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Why some Rio residents yearn for an iron-fisted druglord

After the police occupation of a large Rio de Janeiro favela last year, there is a new spike in crime, the result of poor police coordination, says guest blogger Julia Michaels.

By Julia MichaelsGuest blogger / April 5, 2012

Police officers belonging to the Special Police Operations Battalion check the identity documents of a couple at the Rocinha slum in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Wednesday, April 4. Hundreds of police from different units are searching for the man who killed a policeman in Brazil's largest slum earlier in the day.

Victor R. Caivano/AP

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A version of this post ran on the author's blog, riorealblog.com. The views expressed are the author's own.

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The day after Rocinha’s police occupation last November, O Globo newspaper announced to the world on its front page that Rocinha é nossa, Rocinha is ours. However, it seems that several other groups are contesting ownership of  the South Zone’s largest and most visible favela, or slum, with an estimated population of 200,000.

According to press reports, two drug gangs are fighting over the territory, up for grabs since druglord Nem was arrested while hiding in the trunk of a car, also last November. That’s the explanation for most of the eight murders that have taken place since occupation. Robberies are also on the rise. Such crime hasn’t been seen in other pacified favelas, though there have been problems with police corruption and community relations.

Rocinha doesn’t yet have a UPP, or police pacification unit. Each of the city’s nineteen units have been installed only after a territory is fully in control of the Rio police – certainly not the case here. Given the crime spike, some residents yearn for the return of an iron-fisted druglord.

Yet the state government is far from allowing a return to the past. This week State Public Safety Secretary José Mariano Beltrame announced that 130 new recruits will intern in Rocinha, bringing more manpower to an additional 40-man contingent and swelling the total force there to 350. Most are meant to carry out foot patrols in the favela’s alleyways.

Beltrame also named a military police commander (in Portuguese) responsible solely for Rocinha.

In late February, Governor Sérgio Cabral signed a decree requiring police and firemen to provide annual declarations of their personal assets (in Portuguese).

But the Rio police might do well to extend to Rocinha the level of technological intelligence and coordination reportedly now being utilized in Complexo to Alemão (in Portuguese), another troublesome territory. Only last week did the military police begin taking over Alemão from the Brazilian Army, which back in November 2010 had invaded the complex of favelas, in response to a series of vehicle torchings that terrorized the city.

There are already some cameras installed in Rocinha. Even better intelligence – and possibly, intelligence sharing – could help nail what this week’s Veja newsmagazine says is the real reason why Rocinha still isn’t “ours”:

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