place permanent police units in favelas (shanty towns) to tackle crime and promote social policies.

Since December 2008, 18 different favelas out of almost 1,000 in the capital city of Rio have received UPPs. In an article for Rede Brasil Atual [pt], Maurício Thuswohl  argues that the UPPs have been placed in strategic areas:

“O desenho traçado pelas UPPs no mapa do Rio evidencia a intenção do governo de criar um cinturão de segurança nos bairros com maior poder aquisitivo e nas áreas da cidade onde ocorrerão eventos e concentração de turistas estrangeiros durante a Copa do Mundo de 2014 e as Olimpíadas de 2016.”

“The outline of the UPPs on a map of Rio testifies to the government’s intention to create a ‘safety belt’ for more affluent neighborhoods and areas of the city where there will be events and large numbers of foreign tourists during the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics.”

Categories
International Relations Government Security Foreign policy

Thoughts on Peacekeeping

Helmet and Flack Jackets of MONUC Peacekeepers, courtesy of United Nations Photo/flickr

As anger in Haiti intensifies, with some residents blaming Nepali peacekeepers for having brought cholera to the island, a closer look at the composition of UN peacekeeping missions seems in order.

In October 2010 the UN had approximately 100,000 police officers, military experts and troops operating around the world in more than 17 UN peacekeeping missions. These operations cost the UN, in the 2005-2006 period, more than $5 billion, more than triple the UN’s core operating budget.

If we look at who the main contributors are, somewhat surprisingly, almost 30 percent of UN troops come from three countries that can be found in one of the most unstable parts of the world: Pakistan, India and Bangladesh. How is it possible that a country like Pakistan, that ranks 10th on the Failed States Index of 2010, is also the second most active country in terms of UN peacekeeping? The answer, of course, is money. Poorer countries earn valuable financial resources by contributing to UN missions. But shouldn’t these soldiers be at home, trying to stabilize their own countries and can they, if ‘thrown together” in a single mission operate together effectively despite deep-rooted animosities ‘at home’?

Advocates of UN peacekeeping missions, and the biggest financial contributors to the UN itself, namely EU countries and the US, are among the countries that contribute the least with troops. Except for Spain, France and Italy, no other European country contributes more than 1,000 troops. Even countries like Yemen and Zimbabwe contribute more troops to peacekeeping missions than the US. The question naturally arises: Why do western countries not put their money (and their manpower) where their mouth is by sending well trained, well equipped troops to trouble spots around the world, where they, by international consensus, are needed the most?