Every fifth inhabitant of Rio de Janeiro lives in a shanty town. Out of the 6.3 million Cariocas, as people from Rio are called, 1.4 million dwell in one of the 763 favelas, according to the 2010 Census of the Brazilian Statistic Agency (Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística, IBGE).
Drug lords control about one-third of the favelas in Rio de Janeiro. So-called militias, which are composed mostly of former policemen and some active policemen and military, control other neighbourhoods,.
Since 2008, the government of Rio is pursuing a new security policy. Heavily armed special forces invaded some of the favelas, then so-called “Pacifying Police Units” (Unidade de Polícia Pacificadora, UPP) have been implemented to keep the drug gangs away. So far, 37 UPPs have been established throughout the city. Each UPP serves between one and twenty favelas. The number of policemen varies as well.
More details can be found by clicking on the map below.
The UPPs, which aim to reclaim the local slums from armed drug gangs, have been relatively effective and received public approval. The success carried Governor Sérgio Cabral to his second term, which will come to an end in 2014.
Crime rates decreased in all areas of the state, but in UPP controlled areas the decline has been especially significant. The suburbs of the metropolitan area, on the other hand, have improved very little. And the first statistics for 2013 show a general rebound in crime rates.
The numbers below show a brief history of the UPPs, divided into four integrated security regions of Rio de Janeiro (RISP).
RISP1: Rio´s touristic South Zone as well as Downtown and North Zone. The famous Copacabana, Crist Redeemer, Sugar Loaf as well as both airports of the city are located in this area.
RISP2: This area encompasses the rest of Rio´s municipality, with upper class (Barra) as well as lower class (Bangú, Campo Grande) neighborhoods.
RISP3: To the north of Rio lie several municipalities of lower income commuters.
RISP4: This area includes Rio´s neighbour cities Niterói, São Gonçalo and several other municipalities further away from the city.
What is a Pacifying Police Unit, UPP?
Rio de Janeiro’s drug gangs have become heavily armed organizations, having grown over the last decades to rule over several slums around the city. They thrive even in close proximity to police departments. Due to their location and lack of broad streets, slums are the perfect setting for such gangs to flourish. This resulted in a divided city where the will of drug lords undermined law and order.
A total number of 37 pacifying police units have been installed throughout the city since 2008. More recently, UPPs started patrolling in several suburbs as well. The main objective of those units is to hinder armed drug dealers from controllling the slums. Some UPPs have been successful, turning former conflict zones into touristic attractions, such as the Favela Santa Marta. There, three small police stations ensure safety. Major investments in infrastructure and educational services for the slums inhabitants support the pacifying process.
Other UPPs have encountered obstacles. Armed conflicts with fatal casualties continue well over a year after the units have been installed. There is also doubt about the long term sustainability of the program because the number of policemen required for each unit is above the usual population to policemen ratio. For instance, the Santa Marta UPP has approximately one policemen for every 37 inhabitants, while the average statewide ratio is one for every 320 inhabitants.
The largest favela of Brazil, Rocinha, also has a UPP. Our film shows what inhabitants think about it.