Brazilian authorities stepped up a drive to clean up Brazil’s largest shantytown Thursday, with a permanent police unit deployed in the hillside favela overlooking Rio’s most famous beaches.
The stationing of 700 police in Rocinha came 10 months after security forces wrested control of the area from drug gangs as part of a campaign to stamp out crime and restore security ahead of the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympic Games.
The so-called Police Pacification Unit (UPP) replaces 400 police personnel that had been patrolling the favela – located on a hillside wedged between two of Rio’s wealthiest neighbourhoods – since November’s massive security sweep.
“Police are here and here to stay,” Rio de Janeiro state governor Sergio Cabral said during a ceremony held under a persistent drizzle at the entrance of Rocinha, which is home to 70,000 people.
Colonel Rogerio Seabra, who is co-ordinating the pacification effort, made a similar pledge earlier: “We are not going to spare any efforts and we are determined to establish proximity with the people of Brazil’s biggest favela.”
But officials cautioned that fully bringing the area – a maze of narrow streets, which for years had been under the sway of narcotraffickers – under control would take time.
Violence has been reduced and drug traffickers no longer carry weapons in the streets, according to residents, although 12 murders have been recorded so far this year.
Only 20 per cent of this huge community can be patrolled by car, with officers having to cover the rest of the area on motorcycle or on foot, the new head of the Rocinha UPP, Edson Santos, told reporters.
He added that 100 surveillance cameras would be installed to improve security.
Since last November, “the situation has improved a great deal. Now we can walk the streets without worry, something which we could not do before. But a lot remains to be done,” said Edwirges Mattoso Kneip, a 63-year-old retiree.
“There are criminals robbing houses. I cannot leave my house unattended. Before the drug lords banned robberies inside the favela” and perpetrators faced cruel punishment, added Ms. Kneip, a former bakery employee wearing a T-shirt adorned with the Olympic banner and the Rio 2016 logo.
Police said members of the new UPP will try to establish relationships with residents, whose help is seen as crucial to combat crime.
So far, authorities have deployed 28 of the UPPs in 175 local communities, with 6,770 agents, according to military police statistics. Authorities plan to deploy 40 UPPs by 2014.
“The people of Rocinha accepted us. There are some criticisms of the UPP. We know that changes take time. We will notice them when the children of today turn 15, 20 years old,” said Erir Ribeiro Costa Filho, chief of Rio state’s military police.
“Security is improving. Children can spend more time in the streets,” said a 22-year-old resident who would not give her name.