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Rio: Beautiful Beaches, Corrupt Cops

Rio de Janeiro, a beautiful city famous for its beaches and infamous for its crime and sprawling slums, also has the most corrupt and deadly police force in Brazil, a study concluded Tuesday.

The study, which compiled complaints against police across the country, put Rio de Janeiro state at the top of the ranking for graft and in the number of civilian deaths at the hands of police officers, with an average of 3.5 civilians killed per 100,000 people in 2001.

"That is more killings than some European countries register per year from all crime. In Britain last year, police killed four people. Here we are talking about hundreds in Rio," Julita Lemgruber, coordinator of the research, told Reuters.

The study, presented at a conference for magistrates monitoring Brazil's police force, was put together by the Security and Citizenship Center of Studies with Candido Mendes University from complaints collected by the magistrates.

Sao Paulo state and its capital -- South America's biggest city and also notorious for rampant crime -- trailed Rio both in terms of police corruption and civilian deaths, which include killings during arrest or in police custody.

The two states also led in the category of unpunished police crimes. In Rio, only 7.4 percent of public complaints against officers brought some sort of punitive action.

Complaints of police corruption amounted to 30 percent of all those received by magistrates in Rio, The figure in Sao Paulo was 13 percent. Police violence in general was the highest in the poor northeastern state of Para.

Drug traffickers have long turned Rio's favela slums into "no-go" areas for police, who can only "invade" them in military-style operations. Gangs, equipped with machine guns and grenade launchers, often outnumber and outgun police.

Violence has spread to the tourist mecca's main source of income. An average of seven tourists are attacked daily on Rio's streets and beaches. The violence has put crime at the top of the agenda ahead of October's presidential elections.

Crime experts and lawmakers say the situation illustrates the government's failure to overhaul the police force, with many saying low pay makes law enforcement an easy target for bribes.

State officials in Rio said they suspected prison guards had been bribed before a bloody standoff between rival gangs inside a maximum security jail last week.

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