Rio Officials Defend Police Occupation of Favelas

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Rio-based blogger Julia Michaels reports on the city’s attempts to defend its favela occupation program, despite fresh outbreaks of violence between locals and police, and reports of corruption in the occupying forces.

And the process will continue

Today State Public Safety Secretary Jose Mariano Beltrame, star of the Getulio Vargas Foundation law school seminar UPP: a new public safety model?, organized with the Folha de São Paulo newspaper, said he trusts in the future of Rio’s pacification policy.

The state agency just announced the results of research on homicide rates in pacified favelas. Beltrame wanted to remind the crowded auditorium about the pacification program’s achievements, sometimes sidelined by news of police corruption, drug trafficking resistance, and the return of violence.

“There are places where [the homicide rate] is zero,” said Beltrame in a low voice, calculated to impress. “Homicide influences the Human Development Index, the HDI.” His voice rose. “We’re going to build, we’re building. [They’ll say] ‘ah, but that, further down the line, it’s going to melt away.’ People, it’s not going to melt away. Because it’s yours. It’s not mine, I’m out of here,” he added, distinguishing himself from the personalism that marks so much Brazilian public policy.

He went on to defend what he calls a process, not a project, explaining why pacification is here to stay: “When a politician gets hold of this, he’s going to keep doing it because if you don’t, you lose votes. If a technocrat takes up this policy, he’ll do it because there’s data, he has research that shows what’s good and what’s bad.”

Referring to last January’s state regulation of the UPPs, Beltrame added that the state now “has a decree that establishes this, too.”

In a particularly awkward sentence, the secretary let evidence slip through of the pressure he must have felt to increase the number of pacification units, which now number 18.

“I intend not to inaugurate more UPPs if I can’t build the foundations, because before we started, because we started, because we’ve been adjusting certain, certain things that are not just right.”

Recent problems may have strengthened what is likely to have been his position since the inauguration of the first UPP at the end of 2008, in the Dona Marta favela, in Botafogo. At the time it was said that the pacification troops were fresh recruits, specially trained in community policing and untainted by corruption. But there are reports of inadequate training. The problems may result from this, at least in part.

The issue of training came up in a study of pacification police, presented during the seminar by sociologist Julita Lemgruber, director of the Centro de Estudos de Segurança e Cidadania, CESec.

Also present at the seminar — sitting in the front row, nodding her head — was Juliana Barroso, Undersecretary for Training and Prevention Programs, in charge of police curriculum reform.

This article, published last month in O Globo newspaper, reported that six months into her job Barroso “completed an x-ray of the teaching at Rio’s five police academies and found a frightening situation. She discovered that there are police officers who have gone ten years with no additional coursework.”

The story also says that the “destruction of values cultivated in the past, such as the preparation of a police force for fighting a war, will be the first lesson learned by officers after the curriculum reform.”

At the seminar, Beltrame said that the Rio police must transform even to the point of changing their “war chants,” used to motivate recruits.

Reprinted with permission from Julia Michaels*, a reporter who has lived in Rio almost 30 years. See her blog,Rio Real, which is in English and Portuguese, and read the original post here.

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