By Leo Byrne, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – An attack on two UPP (Police Pacification Unit) officers last Friday in the Morro São João favela of Engenho Novo is the latest in a recent spate of violence directed at Rio’s pacification forces. The attack took place at around midnight on March 27th in Rio’s Zona Norte (North Zone) and was reportedly orchestrated by drug traffickers.
The military police (PM) have not yet released any information as to the condition of the injured officers who were taken to hospital after the incident.
The UPP has a strong presence in the area with 208 officers stationed there since January 2011. They have 7,000 residents under their jurisdiction in the three neighborhoods of Morro São João, Quieto and Matriz.
There were also two confrontations last week in Rio’s once notorious Complexo do Alemão favela. The first was an intense shootout between patrolling UPP officers and drug traffickers, which brought back memories of the pre-pacification days for local residents.
“When I came here there [were] shootouts, but it was not like that. This was worse,” a resident who did not wish to be named told O Globo. Miraculously, no one was hurt in the exchange, which left the area riddled with bullet holes.
The second incident took place on Saturday after a man reportedly attempted to grab the gun off a patrolling officer. While reports differ, the man was shot in the hand during the confusion and subsequently taken to hospital.
The UPP in Complexo do Alemão has also had their cars damaged and vandalized, while police buildings have been graffiti-ed with criminal gang symbols.
The incidents go against recent crime statistics in Rio, which generally have exhibited a downward trend. Last year a U.S. State Department report acknowledged the “significant progress made in reducing Rio de Janeiro’s legendary, critical crime rates.”
In the Morro São João the UPP has been working beyond just security policing by implementing social programs and communicating closely with the community according to authorities.
High ranking officers within the UPP organize monthly meetings in the three neighborhoods that bring together representatives from the community with companies looking to implement services in the area.
The program also helps to better integrate municipal, state, and federal governments and the private sectors in the area with the goal of improving infrastructure in the communities.
“We never had that here. We had no opportunity and lived with a very different reality. The initiative of the police to make this meeting with representatives of the residents is good, but we need the problems to be really solved. But we know that is a first step,” said local resident Bianca Ferreira.
Rio’s security is very much under the spotlight as the city prepares for the 2016 Olympic Games. Statistics will do little to ease the trepidation of potential visitors in the face of shocking crimes directed towards tourists in the city.