By Zoë Roller, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – While the UPP (Police Pacification Unit) program in Rio has had many successes in the past few years confronting drug trafficking in the favelas, the surrounding metropolitan region has seen crime rates rise as criminals flee the city. The number of arrests in outlying areas like Niterói, São Gonçalo and Duque de Caxias has increased significantly, bringing residents to protest.
According to a February 2012 Public Security Institute study, home robberies in Niterói have gone up 285.7 percent compared to the past year. Car break-ins are up 71 percent and muggings are up 13.5 percent, according to the report.
This past Sunday (April 15th) Niterói residents staged several demonstrations demanding more security. Protesters gathered on São Francisco beach, singing the national anthem and holding signs with slogans like “Niterói will not be taken hostage by violence!”, “UPP in Niterói now!” and “We want police on the streets!”
Earlier this week, Security Secretary José Mariano Beltrame promised to send 200 reinforcements to Niterói’s police precinct in the next ten days; protester allege that only forty have appeared. He plans to test the new “Mais Polícia” (More Police) program, in which officers work overtime in especially dangerous areas, in Niterói.
At a demonstration in Icaraí, protesters stood behind a barbed wire fence to show that they feel trapped by fear. Rio de Paz, the group that organized the protest, demanded foot patrols rather than mounted police in crime-ridden neighborhoods, to allow interaction and trust between officers and residents. They also cited the lack of communication between the Military and Civil Police as a failure of the security apparatus.
On April 14th Maria Antônia Dos Santos, 48 years old, and an unidentified 14-year-old boy were killed during shootouts between traffickers and police. The boy is suspected of involvement with traffickers. Residents of Cantagalo, the neighborhood where Dos Santos was killed, took a more aggressive stand against violence: they hijacked a bus and blocked off a street in protest.
Understaffed police stations have been a problem in Niterói for some time: in 1970 there were 3,200 active duty Military Police officers in the city; today there are only 800, although the population increased by fifty percent in the same period. Jorge Roberto Silveira, the mayor of Niterói, acknowledged that the criminal exodus from Rio has exacerbated the situation.
“When they crack down in Rio, crime overflows to Niterói. […] The UPP project in Rio is very important, but we always knew it could cause trouble here.” Silveira is working with Governor Sérgio Cabral to create long term solutions.
Secretary Beltrame addressed the connection between crime in Niterói and UPPs in Rio for the first time at a public ceremony on April 11th. “We don’t have definite proof that traffickers migrated [to Rio’s suburbs]. Obviously this is what’s happening, but there’s no quantifiable data: if it’s one trafficker, if it’s one hundred or one thousand.”
There are, however, reported links between crime in Niterói and pacification in Rio, as traffickers in the Morro da Coruja favela on the border of Niterói and São Gonçalo, are suspected of having operated in the Complexo do Alemão before moving across the bay.
Trafficker movement as a result of pacification has been documented within Rio de Janeiro as well: gang members reportedly attempted to invade Maré after the invasion of Alemão, while others were thought to have fled to Morro do Turano, in Tijuca, when an UPP was installed in Salgueiro.