Rio Grapples With Violence Against Police Officers as World Cup Nears (New York Times)

RIO DE JANEIRO — Alda Rafael Castilho dreamed of being a psychologist, and joined the police force to pay for her studies. Her dream ended at age 27 when gunmen stormed the outpost where she was on duty in Complexo do Alemão, a sprawling patchwork of slums. A bullet pierced her abdomen, and she bled to death.

“They left her there to squirm on the ground like some sort of animal,” said her mother, Maria Rosalina Rafael Castilho, 59, a maid who lives in the gritty outskirts of Rio de Janeiro. “The politicians talk about the pride of hosting the World Cup, but that is an insult,” she said. “They can’t even protect their own police, much less the visitors to Rio.”

With the start of the global soccer tournament in Brazil less than two weeks away, a crime wave is setting nerves on edge across Rio de Janeiro, which is expecting nearly 900,000 visitors. A security overhaul was supposed to showcase a safer Rio on the global stage, but muggings are surging, homicides are climbing, and there has been a spike in shootings of police officers.

Maria Rosalina Rafael Castilho holding a picture of her daughter Alda Rafael Castilho, a police officer who was shot and killed in Rio de Janeiro in February.CreditAna Carolina Fernandes for The New York Times

At least 110 officers have been shot in Rio so far this year, an increase of nearly 40 percent from the same period last year, according to figures compiled independently by the Brazilian journalist Roberta Trindade with the help of police officers. Most of the episodes involved on-duty officers, but in some cases, off-duty officers were shot in assaults when they were identified as police.

In one bloody 16-day stretch in May, Ms. Trindade recorded 14 shootings of police officers, including two who were killed. Altogether, at least 30 on-duty and off-duty police officers have been shot dead this year, she said, including Ms. Castilho, the aspiring psychologist.

The security forces have been trying to reclaim territory in the city from the control of heavily armed drug gangs, and until recently, the deployment of special teams called Pacifying Police Units in dozens of favelas was viewed as a major achievement. But the officers have come under increasing attack in these “pacified” favelas, and the security gains are eroding.

Effectively acknowledging that Rio’s stretched police force cannot guarantee security for the World Cup, state officials have turned to the national government for help, asking for 5,300 troops from the armed forces to help patrol city streets, the way troops did for the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in 2012.

Officials contend that Rio is still safer than it used to be, despite the setbacks and the request for troops, and they point out that other Latin American cities like Caracas, Venezuela, or Tegucigalpa, Honduras, and even some Brazilian cities like Salvador, have higher homicide rates. In Rio, the rate was 20.5 per 100,000 residents last year, well below the rate of 37.8 per 100,000 recorded in 2007 before the security push into the favelas. During that time, the number of police officers in the city and the surrounding state rose to 47,710 from 37,950.

“We’re still distant from the earlier levels of criminality,” said Roberto Sá, a senior security official of the state government. “There are areas where an actual war had to be waged just for the police to enter. Now the police can do so without so many personnel because drug traffickers are losing their territorial bases.”

Contending that the new crime wave is an anomaly, Mr. Sá pointed to the state’s measure of armed attacks on the police, which is limited to officers killed on duty: seven so far this year. While that figure was regrettable, he said, the killings often get little notice in the Brazilian news media, while in many other countries, “the people who die become heroes.”

“I know it is undesirable, but we live in this kind of culture in Latin America, one of violence and criminality,” he said. “We have to understand that this is the reality.”

The challenge facing the police here was thrown into sharp relief in February when the commander of Rio’s “pacification” police forces, Col. Frederico Caldas, was caught in a gun battle in Rocinha, one of Rio’s largest slums. He dove to the ground to avoid a spray of bullets, and wound up having to undergo surgery to remove fragments of rock and plastic from one of his eyes.

Homicides rose 17 percent last year in Rio de Janeiro State, the first increase since 2010. The state recorded 4,761 homicides, with 1,323 of them in the city; by contrast, New York City, with a larger population than Rio, recorded 333 homicides in the same period.

A Pacifying Police Unit officer in Rio de Janeiro. At least 110 officers have been shot so far this year, an increase of nearly 40 percent from the same period last year. CreditMario Tama/Getty Images

A surge in street crime is also jolting residents. Street robberies and vehicle thefts increased sharply this year to levels higher than when the favela pacification program began in 2008, according to official figures. There were 20,252 reported muggings of pedestrians in the first quarter this year, up 46.5 percent from a year earlier.

On Rio’s streets, on television and across social media in Brazil, the crime wave is playing out in ways that are at once surreal and horrific.

A crew from the television network Globo recently interviewed a woman near Rio’s old center on the subject of crime, and in the middle of the interview, an assailant tried to rip a necklace from her neck.

In another episode that tested some residents’ faith in the Rio police, a driver recorded video footage on his smartphone showing the body of a woman hanging out of a police vehicle and being dragged along the pavement through traffic.

The police officers in the vehicle claimed they were taking the woman, a 38-year-old favela resident from the northern part of the city, to a hospital after she suffered gunshot wounds. They said they had not noticed that her body was dangling from the rear of their vehicle. However, an investigation concluded that the woman had been shot and killed by two of the officers, though not intentionally.

Military police officers stood during a presentation of troops that are responsible for security ahead of the World Cup in Rio de Janeiro.CreditPilar Olivares/Reuters

“The legitimacy of the police is at a disturbingly low point,” said Luiz Eduardo Soares, a former top security official in Rio. “The pacification process simply shifted crime to other parts of Rio’s metropolitan area. Now we’re seeing the police coming under attack even in the favelas, which they are calling pacified.”

Security experts attribute some of the animosity toward the police to the resilience of drug gangs like Comando Vermelho, which originated in a Rio prison in the 1970s, and the growth of smaller criminal groups like Terceiro Comando Puro, formed after a split from Comando Vermelho in the 1980s.

Police officers say their jobs are made harder by inadequate training and low pay. But at the same time, the persistence of brutal police tactics, involving the abduction and torture of some residents, contributes to the anger against the police in some communities.

In Rocinha, the hillside favela overlooking some of Rio’s most exclusive residential districts, the disappearance last year of Amarildo de Souza, a 42-year-old construction worker, set off street protests. Investigators found that he was given electric shocks and asphyxiated with a plastic bag after police officers detained him in during a sweep of drug-trafficking suspects.

To the further outrage of many here, investigators said Maj. Edson Santos, the police commander in Rocinha at the time, bribed two witnesses in the case to say that drug traffickers were to blame for what happened to Mr. de Souza.

“This honeymoon within a large part of Rio’s population and the media was deeply shaken,” said Julita Lemgruber, a former director of Rio’s penitentiary system, referring to the hopes raised by security gains in recent years. “The case of Amarildo was a turning point.”