Television news scenes of police brutality in Sao Paulo, Brazil were not uncommon in 1997. Brazilians were outraged by the images.
The city, home to 22 million people, was plagued with problems like crime, corruption, pockets of extreme poverty, and an out-of-control police force.
It was filled with many officers with a bad attitude who no longer protected the people, but only served themselves. Fortunately, some police officers saw matters differently.
"I remember that Major Terra and I would get off work many times, and as our work is right in downtown, it saddened our hearts to see people lying on the ground...the homeless people," said Lt. Joel Rocha of Sao Paulo Military Police. "That's when we made a pact and said, 'Let's set aside a specific time each week and make it a priority to pray together.'"
As Rocha and Captain Alexander Terra began to pray, Terra was asked to start a new "community policing" policy. It was a good start, but Terra knew his first problem was the police force itself.
"Society was saying, 'Look, the police have to change. They can't go on like this,'" Terra said.
Terra called on the Christian Officers Association for help, a support group for Sao Paulo's officers by officers - which now has 1,500 members.
"A policeman who works with peace in his heart will produce peace in his community," police chaplain Robson Melchior said.
A Radical Change
Christian police began praying for their communities with impressive results.
Researcher George Otis arrived in Sao Paulo to document the radical changes. There he met with police commanders.
"This commander, who is not a believer, gave me a big Brazilian bear hug, tears coming down his cheeks, and he said, 'Now I want you to go into the city and film this story and show it to the world. Show the world what God has been doing in these communities,'" Otis said.
Otis took the challenge, beginning in Freguesia do O. In the past, it was one of Sao Paulo's most dangerous neighborhoods.
"(It was) an area where the bandits had complete freedom to act," Col. Oswaldo Sorge said.. "There were homicides and massacres."
"We were more frightened with each passing day," Pastor Marco da Silva said. "Our families stayed locked inside their homes, afraid even to send their kids to school."
The situation was so bad, the police gathered local pastors and told them that the church had failed to do its job. That led to prayer and repentance. Consequenlty, evangelical leaders from various churches and denominations began to join with the leaders of the police force to start projects.
Sorge asked God for help.
"I ask God to give me strategies, wisdom and understanding, in every decision that I have to make," Sorge said.
From that time on, the neighborhood and the police department itself began to change.
"Today we are harvesting the results, very important results, which include the transformation of this unit...from the chaos that used to prevail here," Sorge said.
"The community is beginning to desire more contact with the police," da Silva said. "And this has been demonstrated by an increase in safety, and a decrease in violence."
"We've been able to lower the murder rate by 60 percent in this region," Sorge said.
That transformation also lead to major gains in one of the city's toughest battles.
"In the 10th operation in Alba we captured 800 kilos of drugs," Col. Joviano Lima said. "In just one arrest we netted 520 kilos of marijuana, plus arms and ammunition. We captured more than 30 people in the operation, so the results were fantastic."
The 'God Factor'
Energized by what they were seeing God do, Christian officers and pastors together began visiting families in crisis.
"Their lives have been changed, their marriages restored," military police officer Lucia da Silva Vera said. "The Lord has delivered their children from drugs, from the depths of sin. He has really intervened."
Results like these prompted changes in Sao Paulo's police academies. Officers began studying Biblical principles and how to partner with churches.
Sao Paolo's success attracted police commanders from other parts of Brazil.
"This is the thing that we have seen that there is a great hunger and appetite amongst law enforcement people to hear about this 'God factor'," Otis said.
It is the same "God factor" that's using Christian police to transform Sao Paulo.
"Now I understand that the things that God wants to do here He wants to do through men, and I am one of those men," Rocha said.
"I believe that God changes history," Sorge said. "God changes people. God transforms the hearts of people. I believe this because God changed my history."