Brazil reports record number of killings by police in Rio state

Rio de Janeiro (AFP) –


Police in Brazil's Rio de Janeiro state killed a record number of people in the first quarter of the year, an average of five per day, officials said Friday.

However, the overall number of homicides in the state popular with tourists dropped sharply.

The period coincided with the first three months of rule by Governor Wilson Witzel, who was elected in large part due to his support for the tough anti-crime policy of far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, who also came to power in January.

From January through March, 434 people were killed during "police intervention," a 17.9 percent increase compared to the same stretch of 2018, said the state Institute for Public Safety.

That is the highest quarterly figure since record keeping of police-related killings began in 1998.

But the total number of homicides in Rio state, including those committed by police, fell by 18 percent compared to the first three months of last year.

The number went from 1,868 down to 1,528, but the latter is still very high, with an average of 17 people killed each day.

In late March, Witzel told O Globo newspaper that police were now using snipers to take out suspects from long distances.

"The order is clear: if someone is carrying an assault rifle, they have to be neutralized in lethal fashion immediately," Witzel said.

The start of his term has been marked by several major police shootings.

In January, 13 people were shot and killed during a police raid in a slum near downtown Rio, nine of them in the same house.

Justice and Public Safety Minister Sergio Moro recently submitted to congress a bill that among other things would broaden the list of circumstances under which police are allowed to shoot in self-defense.

If the law passes, police will avoid prosecution if they open fire "out of fear, surprise or violent emotion."

Rights groups report that extrajudicial killings in Brazil have been on the rise in recent years and that police are rarely charged.