KEIR RADNEDGE in COSTA DO SAUIPE —– Andre Pruis, the South African police commander who made his own impact on the security set-up in 2010, is confident that Brazil is getting it right for next year.
Pruis, now out of uniform and advising FIFA and the local organisers on security, spent more time than he wanted ahead of the 2010 finals trying to firefight paranoia about the expected mayhem and violence awaiting foreign fans in South Africa.
Addressing a seminar on security at the venue for Friday’s draw, he said: “The major challenges for us were the perceptions and crime and crime and doom and gloom and I had to travel the whole world talking about the reality of the crime situation in South Africa and what the plans were to deal with it.
“Perceptions about South Africa played a major role in keeping us buy before and during the World Cup.”
Fear led to one report, later denied, that members of the German team had been warned to wear bullet-proof vests if they should ever venture out of their hotel rooms.
In fact, perception and reality proved very different.
Pruis recalled: “The World Cup itself was one of the safest periods in the history of South Africa because we had good plans and good deployment but also because criminals also wanted to watch the soccer and didn’t have time for crime during the World Cup.”
This was not to suggest that the Brazilians dared relax and refrain from wrapping up the World Cup in a 24/7 security blanket for the entire two months surrounding the finals next June and July.
Pruis cautioned: “You have to keep your security members motivated because they will be working for more than 60 days on 12-hour shifts without a break.”
To his practised eye, the Brazilian security commanders had “everything there that should be there.” This comprised integrated planning across all services and “sufficient contingency plans for every attempted act of terrorism and demonstration.”
Such planning needed to take into account, as it had in South Africa, of the shock moment when stadium stewards went on strike and police had to take up their duties across half the stadia at barely an hour’s notice.
He also revealed that detailed planning and high-level intelligence gathering had averted three possible terrorist incidents.
Pruis recommended close liaison with tourist agencies to assess numbers and travel plans of visitors both to matches and to other attractions and resorts. The banking sector also needed to be alerted to the dangers of credit card fraud and be able to react at speed in co-operation with police.
He said: “We had one particular robbery where the perpetrators were caught and sentenced very quickly to 15 years in prison. They will see only the World Cup in Qatar, not this one in Brazil and not the next in Russia: they will still be in a South African prison.”
During the Confederations Cup in Brazil, Pruis noted, “only 14 incidents of theft occurred at all the venues: there were a lot of demonstrations but the tournament continued on time and the matches started on time while police were busy dealing with the manifestations.”
However Pruis had no qualms about the need for police to deal firmly, including rubber bullets if necessary as a means of last resort, with any protests which threatened to turn ugly.
He said: “If crowds get violent, do you think a water cannon is going to disperse them? You have to disperse them. A rubber bullet is a low level of action. It hurts but what are police supposed to do? Use a pea shooter? Or water cannon? It only works up to a point.”
The theme of urban violence was also addressed by Sports Minister Aldo Rebelo with particular reference to recent reports of gang robberies on the iconic beaches of Rio de Janeiro.
He said: “What we experience here is social violence, a deplorable thing that we need to fight against to make sure that it does not stain our population, and not only because of the World Cup.
“Nobody feels comfortable when gangs of criminals mug people on the beaches, or when tourists are mugged or raped. This is deplorable and our governments and police forces are actively trying to respond to this.
“But when this debate crops up, all forms of violence need to be presented so that my country doesn’t come across as the only place where this happens. Violence takes place the world over in many different forms.”
As for Pruis, and albeit with no local audience to address, his overall assessment was positive.
Pruis said: “In Brazil we are working as one team from the development of operational concepts rights through to policies and procedures. I think the stadia in Brazil not only meet the requirements of FIFA but exceed them.”
His conclusion: “I think it’s going to be a wonderful World Cup in Brazil.”
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