While the Brazilian Federal Constitution of 1988 gives the state governments responsibility for public safety, it is at the municipal level that leaders regularly encounter citizens who have experienced violence. Growing unemployment rates, insufficient military and civil police forces, and a lack of public investment in low-income urban areas are common factors contributing to rising crime rates in many Brazilian cities. In São Carlos, in the state of São Paulo, it is no different. Public safety is one of the main priorities of the citizens.
In 2001, a committee set up by the City Hall developed the Integrated Municipal Plan for Public Security with the aim of improving safety within the municipality. The Committee included representatives from the municipal government, the municipal council, the civil and military police forces and the Community Security Council. The Committee understood that the municipal government should act as a catalyst to articulate goals and integrate both governmental and non-governmental sectors involved in fighting violence. The Plan is based on the “Citizenship and Safety” concept: it is insufficient, in fighting violence, to emphasize police activities without addressing the causes of violence across departmental lines.
A first line of action was the creation of a Municipal Guard with financial resources from the Ministry of Justice. The Municipal Guard is in charge of community safety and preventive security of municipal services and infrastructure as well as of schools within the municipality. Creation of a Municipal Public Security Fund and of a Municipal Firefighters Fund helps allocate resources to entities that have a vital role in city safety, such as the fire department and the military, civil, and environmental police forces. The fund has also worked on restructuring municipal Civil Defense.
A data bank has been established which identifies families with a per capita income of up to half the minimum wage, allowing the municipality to organize a network of social protection without duplicating benefits and serving as an instrument of evaluation of public policies for social inclusion. Another data bank with information on violence and criminality in the municipal area is managed by the Municipal Council for Public Security to establish cooperation between the government and the organizations for public safety who act within the municipality.
The municipality gives priority attention to children and youth by means of projects in areas such as education, sport, culture, and leisure. This includes support for the Parents and Teachers Council and the Child and Youth Council. The Integrated Attendance Unit for Youths Involved in Crime works with the notion that a teenager’s life is broader than an isolated criminal offense. A social service representative interviews minors and their parents, writing up a report, which is sent along with the police file to the pertinent departments in order to better evaluate the measures to be applied in each case. In some municipalities the time lapse between arrest and sentencing can take up to two years. In São Carlos, it takes on average three days. The criminal relapse rate for youths in São Carlos is 2.7% compared to a state average of 33%. The city’s average for detainment in the youth correctional facility FEBEM is of one youth per 70,000 inhabitants, compared to one per 9,000 inhabitants in neighboring cities.
The Integrated Municipal Plan for Public Security develops preventive actions against violence, getting at the causes, besides setting up integrated policies for inclusion, social assistance, and education of citizens at risk for violence. Cooperation optimizes public resources. The resulting economy of these initiatives has allowed new monies to be allocated to the city’s police forces and to public works programs, which is reclaiming parks previously taken over by drug addicts.
The overall result of this integrated, multilateral series of initiatives to combat crime is that, out of the 61 municipalities with over 100,000 inhabitants in the state of São Paulo, São Carlos now has the seventh lowest rate of criminal activity.
- In addition to strengthening policing, it is necessary to deal with the root causes of crime and violence. To do that effectively, it is necessary to create partnerships amongst government agencies and non-profit organizations.
- By creating a cooperative network that goes from the community level right up to the federal government level, actions and resources can be optimized and better organized.