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 / 6 FEB 2015

Police in Brazil are questioning the treasurer of the ruling Workers' Party over the Petrobras corruption case, as the scandal…

COLOMBIA / 3 JUL 2015

A report implicating top Colombian army officers in extrajudicial killings committed by soldiers further illustrates how the criteria used to…

MEXICO / 12 APR 2018

A new report suggests that as many as three-quarters of private security companies in Mexico may be operating off the…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

Oceans Pillaged in Central America and the Caribbean

5 AUG 2022

Last week, InSight Crime published the first installment of a nine-part investigation uncovering the hidden depths of Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing in Latin America. The first installment covered Central America and…

THE ORGANIZATION

Venezuela’s Tren de Aragua Becomes Truly Transnational

29 JUL 2022

This week, InSight Crime published a deep dive into the total control that Venezuelan mega-gang, Tren de Aragua, has over the lives of those it smuggles between Venezuela and Chile…

THE ORGANIZATION

Turkish Traffickers Delivering Latin American Cocaine to Persian Gulf

15 JUL 2022

Last week, InSight Crime published the second half of an investigation piecing together the emerging role of Turkish cocaine traffickers in supplying Russia and the Persian Gulf, which are among…

THE ORGANIZATION

Turkey as a Lynchpin in European Cocaine Pipeline

8 JUL 2022

InSight Crime is extending its investigation into the cocaine pipeline to Europe, and tracking the growing connections between Latin American drug traffickers and European criminal organizations. This led us to…

THE ORGANIZATION

Memo Fantasma Coverage Gets Worldwide Attention

1 JUL 2022

Guillermo Acevedo, the former Colombian drug lord and paramilitary commander better known as Memo Fantasma, may soon be allowed to leave prison. Since first revealing the identity of Memo Fantasma…