Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Riding with the Police of Sao Paulo

Hi everyone. I have had another very exciting day.

Today (Saturday, April 5) Kristin woke me up early and told me to be ready to spend most of the day "out in the field."

Our first stop of the day was a small police station and community center in a neighborhood called "Jardim Ranieri."

I was really excited when we arrived. I think police stations are cool. Kristin told me if I was really good, I would get to watch the police officers in action. Awesome!

But then I heard the commander tell Kristin that this neighborhood was, "the most violent neighborhood in the world," in 1999. Oh no! Suddenly I didn't feel very safe. Kristin must have seen the look on my face because she told me that we were going to be fine. She said the police have helped the neighborhood become much more safe. I still wasn't so sure, but then I saw how many police officers were working and I felt a little better.

Here you can see me and my friend Flat Gabby with Kristin standing near the police station.

The police station is on a very busy street. It looked like another busy street to me.

So I asked Kristin why this neighborhood used to be so scary. She says in the past 50 years, millions of people have moved from the rural areas of Brazil to big cities like Sao Paulo. Who knew? She says many of the people who moved here were very poor and sometimes people would fight over money, food, and property. I have seen many poor places on my adventures with Kristin and it makes me sad when I find out some people don't have enough money to buy food and have a safe house.

Kristin always tells me it is OK to be sad. But she reminds me that I should be grateful that I have a nice house and a loving family. She is right.

While we were visiting the police station, I learned that the people in this neighborhood didn't always like the police. But when criminals moved in and made Jardim Ranieri a scary place, the community asked the police for help. The community and the police worked together to build this police station and a library. The station commander says the police then put many bad people in jail and that's why Jardim Ranieri is much safer today.

Kristin says the way the neighborhood and the police worked together reminds her of the community police program in Muscatine. That's pretty cool.

After Kristin, Keith, Simon, and Steve interviewed the police commander and some people who live in the neighborhood, we got to see the police officers in action. There wasn't enough room for people to ride in the police cars (darn...that would have been really cool!) so we rode in the van.

I was still worried that some bad people would see us, but then I saw we had at least three police cars full of police officers around us at all times (sometimes there were even more police vehicles). We also had a police officer riding with us in our van.

I noticed the streets here are very narrow.

At first I thought the houses were narrow apartment-like buildings, but then I realized that some houses were built on top of other houses. Very interesting.

I was busy looking at the different houses when the van suddenly stopped. The police officer jumped out. Before I could figure out what was going on, Steve jumped out of the van with the video camera and Kristin jumped out with her digital camera. That's when I saw the police had stopped some men who were walking on the street.

The police made the men stand against the wall until they checked their identification cards. The police officers actually had their guns out, so I decided to stay inside of Kristin's bag. I watched the action through a small opening.

Then just as quickly as the men were stopped, everyone got back in the van and we continued driving through the neighborhood. Five minutes later, we stopped again. This time, the police stopped a man riding a motorcycle.

Here you can see one of the police officers calling the police station to check the man's license.

And here you can see an officer making sure the man didn't have anything bad in his pockets.

I noticed while the officers were checking the man's pockets that they also made him show his tattoos. The police officer riding in our van said certain tattoos would tell the police if the man was a gang member of had been in prison.

I was so busy watching the police officers that I didn't realize that we were attracting a crowd.

I was starting to worry about the crowd when the police officers let the man on the motorcycle go. Whew!

Next, the officers took us to a place where we could get a better view of the neighborhood. Wow! I knew I had counted a lot of houses, but I had no idea how many houses were in the neighborhood.

Here are a few more shots of the neighborhood.

Did you see the painting on the wall in one of the photos above? I've seen just about every place we have visited in Brazil. I asked Kristin why I kept seeing the same image and she told me that it is Brazil's flag. Who knew?

After spending another hour (or so) with the police officers, we left the neighborhood and our driver took us to another neighborhood about an hour away. This neighborhood is called "Parelheiros." I could tell right away the people who live in this neighborhood don't have very much money. The streets weren't even paved...and we were still in town. I thought everyone who lived in a city had paved streets.

We were visiting this neighborhood to meet Deise and her daughter Silvia. They own a beauty salon.

The salon is located in a converted garage. It sure doesn't look like a salon in Muscatine. Kristin agreed but she told me the salon is really important. That's because Deise (pronounced "Daisy") and Silvia got money from the local government to go to school so they could open the salon. Now they make their own money and soon they will not need aid from the government to buy groceries and the things they need for their family. How cool is that?! The salon was busy the entire time we were there, so Deise and Silvia must be good.

We left the salon just before dusk and went back to the hotel. I must have been really tired because I fell asleep in the van!

That's all for now. Until next time....