By Patricia Maresch, Contributing Reporter
BRAZIL, RIO DE JANEIRO – Residents of the favelas of the Complexo do Alemão in Rio’s Zona Norte (North zone) feel safer according to a study by Getúlio Vargas Foundation’s Center for Social Policy (FGV). The study was done two months after the massive police and military operation in November 2010 which resulted in the withdrawal of the heavily armed drug traffickers that dominated the area.
According to the FGV research, people from the Complexo do Alemão feel freer, have better access to legal institutions and are treated better by the police, since the occupation of the favelas by the special Peace Force.
The study confirms media reports that many Cariocas, those who live in Rio, saw the events in November as a turning point for the city of Rio de Janeiro. In the favelas the police, as well as the drug traffickers, have long been equally feared by most residents.
Ever since the occupation three months ago, things have changed. Rio’s anonymous tip-off phone line Disque Denúncia is receiving record numbers of calls from residents reporting crimes. “We are starting to believe that the state is there for us too, not just for the people in the Zona Sul,” says 48-year-old María from Vila Cruzeiro.
FGV interviewed 1,200 people in all parts of Rio de Janeiro last month, and between September 2009 and May 2010. In both surveys people were asked to give grades between zero and 100 on various topics.
In the first survey inhabitants of the Complexo do Alemão were asked to grade their freedom to come and go when they want. Before the occupation inhabitants often had to hide out before being able to return home because of gun fights between police and drug traffickers.
In the the first survey inhabitants of the Complexo do Alemão scaled their sense of freedom as 69. In the latest survey, residents gave their sense of freedom 81 points. In other parts of Rio, participants gave points as low as between 39 and 45.
Another big difference between the Complexo do Alemão and the rest of the city is the perception of the way citizens are treated by the police. Although the points jumped from 26 to 49, it’s still lower than the average 68 points participants outside the Complexo do Alemão gave.
The FGV concludes that residents of the Complexo do Alemão still think they are not treated equally by the police. However, the sense of access to legal institutions has gone up as well from 39 to 49 points. This is almost equal to the rest of Rio which averages points between 47 and 53.
The FGV will repeat the study again in July this year, nine months after the occupation of the Complexo do Alemão and Vila Cruzeiro. The special Peace Force, made up of combined military and police troops, will stay in the area until new police recruits are trained for the ten Pacifying Police Units (UPPs) planned are in place.
Though the drug dealers have not completely disappeared, it is now discreet and they no longer carry automatic weapons on the streets of the Zona Norte favelas. Also there are fewer murders and other crimes reported in the area, and despite some detractors, most seem to feel life is a lot safer now.