By Patricia Maresch, Contributing Reporter

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The inhabitants of the Complexo do Alemão and Vila Cruzeiro are starting to believe in a brighter future. But it is a delicate process, as many residents have filed complaints of abuse committed by police during the new occupation.

Residents wait in line in front of the Ônibus da Cidadania, image recreation
Residents wait in line in front of the Ônibus da Cidadania, image recreation.

Since the takeover of the area, police officers are going door-to-door in search of drugs, weapons and drug-trafficking related properties.

“You can’t leave your home unattended. There has to be someone present, because if there’s no one to open the door, the police will force themselves into your house and ransack the place,” says 27-year-old Ana from Vila Cruzeiro.

“It’s kind of weird around here now, with the drug traffickers gone and the police in control. Not that I mind, I’m just not used to it, that’s all,” she adds.

A public prosecutor is collecting citizen’s complaints in a special Ônibus da Cidadania (Citizens Bus) that is parked outside the favela Grota at the Complexo do Alemão. Prosecutor Darci Burlandi has received tens of complaints from favela-dwellers about irregular conduct of police officers.

Home-owners have accused police officers of taking money, air conditioners, television sets and computers from their houses. “When my daughter told them we didn’t buy our television with drug money, the officer called her a whore and told her to shut up. They threw everything on the floor and took our valuables with them,” says a woman who wants to remain anonymous.

The prosecutor thinks that police officers should wear name tags. “This way inhabitants know who is in their homes. When something happens they can file a correct complaint. Now all they have is a description of the officer: ‘ a short guy with brown hair’ for example.”

“It’s hard for us to find the officers responsible for the mishaps this way, therefore we feel that the police have to commit to the basic requirements of identification“ says prosecutor Burlandi. “Members of the police force who misbehave have to be punished, “she continues. “If not, it will be very difficult for the government to continue improving this area.”

Police arrest wanted drug trafficker Zeu, image recreation]
Police arrest wanted drug trafficker Zeu, image recreation.

For the past 25 years, the Comando Vermelho has been calling the shots in the Complexo do Alemão and Vila Cruzeiro. Their outlaw-law was the only law. “We have been living with fear forever,” says 17-year-old Rafael from Vila Cruzeiro. “I don’t even know what it’s like not living under the law of the CV. It will take time for us to get used to this new way of life, this freedom,” he explains.

Favela Grota-resident Ernesto thinks police corruption won’t disappear overnight either. “You think it’s normal that the police say they seized tons of drugs, hundreds of weapons and ammunition but no word on the money they found?”, he asks. While adding: “Did the drug traffickers take all of their cash with them on the run?”, while he raises one eyebrow.

Fellow resident Flávia who listened in nods her head and says: “Fears and doubts still exist, but overall we have high hopes on finally living in peace as honest citizens of Rio and having a dignified life. That’s it, right?” she smiles.


  1. I was chatting with a friend last night who lives in Penha at the bottom of Complexo Alemano. While Globo shows images of police kissing children on their foreheads… the reality, according to my friend, is very different. The police are abusing everyone and not being held accountable (their bullet-proof vests cover their name tags). Many residents have been threatened with death if they file complaints against the police. The police (BOPE, PM, Civil – all of them) are brutally killing trafficantes (and ‘suspected trafficantes) with knives.

    This is why the police and government were against the helicopters filming the trafficantes fleeing up the mountain – they wanted to execute all of them on the spot.

    I finally saw Tropa de Elite 2 last night, after much resistance (because the first one was so lame) and was surprised at what an excellent sequel it was – a 180* turn from the first one. State-sanctioned killing – that’s what this government is about, just like in the film.

    So yeah… my friend could be lying or exaggerating, but why would he..? I believe his version of events far more than Globo – which is 100% pro-establishment and in the hands of the government. Notice how the only people they interview who support the police are the older donas de casas. In the words of my friend, in his opinion, only 20% of the people support the police occupation. Especially at this time of year, CV would fund many events for the community and donate food to families, etc.

  2. Funny also how in my neighborhood – where i live in front of a ‘pacified’ favela in Zona Sul – that NOBODY… not even the donas de casas or children (both of which Globo are so fond of interviewing) – stop to talk to the police at the entrance… not even a ‘bom dia’ or a nod of the head. Everyone takes a detour to avoid them – everyone fears them. And this is Zona Sul. So imagine how things are in Zona Norte, which much less scrutiny and transparency…

    The ONLY advantage that i can see with the UPP – is that it’s curbed the sale of crack – crack being responsible for much street crime. Other drugs i’m not against. But crack is terrible, definitely. (Rocinha and Vidigal don’t sell crack – hence, the absence of vicaiados hanging out in front of the favela).

  3. Sorry Diego, but if this is the price that favela residents must pay, to in the long run have safety and security for their families, then so be it. Police corruption is wrong and intolerable, but as the saying goes.. ” Rome wasn’t built in a day..” (and neither was the Cidade Maravilhosa.)

  4. Diego, I am sure there are/will be police abuses. However, in the medium to long term, one would tend to believe that the police presence will prove to be beneficial for both the favela residents and the greater community. Despite the fact that the various gangs have played out a robin hood type relationship with favela residents, and that they are the de facto favela government , such absolute power and impunity to act at will is not a healthy situation, nor in the interests of the average favela resident. Why not give these police pacification programmes a chance to succeed? Who knows, maybe a miracle will happen. Presently, one can understand that residents feel threatened by police presence, I mean wouldn’t you be afraid to live in the constant presence of your sworn enemy? The government must also take concrete steps to control the police force in the favelas and root out rogue cops, and even put a special personality type of police officer to work in this delicate framework. All of this is a very tall order indeed. Personally, I remain cautiously optimisitc, at least on an empirical level. Let’s see what happens…and best wishes to you amigo.

  5. It’s interesting to see how foreigners and Cariocas have such contrasting opinions on this subject. While many Cariocas criticize my anti-government / police perspectives, other foreigners tend to understand my perspectives.

    Barry – For sure, a trafficante-dominated favela isn’t good… but neither is a police-dominated favela. But without any kind of authority, it would descend into anarchy. Kind of a lose-lose situation, haha. You’re right though – the rogue cops really need to be fired… and the good ones need to be given a salary increase.


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