By Felipe Araujo, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – A recent study conducted by Cândido Mendes University in Rio de Janeiro indicated that a large number of officers in the Police Pacifying Unit (UPP), which has been the foundation to a program of law enforcement inside the city’s favelas, are unhappy with their work and, according to the study, still “don’t wear the shirt.”
Of the 349 officers interviewed, only forty percent described themselves as satisfied with their work, while many reportedly expressed doubts about the UPP’s sustainability in the long term.
The UPPs were created in 2008 with the objective of freeing up Rio’s favelas from the control of drug dealers and organized crime networks, and there are now over twenty-two installations. In general the UPP units are put in place after military police shock battalion, BOPE or in cases like Complexo do Alemão, the Brazilian armed forced have pacified the area.
The program is based on UPP officers operating within the community, providing a stable presence of authority left in the vacuum of drug gang trafficante rule. However, seventy percent of the officers surveyed admitted that they would rather be patrolling the streets, doing what they call “normal police work.”
The favela community of Vidigal received the nineteenth UPP in January 2012 and according to some residents interviewed, the benefits have been minimal. One resident, who has lived in Vidigal for 34 years, described it as “one evil leaves and another one comes in.”
In contrast to this viewpoint are the convictions of the UPP police officers stationed in Vidigal. Many of them affirm that they are committed to the cause, and that they truly believe their presence is having a positive impact on the community.
“It’s a different reality for different favelas in Rio. You cannot put them all in the same bracket, as it appears to be the case with this research,” said one UPP officer who asked to remain anonymous. “Personally, I believe in the cause,” he added.
When asked how they felt about the dissatisfaction and suspicion of local residents, the officers were upbeat. “Change takes time. People were used to a certain system and set of laws. Now we’re coming in here and applying the same rules and laws applicable to the rest of the city and that doesn’t go down very well sometimes.”
“If we see you riding a [motorcycle] inside the favela without a helmet on, we’re going to stop you and fine you, regardless of how long you have been living here,” an officer said.
Another difficulty that officers encounter is the fact that the population comes to them looking for solutions to a wide range of problems.
“We’re here to make sure they’re safe and that everyone abides by the law. The problem is that some residents expect us to play the role of politicians and solve all their problems,” said one of the UPP officers.
Critics of the UPP initiative are skeptical that the program will last long after the 2016 Olympic Games. They believe that once international scrutiny is no longer focused on Rio, the UPP units will dissipate and things will go back to how they were.
“I don’t believe that,” said one the officers in Vidigal. “What will they do with all these police officers if they they get rid of the UPPs? It’s just not practical.”
Another tangible metric of the UPP is the decrease in gunshot wounds reported by the government in Penha’s State Hospital Getúlio Vargas, which attends mostly residents from the area in Zona Norte (North Zone). Statistics show a 37 percent decrease in the cases of gunshot wound victims from the year 2010 to 2011, since the pacification process started there.