Friday, November 21, 2008


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.


anette said...

Oi Perdra!
I really like your blog, found it as i was looking for information on teaching english in Salvador as I will be spending 6 months there from january -09. You seem to know alot about the subject and I would be really gratefull if you could help me answear some questions, fr example if it is possible to get jobs as an english teacher at any of the schools if english not is my first language and I do not have an education as a teacher? I speak portugues thogh, maybe that helps a bit? I leave you my email, and if you have the time to write to be I would be really really thankful!!!!
have a nice day,
all the best!

markuza said...

do I hear all of THAT and I could go on and on... cops are nice if there happens to be one or more standing around but getting one when you need one? Forget it! I called 190 once for something and they actually hung up on me.

On the other hand I also maintain, from living in some relatively safe places, that bored cops are almost as bad as no cops. I remember seeing four cruisers respond to one drunk guy in Brattleboro Vermont - talk about overkill! And what about all the resources that are burned up trying to catch people smoking pot? Or painting graffiti?

However, actually trying to nail people breaking sensible laws, like drunk driving laws, or attacking people physically, or even driving without headlights (be kinda nice to have an annual vehicle inspection), etc etc would be great.

One of the things I really love about Brazil is the relative freedom we have to do what we want here, but when that freedom turns to dangerous lawlessness I have to protest.

lovelydharma said...

Oh the stories could go on forever. I got mugged, filed a report, they said they were looking for the guy because he had mugged 3 other people that same evening. Then 2 days later I saw him on a busy street and there just happened to be a police officer was on the corner. I pointed the guy out, explained myself and the police officer looked at me and said, I can't do anything, turned his back and continued talking to the adolescent girl he was trying to pick up. Arrrg. I've seen the guy three more times since then. Oh well, what can you do? He obviously needed that 20 bucks and my cell phone more than me!