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RIO DE JANEIRO – Rio de Janeiro's public security secretary said Friday that a rise in killings during police operations was a sign that authorities were more aggressively confronting crime, and not of a worsening situation.
In an interview with The Associated Press on Friday, Gen. Richard Nunes pushed back against critics who argue that a military intervention is leading to more violence in the city that two years ago hosted the 2016 Summer Olympics.
Nunes said that any analysis had to take into account the level of crime and problems in the police forces when the military was put in charge of security.
"The situation was really bad," said Nunes, a Rio native and career Army member who was tapped to lead the state's public security secretariat as part of the intervention.
Brazilian President Michel Temer decreed the intervention in February after muggings and beatings were captured on camera during Rio's world famous Carnival celebrations. From the onset, civil rights groups have criticized the move, fearing it would lead to more violence, particularly in marginalized neighborhoods. Six months in, there are some indications of increasing violence.
Between February and July of this year, there were 736 deaths during police operations compared to 547 during the same period last year, according to state figures.
Nunes lamented the deaths and predicted the numbers would start coming down. However, he said the situation wasn't comparable because a year ago police forces were suffering from underfunding and a lack of motivation, which added to a situation where many criminals groups were operating with few checks.
Retraining, the hiring of some new recruits and cracking down on corruption within police ranks was having a positive impact, he said.
Nunes cited a significant drop in robberies of cargo on long-bed trucks, a persistent problem in the state, as a sign of improvement. He noted that fewer robberies meant less associated crime.
"We now have a much stronger police presence in the streets," said Nunes.
Nunes said one of the biggest challenges had been working to find solutions amid large budget deficits. Brazil, with Latin America's largest economy, has struggled to fully emerge from its worst recession in decades. The state of Rio de Janeiro has been particularly hard hit in recent years due to a drop in world oil prices, mismanagement and corruption by previous governors.
Beyond reducing criminality, Nunes said authorities were focused on being ready for October's general election. He said a "crisis cabinet" was being formed and that police were being trained to deal with many issues related to voting.
Despite "realistic optimism" that the intervention will have positive long-term results, Nunes said it wouldn't make sense for it to continue beyond December, when Temer's term will end. Instead, he said the military would share with the incoming administration what had worked.
Nunes expressed confidence that police would solve the murder of Marielle Franco, a black city councilwoman who along with her driver was gunned down in March. The killing shocked Brazil and led to demonstrations in the United States and several other countries.
Just short of six months since the slaying, however, no one has been charged in her death and the investigation has been plagued by several leaks to local media.
Nunes characterized the crime as political, and said it was clearly committed by highly trained assassins who knew how to cover their tracks. Still, authorities were making good progress, particularly considering they had so little to work with in the beginning.
"I can't give a timeline" for it being solved, he said.