HomeNewsAnalysisBrazil's UPP Struggles as Criminal Titans Continue Fight
ANALYSIS

Brazil's UPP Struggles as Criminal Titans Continue Fight

BRAZIL / 5 MAY 2017 BY CHARLES ORTA AND LEONARDO GOI EN

A new report on crime statistics in Brazil's state of Rio de Janeiro shows deteriorating violence indicators over a period of several years, raising continued questions about the extent to which the city's public security policies have been effective.

The Institute of Public Security (ISP), an independent entity affiliated with Rio de Janeiro's state security agency, issued a report on April 28 detailing crime statistics in Rio for the month of March using data from local police stations.

According to the study, Rio de Janeiro has seen significant increases in the proportion of intentional homicides, vehicle thefts, and homicides resulting from police intervention in 2017, compared to the same period last year. Respectively, there was an 11.6 percent, 47.5 percent, and 96.7 percent increase in these indicators in March 2017, compared to March 2016.

The trend remains largely the same when comparing data from the first three months of 2017 and 2016, with a 17.5 percent, 37.6 percent, and 85.2 percent rise this year in intentional homicides, vehicle thefts, and homicides resulting from police intervention, respectively.

The study also suggests that the increasing frequency of these types of crime over the past year is representative of a larger pattern in worsening crime rates, particularly with respect to vehicle thefts and homicides resulting from police intervention.

Registered cases of these two crimes in Rio have generally risen consistently since at least January 2014, more than doubling in the case of homicides resulting from police intervention.

Relatedly, Brazilian authorities have accused leaders of one of the country's main criminal groups, the Red Command (Comando Vermelho), of ordering a recent attack in Rio from behind bars. On May 3, alleged members of the criminal group raided several parts of the city, burning nine buses and looting two trucks.

"We can confirm that the order was sent by Red Command leaders, detained in prisons outside of Rio," Carlos Augusto Leba, head of Rio's Civil Police, told a press conference.

According to El País Brasil, the attacks were the Red Command's response to a large police operation designed to prevent the group from entering Cidade Alta, a neighborhood controlled by a rival group known as the Pure Third Command (Terceiro Comando Puro).

The operation led to the seizure of 32 rifles, 45 arrests -- almost all suspected members of the Red Command -- and left two dead. Authorities hailed it as a success.

"In 34 years of working for the police, I had never seen such an effective operation and an arms seizure this big," said Rio's Security Secretary Roberto Sá.

But the situation in Rio remains critical. On May 3, Justice Minister Osmar Serraglio announced that additional federal security forces will be sent to the city to help curb violence, reported The Rio Times.

InSight Crime Analysis

The ISP study provides further evidence of a continuing deterioration of previous security gains in Rio attributed to the city's "pacification" strategy, which involves sending special security forces, known as Police Pacification Units (Unidade de Polícia Pacificadora - UPP), to establish a presence in particularly crime-ridden areas of the city. 

While the initial results of the pacification efforts seemed promising, the UPP initiative has been marred in controversy since its start in 2008. And criticism of the strategy has grown louder in recent years.

As UPPs expanded into larger, more violent informal neighborhoods known as "favelas," they were faced with intense pushback from criminal groups, which has only been exacerbated by sharp budget cuts and an insufficient focus on social development programs.

The increasingly apparent inability of UPPs to serve as a long-term violence reduction solution is further highlighted by the dramatic rise in homicides resulting from police intervention indicated in the ISP study. As InSight Crime previously reported, ISP statistics also show that since March 2016 the number of killings by police have exceeded the figure registered for the same period the previous year, a problem that UPPs and other heavy-handed tactics tend to exacerbate.

SEE ALSO: Brazil News and Profiles

According to a recent Amnesty International report, authorities in Brazil are increasingly ignoring the problem and turning a blind eye to excessive force by Rio police.

The government's announcement that it would escalate its security presence in Rio de Janeiro by sending additional federal security forces to the area following the recent clashes between police and gangs suggests that authorities will continue to rely on heavy-handed public security policies to deal with crime. Rio Security Secretary Sá recently indicated that he is open to revising the city's security policies, but so far there have been no clear indications of a coming overhaul.

It is possible that rising crime rates could spur Rio officials to re-examine the UPP policy, particularly in light of evidence that Rio-based crime groups are becoming bolder and more violent. (The day after the May 3 attack that destroyed several vehicles, suspected members of a drug trafficking group assaulted a UPP outpost in the Complexo de Alemão favela.)

However, any efforts to implement major changes in the city's security strategy are likely to be hampered by an ongoing budget crisis that has been blamed for contributing to the rising crime rates.

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

Related Content

BRAZIL / 4 AUG 2015

A new report from Amnesty International offers a harsh critique of heavy-handed policing tactics in the Brazilian city of Rio…

BRAZIL / 11 SEP 2018

New immigration restrictions announced by some countries in Latin America to stem the tide of migrants fleeing Venezuela could create…

BARRIO AZTECA / 3 JUL 2018

The recent arrest of a top Barrio Azteca leader in Mexico offers additional insight into the criminal and drug trafficking…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

Who Are Memo Fantasma and Sergio Roberto de Carvalho?

24 JUN 2022

Inside the criminal career of Memo Fantasma  In March 2020, InSight Crime revealed the identity and whereabouts of Memo Fantasma, a paramilitary commander and drug trafficker living in…

THE ORGANIZATION

Environmental and Academic Praise

17 JUN 2022

InSight Crime’s six-part series on the plunder of the Peruvian Amazon continues to inform the debate on environmental security in the region. Our Environmental Crimes Project Manager, María Fernanda Ramírez,…

LA ORGANIZACIÓN

Series on Plunder of Peru’s Amazon Makes Headlines

10 JUN 2022

Since launching on June 2, InSight Crime’s six-part series on environmental crime in Peru’s Amazon has been well-received. Detailing the shocking impunity enjoyed by those plundering the rainforest, the investigation…

THE ORGANIZATION

Duarte’s Death Makes Waves

3 JUN 2022

The announcement of the death of Gentil Duarte, one of the top dissident commanders of the defunct Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), continues to reverberate in Venezuela and Colombia.

THE ORGANIZATION

Cattle Trafficking Acclaim, Investigation into Peru’s Amazon 

27 MAY 2022

On May 18, InSight Crime launched its most recent investigation into cattle trafficking between Central America and Mexico. It showed precisely how beef, illicitly produced in Honduras, Guatemala…