Crime on the rise in Rio

Rio’s favela pacification police UPP is losing the battle for the population’s hearts and minds. As a consequence, just as the World Cup approaches, Rio is crime is rising sharply. In an exclusive interview, Carlos Caicedo of IHS Global discusses the reasons for this failure, with additional background acquired from contacts in Rocinha, Rio’s largest favela.

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – According to official statistics issued by the Instituto de Segurança Pública (Institute for Public Security), there were 3,501 intentional homicides in Rio de Janeiro state between January and September 2013 – up 14.9 percent compared to the same period last year. In Rio de Janeiro city, the year-on-year increase stood at 4.8 percent for the period.

Complexo do Lins and Morro Camarista Méier UPPs, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil News
Two new Police Pacification Units (UPP) inaugurated in the city’s Zona Norte areas of Complexo do Lins and Morro Camarista, photo by Marcelo Horn/Imprensa RJ.

According to another study by Rio’s Public Security Institute (ISP), the number of murders in the favelas where UPPs have been established over the past four years has declined by 65 percent. However the new data implies a displacement of crime, fueled by worsening economic conditions, and critics are quick to point out root causes and a bleak long-term outlook.

Speaking to The Rio Times, Carlos Caicedo, Principal Latin America Analyst at IHS Country Risk, pinpointed the worsening security situation in the city on an erosion of trust between the pacifying police UPP, which have moved into favelas such as Rocinha, and the local population there.

“The effort to pacify the favelas currently relies on the massive deployment of manpower and resources, but given Brazil’s worsening fiscal deficit, this approach will be unsustainable beyond 2016, when the Olympic Games will have finished. What is missing is a meaningful social strategy which addresses issues such as job creation, education and engagement”, said Caicedo.

This vacuum has also been acknowledged by Robson Rodrigues da Silva, former head of the UPP across Brazil. Writing for the Inter-American Development Bank, da Silva said that “the State should take on a more proactive, inclusive and responsible role when it comes to the delivery of public services. As we all know, the challenge represented by violent crime cannot be addressed by policing alone.”

Rocinha’s UPP (the 28th in Rio) was inaugurated September 20th, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil News
Rocinha’s UPP (the 28th in Rio) was inaugurated September 20th, 2012, photo by Erica Ramallho/Imprensa RJ.

Public trust in the UPP has been gravely undermined by the disappearance of Rocinha bricklayer and father of six, Amarildo de Souza in July last year. Thirteen members of the UPP have been charged with de Souza’s torture and murder, among them the Edson dos Santos, who was the force’s commander at the time.

Beyond the city’s favelas, IHS highlights a dramatic spike in crime rates in outlying areas such as Niterói and Baixada Fluminense, which have seen a 27 and 28.5 percent increase in homicides respectively. According to IHS, “this suggests that the gangs expelled from the favelas are migrating to these regions.”

Earlier this month new data from the ISP showed that in Niterói, homicides increased 116 percent over the same period in the previous year, with thirteen murders reported compared to six in 2012. Understaffed police stations have been a named as the problem in Niterói. In 1970 there were 3,200 active duty Military Police officers in the city; in April 2012 there were only 800, although the population increased by fifty percent in the same period.

Vehicle robberies and muggings also increased overall, again with a disproportionate rise in Niterói and Baixada. The reports warns: “Elsewhere, deterioration of security in favelas close to hotel and tourist areas poses security threats to foreign visitors. This is the case in most favelas in Zona Sul (South Zone) of the city, such as Cantagalo, Pavao-Pavaozinho, Chapéu-Mangueira, Santa Marta, and Vidigal.”

In Rocinha, the UPP’s new commander, Major Pricilla de Oliveira Azevedo, faces a tough challenge to restore trust. The removal of 75 officers from the unit was intended to show that she is determined to make a fresh start. The UPP is currently present in 36 of Rio de Janeiro state’s 1,021 favelas, around 800 of which are within city limits.

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