In crisis-struck Rio, police need donated toilet paper

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RIO DE JANEIRO: Maria Thereza Sombra may rely on Rio de Janeiro’s police to keep her safe — but in the grip of financial crisis they rely on the 82-year-old to supply them with toilet paper.

Severe budget shortfalls in Brazil’s recent Olympic host city have left police scrounging for equipment, fuel and even the most basic hygiene items. Hospitals are equally hard hit, compounding a deepening sense of insecurity in a city plagued by violent crime.

Sombra said that ordinary citizens need to step in where the state is failing.

“If the police have their hands tied what will happen to us?” she asked. “We have to help those who are defending us. Otherwise no one will be able to go out of their homes.”

A retired teacher and president of Rio’s Flamengo neighbourhood association, Sombra began helping police back in April when the city was already descending into a pre-Olympic financial abyss.

However, what started off as a spontaneous initiative among Rio residents was enshrined this month in an official program called “Together with the Police.”

Security “is the responsibility of the state but it is the duty of all,” the police department says.

Sombra gets a list from Rio’s 9th precinct. Then residents of the 35 condominiums belonging to the Flamengo association chip in.

On a table in a meeting room, Sombra flaunted a heap of bathroom tissue, cleaning items and piles of office paper. Yet, solicitations can get more muddled: after the police headquarters itself was burglarized, officers asked for 12 security cameras.

“For me, the most imperative thing is that we are accomplishing something, regardless of the possibility that it’s little: to show love, regard and solidarity,” she said