What are Rio's security crackdowns accomplishing?
How effective is Rio's 2008 public safety policy, if it pushes crime out of one neighborhood and into another, asks guest blogger Julia Michaels.
• A version of this post ran on the author's blog, Riorealblog.com. The views expressed are the author's own.Skip to next paragraph
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How much can a city change? This is the question underlying doubts arising in the last two weeks regarding Rio’s public safety policy.
You may believe that the values, habits, and assumptions of a city and its inhabitants, developed over the course of generations, are static; immutable. In this case, the police and politicians are forever corrupt and criminals are constantly crooked, while innocent citizens are always at the mercy of both. Rio’s 2008 public safety policy is for show, a temporary lockdown until the Olympics are done.
Or you may think that change occurs when systems no longer provide what they were created to do; when new demands crop up that they can’t meet. In this case, police and politicians become enlightened, criminals have fewer options, and innocent citizens find themselves called on to adapt their own values, habits and assumptions. Rio’s 2008 public safety policy is part of a larger socioeconomic turn of the tide and the fabrics of the city’s favelas, or slums, and its formal neighborhoods are turning from patchwork to a single weave.
When the new public safety policy was conceived, officials knew that drug traffickers would flee to other favelas. Police occupation is announced beforehand, after all. Over the last three years we’ve seen criminals run to Complexo do Alemão and Rocinha, among other [favelas]. Now that these have been occupied, the fallout is occurring within a wider radius.
State Public Safety Secretary José Mariano Beltrame admitted yesterday for the first time that increased crime in the city of Niterói, across the bay from Rio, is due to police pacification and occupation in the state capital (all links in Portuguese unless noted). Military and civil police have also turned their sights on the mountain towns in the state of Rio de Janeiro, on Manguinhos and Jacarezinho favelas, and on allied activities of Rio and São Paulo traffickers, to transport drugs and weapons.
Manpower has always been an issue for public safety officials, and it’s gotten more serious as the geography involved widens. Rocinha is now partly policed by new pacification police recruits, though it’s under BOPE (elite squad) command, still in the occupation phase.
“Is it possible to institute new police practices with police who are accustomed to the old ways?” asks Cecília Oliveira, communications coordinator for Redes de Desenvolvimento da Maré, a highly successful NGO in the Maré complex of favelas and housing projects, next on Beltrame’s list. “The new officers have sixty days of training, and the old ones, old practices,” she adds.