Public Security in Rio: UPPs throughout the years

  • José Marcelo Zacchi, Pedro Strozenberg e Silvia Ramos 

José Marcelo Zacchi is the executive director of Associação Casa Fluminense and research associate of IETS.
Pedro Strozenberg is the executive secretary of ISER and board member of Casa Fluminense.
Silvia Ramos is the coordinator of Centro de Estudos em Segurança e Cidadania at the University Candido Mendes. 

It should be emphasized that more than 5.000 lives were spared by the reduction of violent fatalities in Rio since the implementation of the Pacifying Police Units (UPPs) at the end of 2008.

We must point out the noteworthy transformation of a “police that fights” to a “police that creates peace”, in which the expansion of citizenship in the slums is an important milestone.

It´s worth pointing out that this valuable achievement impacts the whole society, rather than one particular group only.  The result of 20 years of impasse and suffering made us overcome the war primacy and recognize the importance of a police which focuses on true citizenship in all the areas of the State of Rio de Janeiro. If we succeeded to improve throughout the last years, it’s because of the combined efforts of the police, social agents, academics and activists that produced the necessary conditions in order to move beyond the “western gratification” versus the “police for the needy”. 

Nowadays, however, we are facing the limitations of what we failed to continue ever since. Throughout the last couple of years, multiple voices have been raised about the necessity to develop new actions after the initial movement of the UPPs. One of those desires is their institutionalization to make them truly a part of the community, to engage the civil police forces and Justice Institutions, and to provide them with the solid mechanisms of participation and social control. Furthermore, it has been pointed out that promoting a broader improvement of our police forces is key; especially to handle the complex challenges of Rio the Janeiro. It´s even more vital to go beyond the occupation by the police and, with the primary goal of achieving an integrated city, focus on the urban and social integration of the benefited areas.

The increase of tragic events in various communities and the resuming growth of homicides in the state of Rio de Janeiro are unambiguous proof of the need to do more than what has been done so far. It´s obvious that it´s not just an act of choosing between unconditionally defending and banning the UPPs. On the one hand, those who vote for qualification of Rio´s police forces and violence reduction are accurate. On the other hand, those who criticize the system because of its solely focus on physical presence and its gradual reinstatement of old arbitrary practices are correct as well. Our main challenge is to have the courage to clearly diagnose the current situation, generating new convergences.

Rio de Janeiro´s Public Security and Slum Policy agendas have not been met throughout the past few years. Realizing them will certainly be a better bet than losing ourselves in perplexity and resentment which won’t help us carrying out anything. In this sense, we face the challenge of consolidating democratic policing and expanding the services in the pacified areas whilst completely integrating them with the city has a whole, and embracing the challenges of the police reformation in the State by creating conditions to universalize the process and build a strong foundation for it.  To be able to move forward and make a difference as soon as possible, Rio needs to unite the voices that have been raised up till now.