With Brazil in Spotlight, Rio’s Favela Pacification Program at a Crossroads

With Brazil in Spotlight, Rio’s Favela Pacification Program at a Crossroads

After nearly six years, Rio de Janeiro’s Police Pacification Units (UPPs) appear to be faltering. Since the beginning of the year, multiple categories of violent crime have risen across the city, and with the spotlight on Brazil due to the upcoming World Cup soccer tournament, the program is now facing unprecedented levels of criticism and scrutiny. Many pundits and journalists are arguing that the pacification program is no longer effective. Meanwhile, public security officials are calling the recent escalation in crime a temporary setback in an otherwise successful effort to combat powerful drug trafficking gangs. In truth, neither of these two characterizations accurately represents the various successes and more recent shortcomings of the pacification program.

Rio’s Police Pacification program began in 2008 with the plan to wrest control of many of the city’s roughly 1,000 slums, or favelas, from drug-trafficking gangs and install permanent community policing units in these neighborhoods. As of the end of May 2014, the program has reached approximately 264 separate favelas, benefiting an estimated 1.5 million residents.

The success of the program over the first several years surprised even those with high hopes. Levels of gun violence decreased precipitously in pacified neighborhoods. According to the Institute of Public Security (ISP), the city’s homicide rate fell nearly 40 percent from 2008 to 2012, accompanied by drops in several other types of violent crime. Moreover, the ability of the state to provide services and infrastructure improved drastically, although these areas remain underserved.

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