SÃO PAULO – Brazil’s police forces have stocked up on supplies of nonlethal weapons ahead of the World Cup, which begins in a month’s time, the G1 news portal reported on Monday.
Police have bought and stockpiled thousands of extra stun grenades, tear gas canisters and rubber bullets in case of a repetition of violent protests seen during the Confederations Cup in 2013.
“In the middle of the crowd, the individual feels stronger, superhuman, and loses that sense of individuality,” Colonel Carlos Alberto de Camargo, the former commander of São Paulo’s military police, said.
“The aim of nonlethal weapons is to remove the individual from that collective presence, make them afraid.”
Army figures, gathered after a request by G1, have revealed that between June 2013, when the Confederations Cup were held, and April 2014, security forces across Brazil acquired over 270,000 stun grenades and tear gas canisters, and over 263,000 rubber bullets.
A considerable portion of these munitions were bought in the first four months of 2014, the figures show, and police have opted for more potent tear gas and a variety of projectiles, allowing police to remain further away from their targets.
Some of the rubber bullets are “precision” models, whereas others release clusters to cover wider areas.
Hundreds of thousands of disgruntled Brazilians took to the streets in June and July 2013 to protest a long list of grievances, including the state of public services, government corruption and excessive public spending on the tournament.
The demonstrations were initially sparked by a price hike in public transport fares, and although most of the protesters were peaceful, a small group grabbed headlines when they engaged in acts of violence, often vandalising and torching private and public property.
Police were forced to respond, but complaints followed of heavy-handed tactics and misuse of the nonlethal weapons, including the case of journalist Giuliana Vallone who was hit in the eye by a rubber bullet.
“Don’t react, shout or argue”
But protests are just one reason for police to be on their guard during the upcoming World Cup.
With an estimated 600,000 tourists arriving in Brazil from overseas for the key football tournament, the number of thefts and muggings is likely to increase.
As such, police in São Paulo will release official advice for tourists in case they are mugged or assaulted, the Estadão newspaper reported on Monday.
“Don’t react, shout or argue” is the main message of the campaign, to be distributed by embassies and consulates to passengers boarding flights to Brazil.
The number of robberies in São Paulo has also shot up in recent months, forcing police to issue the advice to tourists coming from countries where violent crimes are far less common.
Police are worried that the tourists who “do not know how to behave” if they are confronted by such a situation could be killed as they try to elicit help or fight back.
“Tourists coming principally from Europe and the United States do not see this time of crime very often over there. As they are not used to it, they will react to the assault,” Mário Leite, president of São Paulo’s Civil Police World Cup Committee.
Pamphlets will be published in English, Spanish and French, as well as Portuguese (Brazil’s official language), advising tourists not to show off valuable possessions while out and about, to take care at night, never to walk around alone, and to make sure they are not being followed.
The World Cup, the first to be held in Brazil since 1950, kicks off in a month’s time in São Paulo, and ends in Rio de Janeiro on July 13.