Brazil Makes Eleventh-Hour Push on Olympics Security

Brazil Makes Eleventh-Hour Push on Olympics Security

With Summer Games set to open, government calls up retired police officers to screen for weapons
ENLARGE
Soldiers guarded the area near the Copacabana beach volleyball arena Thursday. Photo: Associated Press

By Benjamin Parkin and
Will Connors
Updated Aug. 4, 2016 9:05 p.m. ET

RIO DE JANEIRO—Brazil’s government is still scrambling to patch together a team of weapons screeners for Olympics venues, this time using retired police officers with little experience operating X-ray machines, many of whom just arrived in the host city in recent days.

On the eve of the opening ceremonies, they are being trained in the use of metal detectors and other equipment and have yet to be posted at some venues, the government has said. Moreover, some are being taught to use the equipment by inexperienced, low-wage private contractors whom the veteran security pros are replacing, according to several of the screeners.

Brazil’s Ministry of Justice said last week that a contingent of several thousand members of Brazil’s Força Nacional, made up of police and firefighters, would take over the screening effort from a small human-resources company, Artel Recursos Humanos, which has no experience in security or megaevents.
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The change came after the company failed to hire enough staff needed to pat down spectators and screen for weapons and contraband outside dozens of Olympics venues, according to the Ministry of Justice.

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Brazilian officials have guaranteed that visitors and competitors would be safe, and that their security measures for the Games are adequate.

Brazil’s government waited until July 1 to award the contract for weapons screeners, The Wall Street Journal reported last month. Similar so-called mag-and-bag tenders for previous Games in other host cities were in place as far as a year in advance.

But the screener plan changed yet again when the government began calling up retirees instead of active duty police, who are already stretched thin by the biggest security deployment for a megaevent in Brazil’s history.
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Brazilian surfer Rico de Souza carried the Olympic torch while skiing off the coast of Rio de Janeiro on Thursday. As the flame made its way through downtown, it was greeted by both protests and cheers. Photo: AP

An active-duty policeman from the southern Brazilian state of Mato Grosso do Sul, who is involved in the screening process, said the new arrivals had been given little training and were often confused about what they should be doing and where they should be.

“On paper, it’s pretty,” he said of the government’s effort to assure the public that security has been bolstered with better screeners. “But in practice, it’s not improving….It’s not working.”

The police retirees are being paid 560.50 reais ($175) a day, according to the Ministry of Justice, almost 20 times as much as the Artel contractors they are replacing.

A retired military police officer from Rio who arrived this week to work at the beach volleyball venue told the Journal on Thursday that he was still learning how to use the screening equipment, including the X-ray machines. The first beach volleyball events will be held Saturday.
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Brazil has been on high alert following recent terror attacks in France, Germany, Turkey and the U.S. The federal government is deploying about 85,000 police and soldiers during the Games.

But the nation’s failure to nail down a security basic such as venue screening has some experts concerned.

Renato da Silva, executive director of Rio-based BSS security, which has provided screeners for large sporting and music events, said he was worried about the late changes, saying that X-ray machine operators are among the most important security functions at any large event.

“The success of the Olympics depends on whether or not they do a good job,” he said.

A spokesman from the Ministry of Justice, which is responsible for venue security, said the 3,400 retired police and firefighters are still being trained. He said they would be phased in “gradually,” taking over all screening duties from the private contractors by the opening ceremonies, which begin Friday evening.

Even though Artel was formally dismissed by the Ministry of Justice last week, many of the company’s contractors were still on the job this week at some venues, including Copacabana’s beach volleyball venue and the Maracanã stadium, where the opening ceremonies will be held.

Several dozen Artel contractors gathered outside the Maracanã stadium on Thursday, unsure whether they were supposed to be working or not. Some at the stadium had been replaced mid-shift on Wednesday by retired policeman, who, according to contractors, asked for lessons in how to operate the X-ray machines.

“The [Forca Nacional retirees] didn’t even know who could or couldn’t enter,” said Eduardo Giancristoforo, 45 years old, an Artel contractor at the stadium.

Around noon on Thursday an Artel employee arrived to tell the contractors that they had been fired. The employee handed out transportation reimbursement cards and said the contractors could collect partial payment the following week.

“From the beginning until today, the whole process was wrong,” said Rodrigo Marcuci, 37, a former bank teller who had been working a screening station at the Maracanã. “There are mothers, fathers who now have no salary. Our only souvenir was a badge.”

—Patricia Kowsmann contributed to this article.

Write to Will Connors at william.connors@wsj.com

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