By William Jones, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Security experts believe the Rio de Janeiro UPP (Police Pacification Unit) are at a critical moment. After reducing homicides in their operations, the UPP must now begin to stamp out internal illegal activities such as corruption and punish police who commit crimes, according to specialists interviewed by newspaper O Globo.
The special forces, which reportedly benefit up to 1.5 million people in favelas, are sometimes subject to attacks, shootings and violent protests. The UPP have been credited by some for bringing a reduction in crime since 2012. In 2006, Rio de Janeiro saw a total of 6,323 murders, and last year, 4,761, which is a 24.7 percent decrease in eight years, according to data from the Institute of Public Safety (ISP).
Experts believe these special forces should now focus on cracking down on its members who commit crimes, such as corruption and those who use excessive force.
The sociologist Ignacio Cano from Rio de Janeiro State University (UERJ) told O Globo that the death of Rocinha community assistant bricklayer Amarildo de Souza in July 2013 was a turning point, which still has not been resolved.
“The police are there to protect the public, not to act as a foreign invasion force. The feeling is, and has been for some time, that the project is on autopilot,” Cano said. Amarildo de Souza went missing on July 14th after being questioned by Rocinha’s UPP forces. Amarildo was reportedly tortured and died at the hands of police officers, who covered up his death.
Michel Misse from the Center for the Study of Citizenship, Conflict and Urban Violence at Rio’s Federal University (UFRJ) believes that the deaths of community members, such as the recent death of dancer Douglas da Silva in Pavãozinho, are complex problems that reflect problems within the police force itself. “The UPP will only work if we change the police who often chase the wrong people and work with a general suspicion that every resident is potentially a drug trafficker,” he said.
Former president of the ISP, Ana Paula Miranda, said that problems within the UPP are holding the organization back from truly serving its public. “The projects must be integrated with strategies that restructure the police force, dealing with corruption, police violence and giving value to [police] agents. Without [these strategies], the UPP is just a big design,” Miranda affirmed.
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