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Brazil is stamping out favela violence – now on to trash collection and education

Brazil's first impact study on its Police Pacification Units reveals that the program has significantly reduced violence, but still needs extensive reform.

By Julia MichaelsGuest blogger / August 1, 2012

Military police patrol the Complexo do Alemao slum in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Tuesday, July 24, 2012. Public safety authorities say a police officer was shot and killed in this hillside favela slum that's a key symbol of the Olympic city's highly publicized slum pacification program.

Felipe Dana/AP


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

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Ever since pacification began in Rio de Janeiro, in November 2008, we’ve been hearing (and saying) that social needs must also be met. As the number of UPPs, or police pacification units, grow (now at 26, employing 5,000 men and women, with a goal of 40 by 2014), State Public Safety Secretary José Mariano Beltrame – and many others – repeat the mantra about the other side of the coin.

The Social UPP got off to a shaky start, with Governor Sérgio Cabral’s political needs shoving it out of the state nest in December 2010, into the municipal one, under the aegis of the Pereira Passos Institute. From day one however, it’s been run by Ricardo Henriques (who next week hands his post over to former municipal finance secretary Eduarda La Rocque, who is to keep on current director Tiago Borba) and a growing team, in partnership with the United Nations Habitat program.

Centuries of neglect and the mantra repetition have led to the general perception in Rio that police pacification is dangerously outpacing the city’s ability to meet social needs.

But the first wide-ranging examination of the impact of police pacification reveals that though it has significantly reduced violence in and around UPP communities, the project that lies at the core of Rio’s remarkable turnaround needs extensive reform itself.

Fortunately, the police are listening. Study coordinator Ignacio Cano, with a long history of research in the area of public security and human rights, is now in dialogue with the men and women in uniform. Hopefully, they’re poring over his  ‘Os donos do morrro’: uma avaliação exploratória do impacto das unidades de polícia pacificadora (UPPs) no Rio de Janeiro ['The owners of the hill': an exploratory impact evaluation of the police pacification units].

“Just a decade ago, whether in training or research, the police in general wanted little to do with the academic community and flatly rejected or refused to cooperate with researchers,” observes Liz Leeds, founder of the Brazilian Forum on Public Safety and creator of the Democratic Policing Initiative when she was a Ford Foundation program officer in Rio, in the early 2000s.  ”Today that cooperation is not only possible but frequently sought after by the police,” continues Ms. Leeds.  ”Of course,  the police are not always happy with the results of independent research when the conclusions are negative.  It is a process that involves the gradual break-down of long-held mutual mistrust and prejudice between the two communities”.


Mr. Cano’s study, funded by the Caracas-based Development Bank of Latin America by way of the Brazilian Forum on Public Safety, took great methodological pains in comparing crime statistics. Which makes it particularly heartening to find that statistics for UPP communities, for police stations serving them, and for their geographical surroundings, all show that UPPs significantly reduce lethal violence. Interestingly, they also increase non-lethal crime: robberies and such may be on the rise now (and/or being reported more) because the iron-fisted rule of drug traffickers is ending.

In UPP favelas alone, pacification saves an estimated 60 lives a year per 100,000 inhabitants.

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