RIO DE JANEIRO – The government of Rio Grande do Norte, a state in northeastern Brazil where police have been on strike for 19 days, declared on Saturday a state of calamity in its public safety system.
Gov. Robinson Faria, in a decree signed Friday, justified the emergency declaration as necessary due to a rise in violence stemming from the job action by both militarized police (who patrol the streets) and civil police (who investigate crimes and do forensic work).
The state of calamity, initially declared for 180 days, puts all civil service goods, services and employees at the disposal of the state government for use in addressing security needs.
It also lifts a requirement that security agencies hold a competitive bidding process before contracting or purchasing a service or good needed to normalize the provision of public safety services.
Rio Grande do Norte, which is suffering a serious financial crisis that prevents it from punctually paying the salaries of civil service employees, had earlier declared a state of calamity in its public health and prison systems.
The police strike began on Dec. 19 in protest over alleged inadequate working conditions and delays in the payment of salaries.
The officers, who are constitutionally barred from going on strike, are quartered at police stations and battalion headquarters but are refusing to patrol the streets due to an alleged lack of vehicles and other equipment needed for their work.
As a result of the strike, cities such as the state capital, Natal, and Mossoro, the state’s second most populous urban area, have suffered an increase in homicides, robberies and even looting of commercial establishments.
Statewide, there has been an average of 6.7 homicides per day over the past two weeks, according to the Observatory of Intentional Lethal Violence, although regional authorities have not yet confirmed that figure.
Late last year, President Michel Temer deployed 2,800 army soldiers to Rio Grande do Norte at the request of the state government. Although the troops’ presence on the streets reduced the number of crimes, the sense of insecurity among the population has not abated.
No officers or detectives have been arrested to date even though the courts have declared the strike illegal and ordered police to return to the streets.