A human rights study on Brazil has concluded that torture and summary executions by police, both on- and off-duty, remain widespread even as civilian democratic rule in Latin America's largest country is being consolidated.

"Torture of ordinary suspects, not only by beatings but by relatively sophisticated methods, is endemic in the precincts of Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro," said the report issued yesterday by Americas Watch, a U.S.-based nonprofit group that surveys human rights in Western Hemisphere nations. "There are police involved in death squad killings in both cities, and there continue to be many instances of summary executions," it said.

Although the study is limited to Brazil's two largest cities, the authors say there is evidence that their findings would also apply to other metropolitan areas.

Brazil shed 21 years of military government in 1985 with the inauguration of civilian President Jose Sarney. But disregard for the country's poor masses, contempt for life, prevalence of corruption in police ranks, congestion in the courts and other economic, social and institutional factors that for years have fostered abuses of police power continue to the present, according to Americas Watch.

"Ironically, in the current transition to democratic civilian government, the concern for human rights awakened by the military dictatorship has in some measure gone back to sleep," the study says. "Though it is true that abuse of political prisoners has greatly decreased, violations of the human rights of ordinary citizens persist.

In most cases, police abuses go unpunished, reflecting what Americas Watch says is a tendency among some justice officials to regard such actions as normal.

The study praises reform efforts by former governors Andre Franco Montoro of Sao Paulo and Leonel Brizola of Rio de Janeiro, both of whom tried after being elected in 1982 to discipline their police forces but encountered stiff resistance. Both politicians were replaced in March this year by more conservative men.