O Globo, a Rio de Janeiro-based daily, published an article on 24 March talking about a unique and creative way Brazil is battling high levels of crime and police corruption. In Brazlandia, a neighborhood in the capital city of Brasilia, a program was launched on 23 January titled “A Policia Militar e voce – Uniao e Sucesso” (The Police and You – Union and Success). The key to the program is the direct link made available between citizens and the local police force by use of cellular phones: In Brazlandia, one in seven police cars is equipped with a cellphone, whose number is displayed prominently on the vehicle for all to see.

The premise is fairly basic. Instead of calling 190 (Brazil’s version of 911), which often takes a long time, and in many cases does not even gurantee a response because of how stretched thin Brazil’s Policia Militar (PM, or city police force) is in Brazil’s largest cities, residents and business owners of Brazlandia can directly call the number displayed on the outside of the police car. In theory, this greatly shortens the response time because those being attacked can directly communicate with locally-stationed police officers, who can not only respond quicker to the scene but in some cases can also alleviate some of the stress associated with being robbed and provide an outlet and belief that “something is being done”.

The article in O Globo points to the successes of the program, slated to run until July. It cites the increase in calls made to the police (115 YTD 2009 compared to 31 YTD 2008) as well as registered offenses (5 registered in 2008, 51 in 2009). According to a press release from the website of Brazlandia’s Regional Administration, the awareness for the campaign was aided by the distribution of pamphlets, kitchen magnets, and public announcements making the phone numbers of the police cars readily accesible.

A 1000% jump in crime in a 50,000 person administrative region of Brasilia is likely not the reason for the increase in registered offenses. Instead, it is probably a combination of increased trust in the fact that the police will actually respond to a complaint, along with greater accountability that the PM now faces. By cutting out the middle man and making one particular unit responsible, one of the indirect benefits of this policy is to place accountability on a singular unit, which may have an impact on that paticular car’s incentive to perform and respond to calls quicker.

Trust in police may be one of Brazil’s most challenging obstacles. According to a report published in June 2007 by the Consorcio Iberoamericano de Investigacion de Mercados y Asesoramiento, only 24% of Brazilians trust their police force, 6% lower than the paltry 30% average for all of Iberoamerica. Yet initial results of the plan seem to prove that people are more willing to engage police directly, which may ultimately lead to more trust.

The plan is not without its faults. Service, manpower (call-waiting), battery life, and false alarms/impersonators are but a few of the inconveniences that will have to be addressed. It is also unclear how well such a program could be regulated on a larger scale. Yet bridging the gap between Brazil’s police and citizenry by opening up a direct line of communication through the nation’s most accessible and commonly-used medium, the cell phone, which still far outpaces internet use in Brazil, demonstrates creativity and boldness in addressing one of Brazil’s most pressing issues.