HomeNewsBriefRefusal to Respond to Calls Highlights Demise of Rio's UPP Program
BRIEF

Refusal to Respond to Calls Highlights Demise of Rio's UPP Program

BRAZIL / 22 JAN 2018 BY C.H. GARDINER EN

Amid crippling budget cuts and broken public confidence, authorities in charge of Rio De Janeiro’s flagship security initiative are refusing to respond to calls from certain areas considered "high risk," shining a spotlight on the slow unraveling of the once-lauded program.

According to incident reports obtained by Extra, Rio's Police Pacification Units (Unidade de Polícia Pacificadora – UPP) have been declining to respond to calls where there is an expectation of violent confrontation with criminal elements.

In one instance earlier this month, the UPP in the neighborhood of Vila Cruzeiro refused to respond to a report from a resident who said he had found his sister's dead body.

"The favela is dominated by gangsters," one UPP officer told Extra. "There are areas you can only get into in a group. We're not going to put our lives at risk."

A similar incident was reported in October 2017. UPP agents refused to respond, saying the residence where the body was found "is in a risky area, and to be able to access the area would require a large operation."

The UPP program, started in 2008, was once widely-praised for initial successes in bringing down violent crime rates in parts of Rio de Janeiro, but it has come under increasing criticism in recent years as the city's security situation has backslid.

Since 2013, a budget crisis stemming from mismanagement and corruption resulted in Rio’s security expenditures being cut by 32 percent. Last year, the administration of some UPPs were merged into the nearby military police battalions, and the budget for 2018 assigned only 10,000 Brazilian Reals (about $3,000) for the upkeep of the entire program.

Recent administrative changes were not the first sign of trouble for the program. Repeated human rights abuses by members of the UPP, including the 2013 torture and murder of Amarildo de Souza, a bricklayer from the favela of Rocinha, have left community confidence in the program shaken.

InSight Crime Analysis

The UPP program, once championed for leading to initial improvements in security in Rio, has suffered from a perfect storm of statewide economic woes and a lack of public confidence that have contributed to the units' inability to operate in areas they were meant to reclaim from the control of criminal groups.

The original idea of the UPP program was to flood areas under criminal control with security forces, which would allow the state to begin building a legitimate presence through socioeconomic initiatives aimed at undermining community support for crime groups.

SEE ALSO: Brazil News and Profiles

However, budget cuts hindered the implementation of the planned socioeconomic programs, while increasing the incentive for corruption among police whose salaries were not being paid on time or in full. Moreover, problematic training and oversight practices contributed to a pattern of abuses by the UPPs, reducing community trust in their mission. (Recent studies show the UPPs are less likely to be seen positively by those most likely to interact with the program.)

The refusal to respond to calls due to security concerns underscores the shortcomings of the UPP program so far, and will likely further reduce trust in the already much-questioned initiative.

At the same time, Rio's ongoing financial difficulties will complicate efforts to change course. Top officials, including the head of the army, have warned against the increasing reliance on the military to assist civilian authorities with security operations. But the trend toward militarization seems set to continue, given the lack of political support for alternative anti-crime strategies.

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 / 19 JUL 2012

A suspected Brazilian gang leader based in one of Paraguay's key locations for smuggling contraband was gunned down while playing…

BRAZIL / 20 JUL 2011

Some 23 Nigerian nationals were arrested in Brazil's São Paulo airport, where they were trying to take a flight to…

ECUADOR / 18 FEB 2015

In 2011, Ecuador was one of the most violent countries in Latin America; the homicide rate had risen to over…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Tackles Illegal Fishing

15 OCT 2021

In October, InSight Crime and American University’s Center for Latin American and Latino Studies (CLALS) began a year-long project on illegal, unreported, unregulated (IUU) fishing in…

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Featured in Handbook for Reporting on Organized Crime

8 OCT 2021

In late September, the Global Investigative Journalism Network (GIJN) published an excerpt of its forthcoming guide on reporting organized crime in Indonesia.

THE ORGANIZATION

Probing Organized Crime in Haiti

1 OCT 2021

InSight Crime has made it a priority to investigate organized crime in Haiti, where an impotent state is reeling after the July assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, coupled with an…

THE ORGANIZATION

Emergency First Aid in Hostile Environments

24 SEP 2021

At InSight Crime's annual treat, we ramped up hostile environment and emergency first aid training for our 40-member staff, many of whom conduct on-the-ground investigations in dangerous corners of the region.

THE ORGANIZATION

Series on Environmental Crime in the Amazon Generates Headlines

17 SEP 2021

InSight Crime and the Igarapé Institute have been delighted at the response to our joint investigation into environmental crimes in the Colombian Amazon. Coverage of our chapters dedicated to illegal mining…