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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.

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If all the mapped data were to be posted on the Internet it could clear up a great deal of doubt about life in pacified favelas and the challenges they present to the city of Rio – for people who live in them and for those who don’t, as well. Making this data available to researchers would also open the door to an impact study.

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When President Juscelino Kubitschek got it into his head to build Brasília in the 1950s, he spoke about pushing the country ahead fifty years, in only five. What Rio is doing to prepare for its growing list of megaevents is a comparable task: police manpower has grown exponentially over the last few years, with shortcuts in preparation that they themselves fault. The Military Police force for all of Rio state, including 5,000 pacification police, totals 40,000-plus today and is set to grow to 60,000 by 2014.

Setting up police pacification units (guys with guns in snappy uniforms, who’ve had six months’ training) looks a great deal easier than mapping and meeting needs for trash collection, health care, public lighting, education, day care, legal aid, and so much else. But it may well turn out that both sides of the coin are equally challenging.

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Perhaps it’s time for a new mantra? Here are the UPP impact study’s recommendations to Rio’s pacification police force:

1. Include local homicide rates in the criteria for selecting new UPP areas. This could have a systemic effect, sending a message to organized crime to bring down the violence level or “lose” their territories.

2. Systematize working criteria and procedures. Police and residents need to know how disturbances of the peace, mototaxis, and funk dances are to be dealt with, for example. Police need to know what to do when children describe drug use at home, and what types of performance will be rewarded.

3. Improve work facilities and reformulate pay bonuses. Current pay delays damage morale.

4. Intensify and improve training. One or two weeks of proximity policing techniques cannot undo pre-formed values and behaviors.

5. Take measures to legitimate police pacification within the Military Police.  Police lethality reduction goals, linked to bonuses, would help to mitigate the rejection of UPP police by the rest of the force.

6. Rethink police response to drug crime. The change in focus from drugs to weapons should be more complete and even-handed, and the police should no longer repress drug-use-related cultural manifestations such as funk dances as if these were enemy territory. In doing so they will gain the trust of young people, who now often consider their actions arbitrary and unjust.

7. Deepen the community component of UPPs. There should be more interaction between police and residents, at all levels. This will increase police identification with the project. 

8. Promote mechanisms for community decision-making. This should help fill the authority vacuum left by drug traffickers, which police have been stepping into in an irregular and controversial manner.

9. Promote community representation and political participation. The study points out this missing element in the pacification equation, adding that a police role is questionable for this item, though it should be taken into consideration as other issues are sorted out.

Stay tuned for more on this subject, once RioRealblog has had a chance to speak with pacification police officials on their reaction to the study and what they’re doing to develop the program further.

Julia Michaels, a long-time resident of Brazil, writes the blog Rio Real, which she describes as a constructive and critical view of Rio de Janeiro’s ongoing transformation.

The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of Latin America bloggers. Our guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. To contact us about a blogger, click here.

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