Brazil Fights Crime while Bringing Development to the Favelas

March 22, 2013

  • Because of violence, millions of Brazilians were left out of the country’s growth.
  • The Police Pacification Units are tackling security and social issues at the same time.
  • Successful experiences in Rio and the Southeast set an example for other Brazilian regions.

In 2007, Brazil’s government launched a plan to reduce crime and violence in the favelas, the poorest neighborhoods of Rio and other major cities. Neglected for decades by the authorities, these communities were under the rule of new and powerful masters: drug traffickers.

As a result, safety conditions and lack of opportunities in the favelas, had left millions of people unable to take advantage of benefits generated by the country’s growth. Swift, tangible actions were therefore needed to address this problem.   Additionally with the city due host to both the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympic Games, all eyes will be on Brazil and how they will guarantee the security of these two international events.

The first responses to tackling gangs in the favelas, heavily armed policie and even military personnel, generated some controversy because of the brutality  in its implementation and the lack of effective results.

Life is safer

This, of course, lead to a change and in 2008, the Secretariat of Safety in the state of Rio de Janeiro began introducing de Police Pacification Units (known as UPPs) to fight crime little by little.

Morro dos Praceres in Rio de Janeiro is one of the favelas with its own UPP. There we met Letizia, a 27 year-old hairdresser, who told us that life is a lot safer today. “Before we were never at peace when we sent our kids to school,” she said.

In many other places of Rio de Janeiro life has improved thanks to the UPPs. The World Bank study Bringing the state back into the favelas, says there are 28 UPPs in over 100 communities home to more than 400,000 people.

Besides strengthening police presence and actions, the project also aims at consolidating peace and promoting social and economic development in the favelas, with several social services.

Supporters of UPPs and its social components say the idea is that peace and other actions will consolidate and will guarantee peace and development in the favelas beyond the World Cup and the Olympic Games.

For 2014, the state of Rio de Janeiro plans to have 40 UPPs (up from the current 28) to protect an estimated population of 750,000.

" Successful experiences, like those in Pernambuco and the South-East, appear to be related to comprehensive public policies of prevention and control. "

Rodrigo Serrano-Berthet

WB Senior Social Development Specialist

South-East sets an example

The World Bank report Making Brazilians safer says that the situation regarding crime and violence appears to be improving in the rest of the country, but warns that there are significant differences between states.

Based on successful experiences in some south-eastern states, the report recommends three points which governments should take into account when designing policies against crime:

  • reduction of inequality,
  • decline in school dropout rates and
  • improved working conditions

“Understanding the mechanisms that contribute to high crime scenarios and listening to the people most affected by the violence are crucial for identifying solutions that improve security and quality of life in the country,” said Deborah L. Wetzel, World Bank Director for Brazil.

The study concludes that the south-eastern region of Brazil could be considered to be an example for crime reduction and that policies such as arms and alcohol controls as well as programs oriented at youth exposed to crime and violence, have proved effective.

Rodrigo Serrano-Berthet, Coordinator of the two studies, considers that “successful experiences, like those in Pernambuco and the South-East, appear to be related to comprehensive public policies of prevention and control.”

Brazil in the world

While in some states, such as Sao Paulo, homicide dropped 67% between 2000 and 2010, in the North-Eeast region the increase was alarming:

  • 303% in Bahia.
  • 160% in Alagoas
  • 253% in Pará.

The only exception in the region was Pernambuco, where the homicide rate fell by 28%.

In 2003, the national homicide rate was 28.9 in 2007, it declined to 26.4, and subsequently rose slightly in 2010, to 27.7 (per 100,000 inhabitants).

Although the reduction is significant, the rate is still high compared with other regions in the world:

  • European Union 1.2
  • Central America 41
  • North America 4.6
  • South America 20

If initiatives such as the UPPs have the expected results and other recommendations are followed, Brazil will definitely be at the same level as other nations, not only in sports but also in successfully fighting crime and violence.