The impact the Pacifying Police Units (UPPs) have on Rio de Janeiro’s favelas

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The nature of criminal activities in Rio de Janeiro’s favelas exhibit traits that toughen the criminal gangs and hamper the fight against the crimes. The other factor that makes the slum of Rio a crime hotbed is the occupation by drug gangs around the mountains and hills in the region; the gangs control both the social and the economic activities in the region, impose their laws and even pass judgments whenever necessary.

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The opposing geography of these places gives the criminals a tactical advantage over the police making it difficult for the government forces to infiltrate the criminal’s backyards and handle the criminal activities (Veloso 6). This research paper focuses on the nature of organized crimes and assesses the impact of the policy on pacification, which aims at restoring law and order in the favelas that are mainly run by drug gangs and other criminal elements.

The pacification program (UPP) was initiated in 2008 with the objective of regaining control from criminal organization and back to state organs. The approach to this policy is to extricate the criminal elements in the shanty towns and put in place a permanent community centered police stations in the favelas. The high number of the security officers deployed in the localities infers an increase in the law enforcement and the cost of carrying out drug-related activities. By the end of 2014, there were over nine thousand policies officers evenly dispersed to over thirty-eight police station in the two hundred and sixty-four communities.

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The pacification programs had two main objectives, first to retake territories that were initially dominated by the criminal gang, and second to improve the status of security in the community and reduce cases of lethal shootouts in the community. The program saw to it that the government left the military based approach that made the residents of the favela live in constant fear to a rather friendlier community-based approach to tackling insurgency and violence in the area.The prime research question to this paper is, to what extent has the pacification of police units (UPPs) curbed violence in Rio De Janeiro’s Favelas.

Borrowing from Gary Beckers classical theory of crime and punishment, the presence of police is essential in reducing crimes and increasing the chances of arresting the perpetrators of the crimes. The theory in the context of the favela suggests that the pacification of the police units in the favela have indeed impacted the crime rates significantly if not reducing them at all. Empirical evidence in the United States indicates that diverting police resources to crime hotbeds greatly reduces the prevalence of crimes in the region. Targeting the most violent criminals is key during the security operations in the favelas.

The UPPS Strategy

The rolling out of the UPPs in the favelas were not haphazard. The favela had to meet two criteria to considered for the program; first, it must be a very poor neighbourhood. Secondly, it must be dominated by drug crimes and other criminal activities. This strategy was developed after a thorough analysis of the crime patterns in the favelas. However, this strategy received great criticism due to the problem of crime diffusion, in the sense that if the criminals realize that the project is being rolled out in their locality, they look for other areas to put their heads in and set up their criminal activities again. This problem can be curbed by ensuring that the program is rolled out in the larger portion of settlements in the favela

Positive Impact of Pacification in the favela

The program operates in four phases. The first phase involves the invasion of the primary targets in the favela; this stage facilitates the removal of any armed criminals or traffickers in the slums. The second phase involves the elimination of potential criminal element by arresting them and safeguarding the location to roll out the third stage that is the installation of community police posts, the main objective of this face is to reduce the number of firearms in the streets and create a pacified environment which leads to the improvement of the quality of life inhabitants as well as inclusion of the members of the community to the civil society.

However, many critics have stated that the multi-facet assault is blatantly brutal and physically cruel which won’t lead to a peaceful end. The argument behind this is the pacification program solves the various issues on a short-term basis rather than in the long run. The use of extreme use force by the government security organs has been severely criticized by human rights organizations and international organization, this has forced the Brazilian government to announce the dates and the times they would be carrying out the military operation in the favelas.

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It is clear that the pacification program has achieved its first objective of regaining territorial control and increasing the levels of security in the favelas. Going by statistical data, the rates of homicide have dropped by 75% around the area where the program is operational. Data from surveys also suggests that a larger percentage of the inhabitants in the favelas that are pacified feel more secure as compared to those who dwell in the favelas that haven’t been pacified. This implies that the friendlier policing approaches have improved the relationship between the police and the residents, which presents a development from the traditional policing approaches that were dominated by military action (Micheal). Judging from the average mood of the residents it is clear they have embraced the program. The rates territorial gun confrontations have significantly declined to make the residents feel even safer.

The pacification program has enabled investors to put up business in the favelas. Previously, the favela could not sustain any business activities, and the areas were highly marginalized. However, the pacification program has enabled more and more investors to inject resources in the region. This is manifested through the development of the favela tourism, the authorization of various goods and services as well as the elimination of all the barriers to trade and political campaigns (Micheal 6).  Economic opportunities in the favelas have also grown significantly, the housing costs have risen to about 6% bridging the gap between the poorer locations and the formal cities.

The program has also impacted the social fabric of the favela significantly. The movement of people to the urban regions are less restricted due to the lower number of urban gangs this has improved the relationship between the Morro and Asfalto. More and more residents of the favelas feel they are respected by outsiders. Education and healthcare services have been expanded and extended into the pacified favela. Doctors, as well as other professional, are able to enter the favelas easily without any form of restrictions or fears of being rounded by gangs and other criminal elements in the slums. The children also enjoy the peaceful environment that enables them to play outside without the fear of being shot or even kidnapped.

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In a nutshell, the program has achieved its objectives as the government has been able to regain control of the of the areas that were initially run by cartels and drug barons. The program has also enhanced the state of security in the area greatly reducing the rates of lethal crimes and police killings significantly. The program has also motivated investors to open businesses in the favela boosting the area economically.

Negative impact of pacification in the favelas

The UPP has received much criticism from individuals as well as from the society. This program has been attributed to many shortcomings that have reduced the confidence level of the community to the program. One of the deficiencies includes the distrust between the police and the favela dwellers. A lot of corruption allegation have been leveled against the police force in the program. To foster better relationships, the parties concerned need show commitment to the course through ensuring transparency and accountability in all sectors.

The other criticism is based on the practice of favoring a few individuals in the UPP. The program has demarcated the favela and installed posts at the areas that are considered to be high risk; however, the program appears to favor the private sector investors greatly at the detriment of the residents of the favela. This trend insinuates that the rolling out of the UPP in the rest of the cities in the favelas will be impossible and violence will prevail as the criminal elements would have retaken the cities again.

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Another consequence of the UPPs is that the police have assumed the role of the government in the locations where the police have been deployed. Their operations as the primary source of link between the locals and the goods that have been issued by the government gives them an opportunity that most might use to oppress the citizens in the favela a good example is when a community member was forced to negotiate directly with a local UPP commander about a business project he intended to start (Micheal 8). This range of authoritativeness exceeds those of the regular police officers, and some inhabitants have assumed the UPP as the new authority instead changing the status quo, they have switched places with the former drug cartels.

The acceptability of the project has also been disputed as many incidences have ignited protests and a gradual return of violence which has greatly undermined the efficacy of the project. Throughout the favelas, violence has left many UPP officers either dead or badly wounded. In 2015 alone Complexo do Alemão witnessed the death of over 48 officers who were on active duty. In Rocinha, the officers managing the areas were accused of homicide and torture of residents which sparked mass action in 2013 (Micheal 7). There has been an increase in non-lethal crimes since the advent of pacification; these crimes ranges from physical assault to petty theft. The worst of these crimes is the disappearance of individuals which have risen significantly. This has led to distrust between the police and the resident, during a testimonial by a resident front Santa Marta favela, the residents feel that the police lack the will to solve various crimes that are prevalent in the locality.

Another criticism of the UPPs is the lack of adequate personnel to cover the entire Rio de Janeiro; this has sent shivers down the spine of many residents, as they firmly believe that the drug baron might return due to the cracks appearing on the program. In as much as the drug lords have been displaced their presence is still felt in the favelas through covert actions such as graffiti and undercover visits

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A further criticism of the UPPs is that there are not sufficient to cover the entire Rio de Janeiro. This has resulted in a widely shared sense of fear that the drug traffickers might return due to the apparent cracks in the program. Even though many drug barons have been relocated, they are still able to intimidate residents through covert actions such as graffiti or undercover visits. The fear has been worsened by the police officers exercising preference in their policing work and notably through the injunction of notorious funk parties in the favela, a factor that has greatly affected the youths from the favela, the parties have replaced with those that have a richer clientele base implying the entrance fees are considerably high and those who can access the facilities are the wealthy. These actions have disrupted the culture of the favela residents significantly.

The cost of living for the urban power population that dominates the favela has risen significantly; this is due to the development of new restrictions and tax hurdles which were non-existent initially. The cost of public service has also increased significantly. The burden of paying rents I getting heavier and heavier for the low-income citizens and has led to their eviction from their places of residence, this has forced them to move from the favelas and move to the marginalized areas in the cities.

Citizens also feel demoralized with the regime that prescribes to negotiating with criminals and drug barons. This makes the citizens believe that the government is tolerating the criminal elements. This has increased the deterioration of trust between the government and the general public as the program is seen to sympathize with criminal elements. This continued distrust between the community and the UPP enforcers the biggest challenge in the implementation of the program.

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Wholesomely, the program has been criticized heavily. The criticism mainly revolved around the violation of human rights in the favela by the police who carried out operations to flush out the drug lords and drug cartels that operated in the favelas. Members of the public also feel that the program to some extent works in favour of private entities at the expense of the larger population. The failure of the police units to curb crimes such as rape, theft and kidnappings has also tainted the image of the practice. This factor combined with other factors have led to a greater opposition to the program in the favela region.

Conclusion

An in-depth analysis of the project of pacifying police unit indicates that; one the project was successful; this can be supported by the fact that the government was able to retake the favelas that were initially inaccessible by government urgencies. This constitutes the objectives that the project intended to achieve. This has been reflected in many shanty towns such as Santa Marta. Secondly, the project is a success as the security level in the favelas has been boosted tremendously. Going by statistical data, the number of lethal crimes in the favelas declined by 65%, and murders that target the police force also declined greatly. The project made it possible to flush out the drug lords who previously operated in the favelas. The inter-gang clashes that often led to the death of citizens from stray bullets also declined tremendously.

However, the project had some shortcomings. First, the citizens lack trust and confidence in a system that chooses to negotiate with criminals rather than apprehending and jailing them. Petty crimes have also been on the rise, theft, rape among other crimes have tremendously been on the rise with little or no intervention from the police. Police corruption is another issue that has made the project seem ineffective, the citizens in the favela believe that the pacification program benefits only a few individuals especially people with businesses. Reports of police brutality have also hit the headlines many times, the citizens who have been arrested have often sustained injuries from the brutal actions of the cops. Being the only government figure in the favela, the police have assumed the responsibility of the government and have used their authority and power to harass the citizens within the favela. All these considered and going by the objective of the pacifying the police units in the favela it is evident it has been a success.

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  1. Micheal, Wolff J. “Policing and Logic of Violance: A comparative analysis of the Security reforms in Brazil .” Policing and the Society (2015): 1-15.
  2. Ruediger, Marco Aurélio. “The rise and fall of Brazil’s public security program: PRONASCI.” Police Practice and Research (2013): 280–294.
  3. Veloso, Leticia. “Governing heterogeneity in the context of ‘compulsory closeness’: the ‘pacification’ of favelas .” Suburbanization in Global Society (2015): 253-272. electronic.
  4. Berkmann von der Wehl, Candice. The Impact the Pacifying Police Units (UPPs) have on Rio de Janeiro’s favelas. BS thesis. 2016.
  5. Ahnen, Ronald E. “The politics of police violence in democratic Brazil.” Latin American Politics and Society 49.1 (2007): 141-164.
  6. Freeman, James. “Neoliberal accumulation strategies and the visible hand of police pacification in Rio de Janeiro.” Revista de Estudos Universitários 38.1 (2012): 95-126.
  7. Arias, Enrique Desmond. “The impacts of differential armed dominance of politics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.” Studies in Comparative International Development 48.3 (2013): 263-284.
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