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Leaked disciplinary records reveal a notorious Baltimore cop’s shocking behavior

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After almost two and a half years, the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office released a list they maintain of Baltimore City Police Department officers they once said had credibility issues. Officers on the list, State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby noted back in 2019, include cops who were involved in “theft, planting evidence, perjury, corruption and fraud.”  

While the SAO only provided a list of names, with no details as to what the credibility issues could be, Battleground Baltimore has separately obtained disciplinary police records for Hill. His extensive disciplinary records provide a look at just how serious these issues of credibility can be.

Baltimore Action Legal Team (BALT), a nonprofit legal service dedicated to police transparency and accountability, demanded Mosby provide them with the list. But Mosby’s office refused, claiming that the list was part of a police officer’s “personnel record” and therefore could not be publicly disclosed. Last year, a court ruled Mosby could release it. BALT announced this week that the list is finally in the hands of defense attorneys.

“BALT sought this information because an officer’s integrity matters,” BALT said in a statement. “The entire system (from initial engagement with a police officer to determining whether someone should be held pre-trial) relies on a police officer’s word. There is no room for officers with integrity issues on the stand or on the street.”

The list features more than 300 current or former Baltimore Police officers. Battleground Baltimore has obtained a copy of the list, which was provided to BALT but has not been publicly released (Mosby put out a statement that downplayed the significance of the list).

Among the hundreds of officers on Mosby’s list is Officer Melvin Hill. While the SAO only provided a list of names, with no details as to what the credibility issues could be, Battleground Baltimore has separately obtained disciplinary police records for Hill. His extensive disciplinary records provide a look at just how serious these issues of credibility can be.

The Baltimore Police Department veteran, first employed by the police in 2007, has had shocking accusations made against him by citizens, including some complaints that the Baltimore Police Department “sustained”—which means police investigators believed that what a cop was accused of doing happened and that it violated police policy. 

Hill’s record shows sustained complaints for criminal misconduct and making a false statement, among others. Also detailed are multiple allegations that Hill provided police information to people adjacent to criminal activity, as well as investigations into Hill’s possible gang affiliations and sexual misconduct.

Now 47 years old, Hill remained a cop until October 2021, when, according to Baltimore Police, he resigned. Before his resignation, Hill had been suspended on desk duty “related to a restraining order, and potentially criminal allegations,” a police report obtained by Battleground Baltimore said.

Before his resignation, Hill had been suspended on desk duty “related to a restraining order, and potentially criminal allegations,” a police report obtained by Battleground Baltimore said.

Accusations against Hill pre-date when the Baltimore Police Department was put under a consent decree in 2017, the start of an era of reforms and claims of greater transparency. Accusations against Hill continued all the way up to last year, long after those federally mandated changes within the department were touted by police commanders. 

“We are not the same department we were five years ago,” Baltimore City Police Commissioner Michael Harrison announced last month during an April oversight hearing about the consent decree.

In early 2021, the American Civil Liberties Union Maryland released a report detailing ongoing misconduct allegations against Baltimore cops since the police killing of Freddie Gray. “Although a few officers will undoubtedly continue to be arrested and charged with criminal behavior,” the report said, “countless others will escape responsibility, and be known as a danger only to those in the neighborhoods they patrol.”

Battleground Baltimore submitted a public information request for the entirety of Hill’s disciplinary records. Due to Anton’s Law, which passed last year, all police officers’ internal discipline records are required to be made available via Maryland Public Information Request. The request has not yet been fulfilled.

In the meantime, a number of investigative files and summaries of at least part of Hill’s disciplinary record were given to Battleground Baltimore by an anonymous source. 

Here, Battleground Baltimore makes details of Hill’s records public, while accounting for the privacy and safety of those mentioned in the files. Victims, eyewitnesses, and others who are named in the files have been anonymized. We quote extensively from these documents, especially two substantial investigations into Hill, one for misidentifying possible eyewitnesses to a crime, providing information on a crime to someone in jail, and one for alleged connections to drug dealing.

“I Just Wanted This Whole Thing To End”

In February 2015, police monitoring of the calls of a woman in jail revealed that “the name of Officer Hill was mentioned as providing information regarding a crime of violence,” according to a report detailing an Internal Affairs investigation into Hill.

Hill, the police said, had told this woman about a murder, identified the victim to her, and expressed concerns about retaliatory violence. The woman knew Hill, she told investigators, because, police wrote, “Officer Melvin Hill sold her Ugg Boots and she planned to buy some other items from him.” 

This investigation, which was completed in December 2016, resulted in sustained complaints against Hill for “general misconduct” and “false statement.” The report publishing the investigative findings is scathing.

Hill sold “watches, Uggs, and other stuff,” the woman explained.

On another recorded jail call, police heard the woman speaking to her son and referring to observations Hill had made about other recent shootings in the area, which suggested to police he often talked to her about crimes that were still under investigation. Cops also heard her make references to a man whom Hill described as brutally beating someone up, who Hill said could be “trusted.”

“It is … disturbing how [woman’s name] describes [Hill’s] patrol tactics related to how he works when [the ‘trusted’ man] is present in the area,” the police’s investigative findings report said.

The same investigation also looked into why Hill had, as police said, “inaccurately identified” potential suspects or witnesses in a February 2015 shooting. Hill also discussed this 2015 shooting with the woman in jail, going so far as to provide her with nicknames.

That shooting was near Gleneagle Road and the Alameda in East Baltimore, about a half-mile from the Alameda Shopping Center where Hill patrolled. According to Hill, he heard a gunshot, saw two people running away, and called 911. Hill said one of the guys he saw had dreads. The other was bald.

Later that night, when Hill was told to come to the Northeast District police station to discuss what he witnessed, he was argumentative. He “had to pick up his girlfriend,” he told cops, and he had to get to his “secondary” security job—at an Exxon gas station at the Alameda Shopping Center.

Hill was then instructed by detectives to come to the hospital to see if the shooting victim was one of the people he had reported seeing running. At the hospital, Hill said the shooting victim was not one of the people he saw running away.

Later, police showed Hill photos of two men matching the description of the men Hill said he’d seen: one with dreads, one bald. Hill said the photos were of the men he saw. Soon after, Hill hesitated, telling detectives he wasn’t entirely sure about the identity of the guy with dreads. But the other guy, the bald one—Hill said he was sure that was the person he’d seen running after the shooting.

The bald man Hill had “emphatically identified,” as police described it, was actually in prison.

Police soon learned that the bald man Hill had “emphatically identified,” as police described it, was actually in prison and could not have been the person Hill saw that February 2015 night. Hill eventually backtracked on his identification. He claimed that “because of the way he was being treated” by police detectives about the shooting, he just went along with them and said whatever he felt he had to say. “I just wanted this whole thing to end. I was ready to get up out here. I’m ready to go. The whole time they were making me feel as if I’m just ready to leave,” Hill told an Internal Affairs detective.

The report also says that when investigators asked Hill about the password protector app he had on his phone, Hill explained it was “to protect his ‘intel,’” such as other cops’ private information and his own. But when they asked Hill to open up the app, he couldn’t: “Inexplicably, Officer Hill was unable to remember the specific password to the app when requested as part of this investigation,” the report said.

This investigation, which was completed in December 2016, resulted in sustained complaints against Hill for “general misconduct” and “false statement.” The report publishing the investigative findings is scathing. 

“It is concerning that [woman’s name] has detailed knowledge of information related to crimes and investigations conducted by the Baltimore Police Department around the area of The Alameda Shopping Center. And, that she is discussing these events with her son, an individual who engaged in illegal activity in that area,” the report said. “Officer Hill has obstructed and hindered a non-fatal shooting investigation through knowingly providing false information and knowingly omitting vital information from investigation detectives.”

Hill was suspended 20 days without pay. 

In April 2015, a few months after allegations that Hill was providing information about crimes to someone in jail, a man told Baltimore Police detectives “that Officer Melvin Hill setup and orchestrated with [another person] to falsely accuse him of attempting to commit a robbery,” the report said. “[The man] further alleges that Officer Hill has ties to drug dealers that operate out of the Alameda Shopping Center and that he extorts money from those drug dealers to allow them to freely operate.”

Police began a second, broader investigation into Hill’s alleged criminal connections, though they said it revealed little. Internal Affairs surveilled Hill following these accusations and said that they did not make “any pertinent observations” to suggest the accusations against him were true. Internal Affairs also obtained a search warrant and searched a cell phone of Hill’s, though, again, they said “no pertinent information was recovered.”

Hill was not interviewed during this investigation. This wider investigation into Hill, completed in February 2016, declared allegations that Hill “was associating with drug dealers” to be “not sustained.”

The Alameda Shopping Center

The Internal Affairs’ report following the investigation into Hill noted that the 2015 events for which he was investigated “occurred in and around the area of the 5600-5900 block of the Alameda, which is Officer Hill’s post.”

The Alameda Shopping Center has played a key role in police corruption. In 2017, it was revealed by federal investigators that a Baltimore cop, Detective Momodu Gondo, was working closely with a heroin-dealing crew who, in part, operated in and around the Alameda Shopping Center, including the Exxon gas station in that shopping center. 

Antonio Shropshire, currently in federal prison for his drug dealing role in the Gun Trace Task Force scandal, said over email that he “never heard of a Melvin Hill,” though it’s possible he “may have seen him working at the Exxon.”

This loose-knit group of neighborhood friends, some of whom grew up with Detective Gondo, admitted they dealt heroin and used the presence and knowledge of their cop friend, Gondo, in order to more effectively evade law enforcement.

That heroin dealing operation’s activities helped lead to the indictment of a number of drug dealers, as well as drug-dealing Gun Trace Task Force cops, including Gondo, and another cop, Sergeant Wayne Jenkins, who was dealing cocaine through a bail bondsman friend. Some of the heroin dealing described by federal prosecutors was happening during the same time Hill was policing the area.

A source familiar with the drug trade around the Alameda Shopping Center did explain to Battleground Baltimore that the shopping center actually contained a number of different drug dealing crews, existing near one another but often separate. 

Antonio Shropshire, currently in federal prison for his drug dealing role in the Gun Trace Task Force scandal, said over email that he “never heard of a Melvin Hill,” though it’s possible he “may have seen him working at the Exxon.” Hill held a “secondary” job working security at the Exxon gas station in the Alameda Shopping Center, the same location where heroin was sold by admitted and convicted dealers connected to the disgraced cops in the federally indicted Gun Trace Task Force police unit. 

In 2016, that “secondary” Exxon security job got Hill in some trouble. A woman reported Hill to police for “patrolling the Alameda Shopping Center … in his personal vehicle.” According to the report, a woman complained that Hill was seen driving “either a Mercedes or a Hummer” while he was supposedly on the job. 

Hill was eventually investigated and a complaint against him for a “secondary employment violation” was sustained in 2017.

Patterns and Practice?

Baltimore City Police Department Internal Affairs detectives are prevented from evaluating patterns among police misconduct, which means each accusation against an officer such as Hill must be handled entirely separately from previous ones. Hill’s record shows other incidents over the past ten years in which Hill told other acquaintances more about crimes than he told his fellow cops, seemingly slowed down another criminal investigation, and allegedly threatened people.

Hill’s record shows other incidents over the past ten years in which Hill told other acquaintances more about crimes than he told his fellow cops, seemingly slowed down another criminal investigation, and allegedly threatened people.

In February 2012, Hill was accused of tipping off a friend who had a warrant out for her arrest. Both her lawyer and bail bondsman couldn’t locate the warrant, so she called her cop friend Hill, who confirmed there was an outstanding warrant for her arrest.

“It was after this call that [the woman] changed her daily routine of going to school and then to her home,” the report said. “She stayed in a motel room … in an attempt to avoid capture.”

The report goes on to note that Hill, once he confirmed there was a warrant out for this woman, “did not contact Warrant Apprehension Task Force or relay anything about [the woman] to include her whereabouts or other pertinent information.” 

This complaint against Hill was not sustained, although the summary of the incident notes, “it is believed that due to this encounter with Officer Hill, [the woman] was able to elude capture.”

In June 2012, there were gunshots on the 600 block of East 36th Street. Hill, who was working voluntary overtime on the night of this shooting, “failed to respond to multiple attempts to reach him via police radio” about the gunshots, the report said. Hill “also failed to respond to calls made to his personal cell-phone” by “several” police officers.

Hill said he did not respond because he was near the Alameda Shopping Center, about three miles away from the shooting. According to the report, Hill also claimed his “radio was turned down very, very low” and, as a result, “he could not hear any of the attempts to reach him.”

The police suggested that had Hill been present, this nonfatal shooting might not have happened. “Due to P/O Hill’s inattention to his assigned duties and his absence from his post, not only did this violent incident occur, but other officers were forced to assume his responsibilities and to conduct the preliminary investigation into what later proved to be an aggravated assault by shooting,” the report said.

The police suggested that had Hill been present, this nonfatal shooting might not have happened.

Complaints against Hill for “general misconduct” and “off post/leaving assignment without permission” were sustained in 2013.

Twice, Baltimore Police documented accusations of child abuse against Hill by his stepson. 

In 2013, the stepson said Hill “grabbed [the stepson’s] left wrist and twisted his arm behind his back.” Due to a lack of injuries, “both the Baltimore County Police Department and Baltimore County Child Protective Services deemed the case ‘unfounded,’” the report said. In 2014, the report said, “[the stepson] sustained bruises to his body… [and] stated that he was assaulted by his stepfather, Mr. Melvin Hill who is a Baltimore City Police officer.” Both the stepson and the stepson’s mother had called the police on Hill.

A February 2015 complaint against Hill from an ex-girlfriend claimed that while the two were seeing one another, the officer showed up at her house “nearly on a daily basis while he is working.” There, Hill’s ex told Internal Affairs, “they watch television and engage in sexual activity”; furthermore, Hill’s ex told Internal Affairs, while they were hanging out, Hill “will receive calls from the police radio … frequently ignore the call and not go and then tell the dispatcher he did go.” 

That same report says that when the ex threatened to go to Hill’s supervisors because he wouldn’t give her house key back, Hill “threatened” her.

“I’m more vicious without my badge,” the ex claimed Hill said. 

The woman, the report said, “took the statement as a threat against her physical safety and was in fear for her well being.”

These complaints for “criminal association” (the ex had a criminal record) and “general misconduct” were “not sustained” in 2017.

“A Possible Abduction”

In August 2020, Hill was involved in what police characterized at the time as “a possible abduction,” which led to an Internal Affairs investigation into Hill for “criminal/sexual misconduct.”

The mother of a woman in her early twenties called Baltimore Police and said that her daughter was missing, and that the daughter, when last seen by a neighbor, was “extremely intoxicated.” According to the neighbor, Hill arrived at the daughter’s home and “offered [her] a ride back to her vehicle,” which was parked in West Baltimore, a little over a mile away. 

The neighbor told Hill the woman was drunk, but Hill comforted the neighbor. “The male, later identified as Officer Melvin Hill, said it was ok for [the woman] to come with him because he was a police officer. [The neighbor] stated Officer Hill then coached [the woman] to coming with him,” the report said.

Hill did not drive the woman to her car a little over a mile away, but instead to a Holiday Inn about four miles away in Baltimore County.

The woman, allegedly very drunk, got into Hill’s car—“a 4-door silver vehicle.” 

Hill did not drive the woman to her car a little over a mile away, but instead to a Holiday Inn about four miles away in Baltimore County.

Police knew this because a Baltimore Police sergeant called Hill, and Hill “admitted to picking up [the woman]” and taking her to the hotel in the county. Police showed up at the Holiday Inn and the woman was interviewed by Baltimore Police, who, the report said, “conducted an initial interview with the victim.” 

Baltimore County Police then took over the investigation: “Officer Hill was escorted to the Southwestern District and his police powers were suspended,” the report said. “Baltimore County Sex Offense Detectives arrived at the Southwestern District and took possession of Officer Hill.”

Complaints against Hill were for “conduct unbecoming of a police officer” and “criminal misconduct/sexual misconduct.” 

The report obtained by Battleground Baltimore does not show whether or not these accusations were determined to be “sustained” or “not sustained” by the police.

Public records for Hill show Hill was not charged with any crime and do not show the woman who was allegedly abducted filed any criminal charges against Hill. 

“Seriously?”

By February 2021, Hill was suspended and on desk duty. Though the police report does not say what exactly those criminal allegations were, his suspension was for something “disciplinary in nature … related to a restraining order, and potentially criminal allegations.”

Hill’s misconduct and accusations of egregious misconduct demonstrate some of the behavior hidden from public view when police officers’ disciplinary files are protected.

One day early last year while Hill worked at a desk, a police officer noticed a gun in his waistband. It was a .40-caliber Glock 27, in a black holster. The gun was loaded. Due to Hill’s desk duty suspension, he “was not permitted to carry a firearm in a departmental facility, the Western District Police Station,” a police report said.

Suspension procedure policy, which Hill had signed, reads, “if you possess any permit to carry a concealed, privately-owned firearm, you may not carry or transport that firearm into any Departmental facility, building, vehicle, etc.”

An officer confronted Hill about the gun and took him to “the roll call room” where Hill was told to place his gun in an unload box, because he was not allowed to have it on duty in the Western District station.

“Seriously?” Hill asked the officer who confronted him about the gun in his waistband that he wasn’t supposed to have.

Hill was investigated for “negligent use/handling/storage of firearms” and “criminal misconduct/misdemeanor.” Those charges were ruled “sustained” in May 2021. 

For BALT and many Baltimore residents, an ongoing concern has been the lack of police transparency and accountability. Police have fought to keep disciplinary records inaccessible to the public, have refused to fully acknowledge police transparency laws, including Anton’s Law, and had offered up the same argument as Mosby’s office: that police disciplinary files are “confidential personnel records” and do not need to be disclosed. 

A look at files such as Hill’s shows that these records contain issues much more significant than what most would reasonably consider a “personnel issue,” although some complaints do fall under that category (for example, Hill reported his badge lost in 2018). Hill’s misconduct and accusations of egregious misconduct demonstrate some of the behavior hidden from public view when police officers’ disciplinary files are protected. Hill has not been named in public criminal lawsuits and he has not been charged by the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office, which means that, without access to his files, the full extent of an officer’s records is outside of the public record.

Following this week’s release of the SAO list to BALT, Baltimore Police Department Commissioner Harrison sent out an internal email to the entirety of the police department noting that “several members” of BPD “have only unsubstantiated or unfounded accusations related to credibility that were made against them.” 

On Twitter, the Baltimore Police union tweeted out its unique version of essentially the same argument. “The corrupt @MarilynMosbyEsq has released her Do Not Call List. The vast majority of those @BaltimorePolice cops on the list are good, brave, & credible. She should be the 1st name on her own list,” @FOP3 tweeted. “Just remember, this list is coming from lying Marilyn Mosby!”

This all recalls, as The Baltimore Sun reminded readers, Deputy Commissioner Brian Nadaeau’s response to this list back in 2019. Nadaeau attempted to downplay the significance of the list, telling a police accountability commission that there’s “nobody on that list that [he] wouldn’t have working on the street, making cases.” 

Hill was still on the force when Nadeau said that. 

In 2020, Hill’s last full year as a Baltimore Police officer, he made a total of $150,711. His salary was $82,999, with an additional $67,012 in overtime.

In October 2021, Hill, who has had at least 42 allegations against him since 2012, finally left the Baltimore Police Department.




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World

Bolsonaro vs. Lula – Dueling Visions of Crime, Security, and the Amazon in Brazil

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Brazil is going to the polls on October 2 in an election that offers two diametrically opposed visions for how the region’s biggest country should tackle organized crime.

The crusading and controversial President Jair Bolsonaro is facing an uphill challenge. The destruction of the Amazon is at its highest peak in decades, with appalling consequences for the planet. Security forces are riding high, with salary and budget hikes, and a lack of consequences for abuses and killings. Miners, cattle ranchers, and large landowners have enjoyed preferential treatment, while Indigenous communities and residents of favelas, poorer communities in major cities that are often a flashpoint for both criminal activity and security responses, have been marginalized. The number of guns in private hands has doubled. One positive is that the national murder rate has dropped to a 15-year low.

Facing him, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is seeking a return to the glory days after a stint in prison for corruption for which the sentence was eventually squashed. President from 2003 to 2010, he was widely credited as one of the most popular heads of state on the planet.

Now 76, Lula has issued a defiant policy platform.

A “Green New Deal” for the Amazon. Rapid and active climate policies. A ministry for indigenous affairs. Modernizing security institutions.

It all sounds good, but can he convince Brazil to back him once more?

Here, InSight Crime lays out how Bolsonaro and Lula differ on violent crime and the environment, and how this election could shape Brazil for years to come.

SEE ALSO: GameChangers 2021: How Organized Crime Devoured the Amazon Rainforest

The Environment

The Amazon has been one of the most-discussed aspects of this electoral race and for good reason. With deforestation soaring, one of the planet’s main bulwarks against climate change is collapsing. Parts of the Brazilian Amazon have already ceased being carbon sinks, now emitting more carbon dioxide than they absorb. The next Brazilian president has the potential to significantly accelerate or slow this devastation.

Bolsonaro has overseen an explosion in environmental crime in the Amazon, with critics accusing his administration of abetting illegal ranchers, loggers, miners, and other criminals. Lula has pledged to strengthen environmental protections, but he faces an uphill battle given how entrenched organized crime has become in the region.

Bolsonaro is certainly clear where he stands on the environment. Over the course of his presidency, he has stated that Indigenous people intentionally “hold Brazil back,” that natural reserves “preserve nothing … and could bring in billions in tourism,” or that fires in the Amazon were “criminal acts by NGOs to bring attention against my me and Brazil’s government.” He pledged to weaken environmental safeguards for the Amazon and other protection areas, to favor the exploitation of land by the agricultural and cattle industries, and to roll back government protections for Indigenous communities.

All these have come to pass.

For a decade prior to Bolsonaro’s election, deforestation rates in the Amazon dropped. They have since skyrocketed to reach over 13,000 square kilometers in 2021, an area larger than the entire island of Jamaica.

Thousands of illegal mining sites have expanded on land and on rivers, encroaching onto indigenous areas and causing often deadly clashes.

As for government protections, besides the budgets of key agencies being slashed, reports of environmental crimes have rarely been investigated.

On the rare occasions where he paid lip service to environmental protections, Bolsonaro’s government was accused of falsifying climate data, or promised to do one thing only to turn around and do the opposite.

There is no reason to believe this will change if Bolsonaro secures re-election. In the last year, he has unveiled a stimulus plan for small-scale mining and lawmakers have tabled increasingly wild plans, including one that would officially remove the state of Mato Grosso from the protected Amazon reserve altogether.

Lula’s track record on the Amazon stands in sharp contrast. Deforestation in the early 2000s stood far higher than it does now, reaching 25,500 square kilometers in 2002. Lula faced a tough task in bringing order to this rampant exploitation of Brazil’s natural resources.

According to an investigation by Princeton University, reducing deforestation became a central axis of his government from the start of his first term. More than a dozen ministries worked together to create an Amazon action plan, which increased monitoring and supervision of the rainforest and to ensure the enforcement of existing laws.

The results were rapid. From 2004 to 2007, deforestation dropped by more than 60 percent. This trend continued throughout his presidency.

His presidency was not without environmental blemish, however. Lula was not entirely opposed to industrial development in protected areas, including reviving the Belo Monte Dam along the Xingu River. This reportedly forced tens of thousands of indigenous people to leave their homes. He also openly stated that the soybean and cattle industries were important to Brazil, although he submitted them to environmental constraints which seemingly did not harm their bottom lines.

Lula is now discussing a Green New Deal, if he wins. He has pledged substantial loans for soybean and cattle farmers who expand their operations in existing open pasture which do not require further deforestation. Another crucial pillar of his future environmental plan is “net zero deforestation,” to be achieved by restoring destroyed areas of the rainforest. And the promised creation of an Indigenous Affairs Ministry has been marketed by the Lula campaign as a needed attempt to reverse the despoiling of indigenous areas in the last four years.

Guns

Bolsonaro has increased access to guns, with the predictable consequence that criminals have stocked up their arsenals. If the firearm friendly president wins reelection, he may go even further. But Lula hasn’t promised to radically change the status quo, potentially leaving organized crime with relatively easy access to firearms, at least in the short term.

In 2019, Bolsonaro signed a decree relaxing gun ownership laws. It removed bans on importing certain firearms, lifted restrictions on the quantity of ammunition private individuals could purchase, and scrapped the need for people to register every single firearm they owned.

At the time, InSight Crime warned that this could easily provide criminal gangs with a convenient new way to acquire guns and only worsen Brazil’s rising homicides. For militia groups, who often recruit members from the ranks of the police and enjoy broad political protection, it was likely to make acquiring guns even easier than before.

Yet not even the police wanted these changes. Ahead of these reforms being passed, federal police representatives wrote to lawmakers to state that the law would “without doubt, result in a return to the chaotic situation in the country of excessive gun supply in circulation, including illegal ones, which could make crime rates much worse,” according to Reuters.

These fears were well-founded.

In June 2022, a number of operations against the First Capital Command (Primeiro Comando da Capital – PCC) in São Paulo found that plenty of weapons used by the gang had been purchased legally by people with no criminal record.

In January, a man was arrested in Rio de Janeiro on suspicion of selling dozens of legally purchased weapons and numerous rounds of ammunition to criminal gangs.

And far from backing off from these regulations, the Bolsonaro government is doubling down. A proposal is currently being discussed in the Senate to enshrine these changes as law with senators having allegedly received pressure from the Bolsonaro family and gun manufacturers to ensure it passes, according to Globo. 

While Lula has not outright promised he would reverse all these decrees, it seems likely that he would. At a recent campaign speech, he stated: “there will be no gun decrees in this country, there will be book decrees, there will be decrees to strengthen education.” He may, however, have to contend with a newly confident Brazil gun lobby. Supported and advised by the US’ National Rifle Association (NRA), Brazil’s ProArmas organization has growing influence in the Brazilian Congress and close connections to the Bolsonaro family, as shown in a recent Vice investigation.

While he acknowledged that some felt safer by owning a firearm, Lula stated in September that “before … criminals stole from the police, they killed to steal weapons … Now the liar [Bolsonaro] has legalized the sale of weapons, who is buying weapons must be the PCC, must be the Red Command.”

During his term as president, Lula did take action to curb firearms sales. In 2004, his government passed new rules, raising the minimum age for gun ownership from 18 to 25, requiring weapons be registered with the defense and justice ministries, and banning firearms in public places. 

SEE ALSO: How COVID-19 Reshaped Cocaine and Marijuana Trafficking in Brazil

Criminal Gangs

Brazil’s leading criminal gangs are truly international players in the drug trade. The PCC maintains productive relationship with Italy’s ‘Ndrangheta mafia, sending tons of cocaine annually across the Atlantic. The gang has also come to dominate much of Paraguay’s drug trafficking landscape and prisons system. In the north of the country, the Red Command (Comando Vermelho – CV) and PCC continue to fight for control of cocaine from Bolivia, causing dozens of homicides.

And beyond drugs, Brazilian gangs play a crucial role in environmental crimes in the Amazon, from illegal mining to deforestation, and in controlling contraband on the country’s southern borders.

Reining them in is a matter of international urgency. The two candidates would go about it differently.

Bolsonaro has vocally supported militarized policing policies, which have led to countless allegations of abuses and few signs of long-term success. But Lula’s flagship security policies also struggled to control organized crime, and he hasn’t put both a comprehensive plan for dealing with an evolved criminal landscape.

Lula’s rhetoric against criminal gangs, while not nearly as vehement as Bolsonaro’s, repeatedly praised police actions that led to numerous deaths in favelas. In 2010, he ordered that police move into some of Rio de Janeiro’s largest slums, declaring that “we will win this war.”

A 2009 report by Human Rights Watch looking at Brazilian police brutality found that “Rio and São Paulo police have together killed more than 11,000 people since 2003,” the year Lula came to power. Both at the state and federal level, it found overwhelmed criminal investigators, a widespread culture of impunity in police forces, and inefficient piecemeal attempts by authorities to resolve the problem.

Alongside this, one of Lula’s flagship security policies was the creation of Police Pacification Units (Unidades de Polícia Pacificadora – UPP). These units built semi-permanent bases inside violent neighborhoods primarily in Rio de Janeiro, with a focus on community policing, relationship building, and improving public services.

The result was a mixed bag. A comprehensive World Bank report into the work of UPPs found reports of brutality and misconduct alongside stories of kindness and generosity. Some officers were found to be young and inexperienced, others corrupt and thieving, yet more patient and helpful. As InSight Crime has reported, UPPs tried innovative tactics, including prioritizing violence reduction over enforcing the laws or giving advance warning of a raid, allowing gangs to disappear and avoiding conflict.

“Pacification proved that you can reduce violence,” Benjamin Lessing, an expert at the University of Chicago and author of a book on pacifying drug wars, told InSight Crime in 2018. “You can convince the drug traffickers, at least for a while, to put down their arms.”

The issue was one of scale. When the UPP program expanded, resources were stretched thin, which strained the ability to replicate its core values of pacification. It is uncertain whether Lula would bring them back in their original form but he has certainly spoken about wanting to reform the way police treat the citizens of poorer areas.

Bolsonaro never valued the UPPs, stating that a military presence inside favelas would be more efficient.

While Lula’s anti-gang efforts may have been a mixed bag, should he return to power, he will face a more challenging scenario.

Soon after taking office, Bolsonaro gave permission to police to implement shoot-to-kill tactics. A litany of abuses of power has been documented ever since

Police killings have continued to soar, reaching a record of 1,810 people in Rio in 2019 although they trended downwards during the COVID-19 pandemic. And while the military police had long been the main dealers of swift justice, killings carried out by the civil police and highway police have soared. 

Police helicopters have been regularly sighted over favelas, on occasion sniping at targets from above and wounding bystanders. Alleged raids to root out gangs, especially the CV, have descended into carnage, with alleged gang members chased down and shot dead while unarmed.

Such abuses happened in Lula’s time in office and it is uncertain how he could begin to change such practices. A number of Brazilian states and municipalities have come a long way through localized police reform programs. These have contributed to the lowering of Brazil’s homicide rate and may provide a source of inspiration for a potential Lula government.

Militias, while present under Lula, have changed the dynamic of gang violence across the country. Usually made up of former and active police, prison guards, and firefighters, they have swindled their way into controlling entire swathes of public services in major cities. There is strong evidence to suggest that militias benefit from raids on favelas, muscling in once their rival drug gangs have been weakened. And their alleged connections to the Bolsonaro family and their political allies have only deepened concerns about their strength. Yet militias offer a powerful argument: relative safety. Between 2016 and 2019, just under three percent of police shootings in Rio took place in militia territory, as compared to 57 percent in areas held by the CV. 

Curbing their power will be a major challenge for Lula, if he wins.

Drugs

Despite a decrease in the amount of drugs seized in the country during the pandemic, Brazil remains by far and away the largest consumer of cocaine, marijuana, and synthetic drugs in Latin America and a linchpin of the cocaine pipeline to Europe. It shares borders with all three major cocaine-producing nations, Bolivia, Colombia, and Peru, as well as with Paraguay, a large producer of marijuana.

Brazil has only increased its importance to the global drug trade in recent years. The port of Santos, near São Paulo, has confirmed its status as perhaps the most important gateway to send cocaine pipeline to Europe. Brazilian drug gangs continue to buy tons of cocaine from Bolivia and Paraguay. The international imprint of gangs like the PCC only continues to grow.

Yet Bolsonaro has not seemed particularly concerned.

Early on in his presidency, Bolsonaro took a tough line against drugs. He signed an anti-drugs law that required consumers to seek treatment, including in private or religious rehabilitation facilities. It also allowed relatives or public officials to recommend addicts be taken for treatment, even against their will. The law also toughened sentences for drug traffickers from a minimum of five years in prison to eight.

This approach was criticized for going against more health-based treatments becoming increasingly popular around the world.

Beyond this, the president has not brought anything new to the table. Bloody raids into favelas have continued. Overcrowding and abuses remain commonplace in prisons. A few notorious drug traffickers have been brought down.

In contrast, it is unclear how much energy Lula would devote to curbing the drugs trade. On this campaign, he has mulled changing the country’s anti-drugs law to reduce prison time and overcrowding. The former president is also keen to reverse Bolsonaro’s stance on drug addicts and to return to a healthcare-based approach.

Beyond that, he has not revealed any plans to curb gangs or work with neighboring countries to crack down on drug trafficking. Bolsonaro has used the threat on the campaign trail that Lula will legalize drugs in Brazil but there is no evidence that he favors this.

Yet there is a lot to do here. Should Lula win, he will certainly enjoy a wave of goodwill which could lead to meaningful collaboration. To the north, President Gustavo Petro of Colombia is embarking on a genuinely ambitious crusade to make peace with criminal gangs and change the dynamics of the cocaine trade. To the west, Paraguay is dependent on Brazilian support and intelligence to crack down on criminal activity as the PCC continues to expand. And to the south, Uruguay is dealing with a worrying sophistication of its drug trafficking landscape, with its gang leaders looking to Brazilian criminal structures for inspiration.

Tackling the drugs trade is, by necessity, a transitional challenge requiring transnational solutions. A Brazilian government committed to reforming the way drug addicts are treated, the way drug traffickers are punished, and the way drugs are bought and sold could be transformational.


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Biden Admin Pressed to Police Companies That Participate in Israel Boycotts

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The Biden administration is under pressure from Congress to more actively police companies that participate in boycotts of Israel, according to a letter sent Wednesday to the Commerce Department and obtained by the Washington Free Beacon.

Sens. Ted Cruz (R., Texas) and Marsha Blackburn (R., Tenn.) say the administration “is not taking sufficient action to ensure that American companies are aware of the criminal, financial, and reputational risks of engaging in unsanctioned boycotts” of Israel and other friendly countries.

The letter comes amid a growing controversy surrounding a financial ratings product known as the Environmental, Social, and Corporate Governance (ESG) framework. ESG ratings, which are meant to guide investors, examine a company based on its social values and tend to unfairly target Israel as a result of the country’s conflict with the Palestinians. Cruz and Blackburn maintain that financial firms providing ESG ratings that negatively impact Israel are in violation of federal and state anti-boycott laws, which were put in place to isolate the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, an anti-Semitic effort to wage economic warfare on the Jewish state.

The senators want Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo to “more robustly engage such companies to make them aware of the risks, which range federal statutes and state prohibitions,” according to the letter, which cites financial giant Morningstar as an example of a company that could be running afoul of federal law. Morningstar, one of the largest U.S.-based financial services firms, has been battling accusations it supports the BDS movement through its ESG research arm, Sustainalytics. While Morningstar has denied the accusations, experts say Sustainalytics builds its ratings using materials authored by anti-Israel groups that support the BDS movement.

“Sustainalytics has echoed and amplified attacks by boycott advocacy groups against companies that do business with Israel,” Cruz and Blackburn state in their letter. “Advocates of economic warfare against Israel have increasingly sought to use ESG criteria as pretexts for boycott advocacy.”

The Commerce Department must become more involved in warning companies like Morningstar that they could be in direct violation of federal anti-BDS laws.  “We are concerned that confidence is misplaced, and that the Commerce Department is not sufficiently engaging Morningstar and similar companies,” Cruz and Blackburn write. “The ratings and implicit advocacy from Sustainalytics come remarkably close to black-letter violations” of federal law.

The Commerce Department, they note, “is charged with ensuring American companies are aware of these risks and working with them to mitigate and end any exposure.”

The entire ESG ratings industry, Cruz and Blackburn say, is infected with anti-Israel bias that is fueled by the BDS movement as part of its efforts to turn Israel into a pariah state and deter investors.

“Companies that rely on ESG ratings in their business decisions have minimal transparency into the details, let alone motivations, behind how the ratings were set,” the lawmakers write. “The practice introduces exposure to American anti-boycott laws along the entire chain, and most acutely for the firms opaquely designing and setting the ESG criteria.”

Morningstar, which purchased Sustainalytics in 2020, hired an outside law firm to investigate allegations of anti-Israel bias in its products. The report, performed by the law firm White and Case, found instances of bias in some of Sustainalytics’s products. This includes the company’s reliance “on groups committed to boycotting Israel, including Who Profits, Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International,” according to Cruz and Blackburn.

Sustainalytics was also found to rely on information produced by the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, a body known for its anti-Israel advocacy. “The United States government has regularly and across administrations condemned that [Office of the High Commissioner’s] list as an anti-Semitic effort to single out and delegitimize our Israeli allies,” the lawmakers write.

Other materials used by Sustainalytics in its ratings products included “anti-Semitic advocacy platforms, including Electronic Intifada website, BDSMovement.net, Iran Daily, and the Venezuelan regime-sponsored television network Telesur.”

Morningstar says that Sustainalytics no longer relies on these materials and that it has implemented a series of reforms to eliminate outstanding anti-Israel bias.

Cruz and Blackburn, however, say the White and Case report did not adequately address the systemic anti-Israel bias built into ESG products like those provided by Sustainalytics.

“The law firm did not take the next, obvious step of noting that comparing Israel to, for instance, the Chinese Communist Party, which is conducting an ongoing genocide against Muslim and other religious minorities, is grotesque and is itself evidence of systemic bias,” the senators write. “The report also did not make the equally obvious point that incorporating the advocacy and targets of pro-boycott organizations guarantees the production of pro-boycott bias.”

Morningstar through a spokesman has told the Free Beacon that it in no way endorses the BDS movement and is undertaking efforts to ensure none of its financial products unfairly target Israel.




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Data Uncovers Public Fund Embezzlement at Morocco's Barcelona Consulate – Morocco World News

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