By Matthew Elliott, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – In a massive overhaul of the city’s military police leadership, changes in command in 25 of the 34 police pacification units (UPP) have been announced. As part of the move Rio’s most senior female police officer was named new commander of Rocinha, often considered Brazil’s largest favela.
Major Priscilla Oliveira de Azevedo was inaugurated on September 6th as the new Rocinha Commander, leaving her post as project coordinator in the State Department of Public Safety. She has a strong pedigree having led the cities first UPP in Santa Marta between 2008 and 2010.
In 2009 Veja Magazine named her ‘Defender of the City’ as part of the Rio de Janeiro Personality of the Year Awards. Last year she was awarded for her “outstanding leadership and courage” by the U.S. State Department during a ceremony on International Women’s Day.
“I ask that the community has confidence in the military police. I dedicated myself for many years in Santa Marta to improve the lives of people who really need us, and they can be sure that I’m not going to do any differently in Rocinha,” she said.
The shakeup of positions in the military police was announced by general commander of the Police Pacification Units (UPPs) in Rio de Janeiro, Colonel Frederico Caldas, who had pledged serious reconstruction as part of his new tenure.
“The idea is to create a different dynamic and to present a challenge. We realize that commanders are very young, and the young like a challenge. Many were in charge of a UPP for a long time, and we decided this first month to make some changes. Some officers were there three years ago and ended up not having more critical views and the necessary objectivity,” the Colonel told reporters.
Major Edson dos Santos of the Rocinha unit was the first casualty following widespread outrage over the disappearance of bricklayer Amarildo de Souza after a police operation on July 14th. The former commander and four officers are now the subject of investigation by the Public Ministry for administrative misconduct during the operation.
Besides the civil proceedings, the police are also being investigated for alleged torture and abuse of authority. The complaint was made by the 15th District Attorney’s Criminal Investigation of the 1st Central Surveys.
In a statement, the Ministry said, “the proposed civil action is an initiative of a prosecutor and the command of the Military Police will await the decision of the judiciary. Regarding this issue there is a police investigation underway in the Homicide Division (DH) and Military Police Investigation in the internal affairs of the PM and both procedures are being followed up by promoters of the prosecution.”
Caldas denied that the revamp was necessitated by allegations of police excesses committed by the UPPs, but acknowledged that the Amarildo case had made the position of Rocinha commander Edson dos Santos untenable. “These cases were emblematic, but have not had a direct influence on the movement. When I arrived on the first day, I took the decision to ask the military police command to replace Major Edson.”
The Military Police in Brazil compromises around 400,00 officers and is responsible for maintaining public order and immediately responding to crimes. Last year the UN Council on Human Rights asked the Brazilian government to move towards abolishing the PM, due to accusations of extra-judicial killings.