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The Military Police of Sao Paulo, which is a fancy name for what we would call regular police, invited journalists to two-day training this past weekend on what they call the Giraldi Method. That’s a system one Col. Giraldi developed to reduce the number of deaths to both police officers and innocent bystanders during police operations in what everyone recognizes is an extremely violent and dangerous city. The basic idea is “defensive firing,” to shoot only when absolutely necessary to save lives. As translated in the training, that means whenever a target appears where a menacing guy is pointing a gun at you (as opposed to a menacing guy with a knife who turns out to be an orange salesman doing some peeling). According to police material, in 1999 --before the method was introduced-- 318 police officers were killed in the line of duty. By 2007 it was down to 22.
That, as they say in our business, could not be independently verified. But the method has been approved by the International Committee of the Red Cross and has been introduced across South America, so there’s something to it.
The police went all out, bringing their best instructors to the training center at Pirituba and outfitting us with flak jackets and .40 caliber pistols and teaching us how to shoot. That was day one. Day two we got to enter the staging areas where they simulate real situations…having us go around corners and peer through windows with our guns drawn, shouting at paper targets to drop weapons (“Aqui é a polícia! Larga a arma!” is my new catchphrase) and even negotiating with hostage holders (with guns pointed south, at the ground, to be less intimidating). Things got really confusing at the end, with an innocent kid in a skull-and-bones t-shirt popping out at you at point-blank range (I didn’t shoot him, but one of my colleagues nailed him right in the chest; another shot a supposed TV reporter carrying a non-threatening microphone) and a guy with a knife that charges at you when you’ve just run out of ammo (I blew it, not retreating behind a nearby wall to reload in safety).
It seemed the purpose of the training was two-fold: to show us how police are trained to fire only in dire circumstances (and sometimes not even then), and to prove to us that police work is scary and it can sometimes get confusing to know when to use your weapon. (Not to mention that it’s scary to carry a loaded gun, period.) Mission accomplished on those fronts. How well the training really gets through to the massive, underpaid, at least somewhat corrupt police force is unclear, as anyone who has trained line workers of a large bureaucracy to do anything can attest.