There's one core difference between Brazil and the US, and that is the police.
The first time a friend came to visit me, I informed her that if there was trouble to go AWAY from the police. Don't go towards them or you might as well just throw yourself right in the middle of the battle.
It was a weird concept for me to get when I first arrived. Police aren't necessarily good. They aren't necessarily bad either. But let's be honest, when there's a gray area concerning people with large semi-automatic weapons, it's just best to avoid them.
And when you are confronted with them, take it seriously. Two friends of mine were arrested at a Festival where the military police were providing security. That right there is not a good thing. The military police lack the humor required when dealing with drunk music fans watching their favorite bands.
Anyway, one police officer informed my friend that he could take a leak over in the woods. A second officer approached him after he had and arrested him. Talk about a lack of communication.
My Brother-in- law had been waiting for our friend and loyally followed him and the police officer back to the police tent at the entrance of the festival. My sweet Brother-in-law inquired after our friend, who was in the tent, and tried to explain the situation to an officer standing outside. What was the response he got?
"If you are so curious about your friend, why don't you just go in and check!" With that my Brother-in-law was taken in and arrested as well.
When we got the text message saying they were arrested, I automatically thought it was hysterical! I was all excited about seeing a Brazilian police station for the first time and take some pictures of our friends in their moment of shame.
Mr. Rant immediately told me NO! He told me not to say a word, to definitely not take any pictures, and if that was too difficult I needed to wait outside. This was not the US. It fully hit me when we went into the station and found them with their hand bound behind their backs and every single belonging that was on them spread out neatly on a desk. They had even removed their shoelaces.
Of course they were released that night but were put on probation for a year. And for what? A miscommunication and urination?! That in and of itself was proof enough that these guys are not ones to even talk to unless absolutely necessary. This goes double for the Military Police. They are a special breed of hardasses.
Don't get me wrong, talking to a cop isn't going to get you arrested. And if there has been a crime against you, they will do their job and help out the best they can. I have seen that as well.
It has to do with general safety. I'm sure even a crooked cop would give correct directions if asked, but do I want to be getting information when there is a random cop drive by? Nope.
While uncommon, I still prefer the avoidance technique. And you know what, I recommend you do as well. Cops here are actually engaged in a real power struggle. They aren't running around giving tickets to j-walkers or asking kids why they aren't at school. So leave them alone and let them do their job.
And for all you tourists who think that it'd be cool to report your belongings stolen to Brazilian officers and get money from your travel insurance, think again. Many have tried and many have been arrested. Is that how you want to spend the end of your vacation? Is $1000 worth potentially getting stuck in a concrete cell with cockroaches and urine? I don't think so.
The cops here do not like to be made fools of. Let's all keep that in mind.