By Nelson Belen, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Authorities in Rio de Janeiro received some reassuring news this week as a survey released by the Getulio Vargas Foundation (FGV) shows a high percentage of the city’s favela community residents with Pacifying Police Units (UPPs) want the program to continue. According to the FGV survey, 75.8 percent of favela residents want the program to remain, however 43.4 percent are reported to fear the program will end following the 2016 Olympics.
Since 2008, the UPP program has provided various services, such as police and transportation to favela communities that were long-neglected. The results of the program have been a mixed bag, with some studies showing decreases in crime in UPP areas.
The Santa Marta community, the first area included in the UPP program, recently held a celebration for the seventh anniversary of the program in the area. In many of these favelas in Zona Sul (South Zone), near traditional tourist hubs like Copacabana and Ipanema, the increased security presence has also affected commerce, demonstrated by the number of hostels that has opened up in favelas near these attractions.
Yet other studies have shown that despite the increased police presence, some UPP areas have seen an increase in violent crime and homicide. The program has proved controversial from the start, and the larger communities in Zona Norte (North Zone) continue to see daily violence, with gun battles raging between police and drug gangs.
The recent FGV study was conducted in twenty of the 38 favela communities within the UPP program and had two thousand participants. The report also showed 17.2 had been subjected to police searches, with 9.8 percent reporting police abuse. Despite the high number of participants who want the UPP program to continue, the average overall score given to the UPP program’s performance by favela residents was quite low, 5.3 percent.
American expatriate Patrick Barwinski, a freelance graphic designer from California who has lived in the Vidigal since 2015, said “When I moved in at the time I did not hear or see much of people commenting about the UPP. All I remember was seeing the police patrolling the entrance of Vidigal everyday as I left my home and arrived from a days adventure. In my opinion I think the majority of the people are thankful for the UPP being here.”
Vidigal was one of the communities included in the FGV survey and is considered one of the city’s safer favelas. “I think most residents believe the UPP will remain after the Olympics,” Barwinksi added, “As to if they will be more or less effective… I believe it will be the same as it is today. A very happy, safe and tranquil community.”
Commenting on the FGV survey, the Security Secretary Jose Mariano Beltrame, told O Globo news, “The research confirms what we always knew, because I go to the communities and talk to everyone,” the secretary said, “No one better to assess the UPP than the residents. I believe we are on the right track, most want the program to continue. It is clear that an initiative of this dimension always needs tweaking. Let’s make them and move on.”