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By Jay Forte, Contributing Reporter

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The Pacifying Police Units (UPPs) program in Rio will undergo major structural reforms, cutting its standing force by one third, according to an announcement made yesterday (August 22nd) by the State Secretary of Security, Roberto Sá, at the Integrated Command and Control Center (CICC).

Rio's State Secretary of Security, Roberto Sá, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Brazil news
Rio’s State Secretary of Security, Roberto Sá, speaking last month, photo by Tânia Rêgo/Agência Brasil.

A government news agency reports about 3,000 police officers who were doing administrative work in the UPPs, a third of the total, will be re-posted and begin patrolling on the streets of Rio.

Going forward officials say police units linked to the Peacekeeping Police Coordination (CPP), an independent body of battalions reporting directly to the command of the Military Police (PM), will support operations in these areas with UPPs.

Security Roberto Sá denied that of the combining of the PM and the UPPs could “contaminate” the personnel of the units, which are almost all young officers who presumably are without vices or deviant conduct.

“When you put in new cops, it did not mean the old ones were corrupt. Quite the opposite. We have a very large majority of old officers, many retiring, with a very decent career, who could have worked there [in the UPPs],” said Sá.

Of the 3,000 policemen who will leave the UPPs, 1,100 will be allocated in the capital city, 900 in the Baixada Fluminense, 550 in Niterói, São Gonçalo and Itaboraí, 300 going to the Expressway Battalion (BPVE) and 150 to the Tourist Battalion (BPTur).

Another change will be the creation of a UPP battalion to operate in the Complexo do Alemão and the Complexo da Penha favela communities, regions that have returned in part to being dominated by organized crime. The battalion will be commanded by a colonel to oversee the eight UPPs of the two communities.

Long-time Rio resident and principle at Cross Borders Consulting, Tiffany Kearney, shared, “I’m definitely not surprised to see this reduction, although it’s incredibly sad. I feel like Rio was being held together with duct tape through the Olympic Games, and even before the Paralympics ended, whatever negotiated peace there had been literally blew apart.”

Adding, “Thanks to a severe drop in commodity prices, rampant corruption and costs to support the Olympics, the state of Rio de Janeiro is bankrupt. The UPP, essentially a military intervention, was poorly planned and executed from the beginning. I’d say it’s time to rethink the whole city, beyond major events, and focus on the real social and political issues facing Rio.”

UPP, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Brazil News
The UPP under fire in 2016 outside the Cantagalo and Pavão-Pavãozinho favelas behind Copacabana, photo Fernando Frazão/Agência Brasil.

Julia Michaels, an American expatriate, author and the journalist behind Rio Real Blog lives in Ipanema shared the sentiment and told The Rio Times, “I’m not surprised. There is a deficit of police personnel and the idea of pulling UPP cops into normal service is one way of dealing with it, given wage issues and other barriers to hiring more people.”

Michaels continues, “There is a general consensus that the UPPs are over – so why not use some of their personnel to better protect areas where crime is on the rise? I see two problems, though.”

“First, my research shows that pacification began to go downhill in 2013 just when the UPP program was incorporated into the existing Military Police structure. The decision, now, to incorporate the UPP program within existing battalions is a further step in that direction.”

“And the problem with the police, in my opinion and from what I have garnered from specialists, lies in that existing structure. It’s not well managed and I suspect that there are many many corrupt groups within it. Management issues and corruption, aside from delayed wages, are probably the biggest challenges the police face,” shared Michaels.

The UPP program is completing ten years of operation, since the beginning of the landmark unit in Morro Dona Marta (aka Santa Marta) in Botafogo, the first favela community in Rio ‘pacified’ with the concept of proximity policing.

The program was conceived in contrast to the traditional police operations in the city, in which the officers enter the favelas, exchange gunfire with criminals, and then withdraw without significantly changing the situation within the community.

However the program has received heavy criticism over the years for corruption and misconduct, and now given the state’s financial crisis and rise in crime, many see change inevitable. The Military Police may not be seen as a welcome solution by all though, as they have a reputation for being the most corrupt.

At the press conference yesterday the commander of the PM, Colonel Wolney Dias, argued that corruption comes from society into the troop. He said, “At our school desks we do not teach anyone to be corrupt. It comes from the outside in.”

Adding, “The values ​​that are practiced within the Military Police are the values ​​naturalized by the society. If you think the police are very corrupt, it’s because our society is very corrupt.”

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