HomeNewsAnalysisRio's Turnaround: The Next Phase

Rio's Turnaround: The Next Phase


With some of Rio de Janeiro's most crime-ridden favelas under police occupation, the next step is to build solid institutions to make sure the progress sticks, explains Rio-based blogger Julia Michaels.

Tricky Moment

Crimes targeted by the new public safety policy continue to drop. The number of police pacification units [UPPs] continues to grow, with the current 18 expected to jump to 28 by October, when 10 units will set up in the Alemão and Penha favela complexes.

And, according to state Social Assistance and Human Rights Secretary Rodrigo Neves, Rocinha favela -- together with Vidigal, a glaring reminder to the city’s South Zone that most of Rio’s 600-plus favelas still lie outside the state’s full domain -- will soon be occupied and pacified.

The cable car system in the Alemão complex has begun operating, with apparent success at offering alternative transportation to the area’s 500,000 residents (See photo above). Already, discount tours are being offered.

Cariocas are increasingly proud of their city. Their mental map of it is changing.

A great deal has been accomplished since Rio began its turnaround in 2007. After five disastrous decades, it’s as if we’ve managed to clear away piles of rubble in the last four years, and set up a generally acceptable and peaceable modus vivendi.

No More Tents?

But the time has come to dig deeper, to bring in the bulldozers and pour solid foundations for institutions that can withstand the vagaries of Brazilian politics. Success on this front would lead Rio to make an important contribution to the development of Brazil’s democracy, which dates only to 1985.

State Public Safety Secretary Jose Mariano Beltrame recognized the challenge in May, when he complained that social programs in pacified favelas were moving too slowly.

With the help of the UN Habitat program, the social UPP has now accelerated its pace to a new favela a week and is set to operate in all pacified communities by October. Millions of the city budget are going into trash collection, housing, police wages, lighting, drainage, mobility, sewage and water piping, public areas, sports and leisure equipment, and water storage.

And O Globo newspaper brought excellent news today on one of Rio’s most unsightly blemishes: police training and corruption. Plans are to change the classroom focus from war to peace, and open the door to outside instructors. Currently, for example, the BOPE elite squad site [police special forces unit] looks and sounds like an introduction to some kind of gang-cum-heavy metal band, light-years from the values of community policing. By 2015, all 55,000 military and civil police officers are supposed to have retrained.

“Police should know that shooting is the last thing to do. The first is exactly what most are still unaccustomed to doing: learning to listen, to engage in dialogue,” Juliana Barroso, state undersecretary for learning and prevention programs, told O Globo. Barroso moved to Rio from Brasilia about six months ago, to evaluate Rio’s six police schools and oversee the new program.

If Secretary Beltrame has his way, last June’s alleged police shooting of an 11-year-old black boy in a favela alley will stand out as a turning point, instead of one more death in an endless stream of impunity. Last week, the military police force fired 30 soldiers accused of crimes ranging from conspiracy to torture and attempted homicide. Trials have been speeded up, with 40 scheduled for this week; and the corp’s forward-looking commander general, philosopher and blogger Mario Sergio Duarte, will have final say on the cases.

According to O Globo, over 1,000 military and civil police officers have been fired for criminal activity since 2007, and the numbers of arrests are on the rise.

“This could produce a historic change in the military police, in the longer term,” says Silvia Ramos, an academic researcher who recently conducted a survey of pacification police. “[It could] turn the page in terms of a police force focused on war, on confrontation, belligerence, and the ideology of death to the lowlifes.”

Who or what will carry on?

How deep is deep enough, when it comes to pouring sturdy foundations in a city such as Rio de Janeiro, where the subsoil is sandy and full of underground rivers? Observers from a variety of areas have expressed concern to RioRealblog in the last several weeks, especially after Governor Sergio Cabral’s botched handling of the firemen’s strike and the revelation of his conflicts of interest, by way of a helicopter crash. They worry that the transformation of Rio is built on personal relationships, so much more transitory than institution-based policy responsibility, design, implementation, monitoring, evaluation and adjustment.

Julita Lemgruber, a former prison administrator and sociologist with a focus on public safety, recently criticized the effectiveness of Beltrame’s attempt to get the military and civil police -- traditional competitors, the former as street cops, the lattter doing investigative work -- to collaborate. RioRealblog asked her about the RISPs, geographical units of the city for which military and civil police have joint responsiblity to bring down crime. Beltrame has said that Rio’s public safety policy is equally based on the police pacification units and the RISPs.

“They don’t work,” Lemgruber said. “The military and civil police should be having weekly meetings, planning, evaluating. They aren’t doing it.”

Reprinted with permission from Julia Michaels*, a reporter who has lived in Rio almost 30 years. See her blog, Rio Real, which is in English and Portuguese, and read the original post here.

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