Rio Real: Brazil Struggles with Next Phase of UPP Program

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Yes, there’s peace in the house. But where’s the attention, the commitment, where are the services? Dignity for citizens, says Rio de Janeiro State Public Safety Secretary Jose Mariano Beltrame, is key — so he can get on with his work of modernizing the Rio city police.

Brazil’s O Globo newspaper devoted a full page to an interview with Beltrame this week, in which he bemoaned the slow pace of social investment in pacified communities.

“Today I have police officers who coach sports while on duty,” Beltrame said. “I’d like whoever is responsible for this area to take on this task, freeing up two or three officers for their duties.”

With 17 pacified communities of 300,000 residents under his belt, Rio’s top public safety administrator wants to focus next on police corruption, and invest in technology and training. But it would seem that social work eats into police time for the tasks of modern community policing, something experts say is crucial to the city’s continued integration and turnaround. Community policing is at the heart of Rio’s 2008 successful occupy-and-pacify public safety policy.

“I’ve seen this movie so many times,” said Bostonian Liz Leeds, during a recent visit to Rio de Janeiro. Leeds, a police reform specialist, has tracked the city’s many attempts to reduce violence since the 1960s.

“If community-oriented policing doesn’t become an integrated policy of the police across the board, not just in favelas, it will ultimately not take hold. There’s still a lot of resistance. Until the training really changes to get away from a very militaristic training and viewpoint of what the police are really about, disrespect toward communities and thus a lack of cooperation from those communities will remain a problem.”

Time to focus on police duties

“Nothing survives on safety alone”– Beltrame, in O Globo

“In Cidade de Deus I saw an open-air dump, pigs and children living in the same environment,” Secretary Beltrame told the newspaper. “It looks like Bangladesh. There’s filth, there’s disorder when it comes to housing. They built low-quality housing and handed it over to people, who then put on additions. It seems there’s no followup. So what happens? In these places, the military police, by way of the captain (pacification unit commander) becomes the physical presence of the State, 24 hours a day. People go to the captain to complain about the addition, the unlicensed van transport, the motorcycle taxi driver who has no helmets. This wears the captain out, because they go to ask for things that are not within police purview.”

Beltrame is not alone in his concern. On May 20, in the Escondidinho favela of Santa Teresa, Keila Lima, a 43-year-old unemployed former maid, muttered her way through most of a forum of community leaders and social service providers. “It’s theater, it’ll come to nothing, just as I thought,” she grumbled.

“They talked and talked and then they left.”

Lima said her community has no neighborhood association president to voice local needs and complaints: food, health, a police outpost, loud music, and open television reception (instead of expensive cable). As a mere resident she didn’t feel comfortable taking up a microphone in the forum, which was held by the Social UPP.

Created in 2010 by Governor Sergio Cabral, the Social UPP, responsible for identifying social needs and coordinating public and private actors to meet those needs, has indeed been slow to act. For both political and practical reasons, the program was moved from the state to the municipal level of government late last year. The first semester of 2011 has been dedicated to planning and organization.

UN Habitat and Social UPP roll up sleeves, at last

Lima didn’t know it — and maybe even Secretary Beltrame didn’t know it — but the May 20 forum kicked off a new, more active phase. The Social UPP has just partnered with the United Nations Habitat program to hire 60 people to identify social needs, intermediate social services and monitor performance in 30 pacified communities this year — three per month. Additional communities will be served in coming years.

A community leader, list in hand

According to Social UPP director Jose Marcelo Zacchi, the three million dollar partnership funds the formation and salaries of nine teams. Eight five-person teams, each one responsible for three to four pacified communities, will walk alleyways and meet with residents, leaders, local social service providers, and police, to identify needs. They will then coordinate public agencies, non-governmental organizations and the private sector to meet those needs. Performance monitoring is the third phase of their work. A ninth team of 20 people will manage the other eight teams.

Zacchi says that instead of solving residents’ problems themselves, police will fill out forms describing complaints, which will be sent on to the responsible agency. The Social UPP, he underscores, is like a hub, and meant to become obsolete; pacified favelas will get services no better nor worse than the rest of the city.

“We will leave behind the era when they were off-limits,” he adds.

Most likely Secretary Beltrame knows all this — and the interview he gave to O Globo arose from an accumulation of frustration and impatience.

But Beltrame, an urban hero who himself went beyond the call of duty and gave out gifts last Christmas in a newly-liberated favela, isn’t quitting — he just wants to see more involvement.

Reprinted with permission from *Julia Michaels, a reporter who has lived in Rio for over a decade. See her blog, Rio Real, which is in English and Portuguese.

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