Authorities in Rio de Janeiro have mapped out areas of Brazil’s second-biggest city that are under the control of criminal organizations, potentially enabling them to better target crime control resources amid growing insecurity in the metropolis.
A classified document from the state of Rio de Janeiro’s security body obtained by Extra identifies and maps out 843 areas under the control of armed groups. These areas include not only the state’s marginalized neighborhoods known as “favelas,” but also residential neighborhoods and some specific properties and urban streets.
The mapping was carried out between 2015 and 2016 by analysts from the Public Security Institute (Instituto de Segurança Pública – ISP) based on data collected by the military police, the state intelligence service and Disque-Denúncia, a helpline that gathers reports of crime.
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Each of the areas included in the mapping is “a perimeter where criminal groups ostensibly act, circulate frequently with weapons and commit crimes, such as drug trafficking,” Luciano de Lima Gonçalves, a geographer and ISP analyst who helped design the map, told Extra.
De Lima Gonçalves said he used this data mapping to study the connection between violent deaths and areas under the control of organized crime groups in Rio de Janeiro state. The details of the study, as they were reported by Extra, were not clear about whether or not this mapping found a correlation. InSight Crime was not immediately able to obtain the original document detailing the study.
However, a 2016 study by Rio-based think tank Igarapé Institute indicates that the link between criminal groups and violent deaths is complex and could vary depending on the context. For instance, homicide rates can increase with the presence of criminal groups due to turf wars or attempts to maintain control over a population. But relatively stable control of an area by one criminal group or informal truces between groups can actually reduce levels of violence.
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Experts say this type of data-driven mapping can help authorities focus their resources in the areas most affected by organized crime, a practice often called “hot spot” policing. But in order for this type of strategy to be successful, authorities will need to identify and address the specific risks and needs of these communities, rather than simply occupying them with militarized force.
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Previous attempts to implement “hot spot” policing in Rio de Janeiro have been carried out by “Police Pacification Units” (Unidades de Polícia Pacificadora – UPPs), which have proven that a heavy-handed approach alone is not effective at securing crime-controlled areas in the long-term. The failure of the UPP program stemmed from the fact that it utilized military and police deployments often associated with abuses against community members, and did not follow up these occupations with social and economic programs that could help address the underlying causes of violent crime.
Studying the areas where criminal groups operate could be a step in the right direction for improving Rio de Janeiro’s ability to target the hot spots of crime amid a worsening security situation. But limited security resources as a result of the city’s budget crisis could hinder authorities’ ability to target these areas, or to shift away from a reliance on militarized approaches.