UPPs improve public safety and generate public support in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro
By Dialogo December 20, 2013
Alcides Saucedo clearly sees how the Brazilian Military Police (PM) have improved safety in recent years in Santa Marta, Botafogo, one of the first favelas pacified in Rio de Janeiro under a state security program.
In December 2008, the PM sent Police Pacifying Units (UPPs) into Santa Marta. Their mission was to confront and capture members of neighborhood gangs and to improve overall public safety. The UPPs are succeeding, Saucedo said.
A change for the better in Santa Marta
The UPPs have greatly improved life in Santa Marta and other favelas, where 20 percent of Rio de Janeiro’s 6.5 million residents live. Like many other residents, Saucedo is grateful for the police initiative.
“Beginning in 2009 in Santa Marta, we began to feel confident in going out into the streets because of the work of the police force, which took back the neighborhoods and confronted very dangerous criminal bands who terrorized everyone,” said Saucedo, a street vendor who sells candy and cigarettes.
Before the arrival of the UPPs, life in Santa Marta and other Rio de Janeiro neighborhoods was dangerous. In 2007, Saucedo was robbed twice in a span of three months. The robbers stole the money he had earned for the day.
“Before the peacekeeping police came, we lived in complete distress and it was virtually impossible to walk through the streets of Santa Marta with a minimum of security,” Saucedo said.
Public support for UPPs
UPPs have earned the support of most favela residents because they are so effective. UPPs have done a good job confronting and capturing members of the two largest organized crime groups in Brazil, the Red Command and the First Capital Command (FCC). The two gangs engage in drug trafficking, extortion, illegal gambling, and kidnapping.
“The vast majority of the population supports the pacification units, mainly because of the sense of security they feel,” said Capt. Ilmar Ubiratan Salgado Luzia, a PM Officer who is assigned to the UPPs Department of Social Communication.
“The factors that motivate success are mainly the confidence the population has in the work of the peacekeeping force,” Salgado Luzia explained.
The success of the UPPs has fostered “a closer relationship with communities through civic and social events, activities with children, neighborhood association meetings, among others,” according to the captain.
Life in Santa Marta improves
About 8,000 people live in Santa Marta. It was the first favela to be pacified by a UPP.
Before the police initiative, there was no tourism in Santa Marta, and many people who lived in middle-class or wealthy neighborhoods in Rio de Janeiro also stayed away. Tourists were often warned that Santa Marta and other favelas were too dangerous to visit. By April 2012, public safety in Santa Marta had improved so much that residents launched a campaign to attract investment and tourism to the favela.
In a recent poll, about 50 percent of Cariocas (Rio de Janeiro residents) said they had visited Santa Marta and other favelas where UPPs had improved public safety. Of this group, 98 percent said they had had a positive experience with adventure tourism, according to the survey by the Copernicus Institute.
A major police initiative
As of December 2013, the government of the state of Rio de Janeiro has placed 36 UPPs in favelas where more than 1.5 million people live, authorities said. The 36 UPPs are comprised of more than 9,000 military police officers, who patrol 252 neighborhoods.
The police officers assigned to the UPPs work in difficult environments.
The unemployment rate in favelas reaches as high as 15 percent. The average unemployment rate in the rest of the country is 5.6 percent, one of the lowest in the world, according to the Brazilian Institute of Georgraphy and Statistics (IBGE).
Police officers put their lives at risk
Police officers assigned to UPP units often put themselves in dangerous situations in order to protect the civilian population.
On the night of Sept. 13, 2012, a UPP police officer was killed when he and a group of colleagues were patrolling Rocinha, a densely-populated favela in Rio de Janeiro. A gunman armed with a .9-mm caliber handgun shot and killed the officer, Diego Bruno Barbosa Henriques. A few hours later, police arrested a man who was carrying the murder weapon.
UPP officers, in cooperation with Army soldiers, began providing security in Rocinha in November 2011.
UPP units are expected to help provide security in and around Rio de Janeiro for the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games. Millions of people from around the world are expected to come to Rio de Janeiro for the two sporting events.