After being here in Brazil as long as I have been, I realize how many things we take for granted in the United States. One of those things is emergency response to situations. I am discovering, to my chagrin, that emergency response (police and ambulance) is almost non-existent in Salvador. It's quite frustrating.
I remember a couple of years ago in Portland, I was woken up by my room-mate because my drunken, angry neighbor was on our porch at 2AM, yelling and banging on the door. A quick call to 911, and the police were there within 5-10 minutes. They subdued my neighbor, threatened him with a fine or worse if he persisted, and my room-mate and I were left to go back to sleep in peace.
Here, private ambulance companies brag that they take "only" 30-40 minutes to reach you when you call in for emergency help. And the police, which is the real subject of my posting, well they don't really do anything at all.
The police here are divided into 2 branches, the military police and the civil police. I think I wrote about them in a previous post. Well the military police are the ones who do the chasing of crooks and making their presence known in an attempt to prevent crime. All of the Brazilians that I have ever spoken with about this matter say that the cops don't do anything. I guess I had some kind of Pollyanna American hope that this wasn't true, and that the cops could be counted on in times of trouble. I now know that they can't be counted on for anything, except for the Brazilian version of sitting around eating donuts and drinking coffee.
Today is a perfect example... Vilma was walking down to meet me at the bus stop and noticed a group of 4 young guys from the favela sitting at the top of our hill. When we walked by this spot on our way home from the bus stop, they were still sitting there. And they weren't sitting there chatting and laughing, they were sitting there checking out the scene and eyeballing everyone who walked anywhere near them. About 10 minutes later Vilma went outside to see if they were still there. They were. So I decided that maybe we should call the cops.
First of all you can't dial the Salvador version of 911 (it's 190 by the way) from a cell phone. And then Vilma wasn't sure if you can dial this number for suspicious activity or just if something actually happened. I decided to play the influencial person card and called one of my students who has a friend high up in the police force. I asked him to call and ask if they could send a car to drive by and check out the scene. Well, I'm still waiting to hear back if they actually did it or not. As of this writing Vilma just walked down to the mall to do an errand and was going to scope out the scene again. But I'm not holding out hope.
So if (God forbid) something bad happens to you in the US and you call 911, as you are waiting those few, short 5-10 minutes for the police to actually show up and do something, you can be thankful that you are not in a place where everyone is pretty much left to their own devices.
Picture courtesy of A Tarde online.