Rio Police Seize Favela as Crime Rises Ahead of World Cup

Rio de Janeiro state’s security forces occupied another slum today following a surge in crime in the favelas where it has expanded policing.

Heavily armed police moved into the Vila Kennedy neighborhood in the west of the city this morning, making it the 38th favela taken over since 2008, according to the state security secretariat. There were no reports of gunfire in what culminated six days of operations in other communities.

Brazil’s biggest tourist destination is struggling to stamp out violence ahead of the soccer World Cup that starts in June. Drug traffickers have regained traction in some shantytowns, including one hillside between Ipanema and Copacabana beach, complicating efforts to keep a fragile peace won by building and staffing police stations. Vila Kennedy will now gain its own pacification unit, known as a UPP.

“Attacks on UPP police have increased,” Alba Zaluar, an anthropologist at Rio’s state university, UERJ, said by phone. “Traffickers have brought weapons back to the favelas, fighting among themselves over the distribution points. Once again it’s bandits against bandits in the favelas that were pacified.”

Homicides in Rio leaped 10 percent to 1,323 last year after falling in 2012 to the lowest in more than two decades, according to data published yesterday on the state’s Public Security Institute website. Three police officers have been killed on duty in the city’s favelas in 2014, the same number as in all of last year.

Film Premiere

The three officers gunned down this year were based in Complexo do Alemao, a sprawl of favelas frequented by tourists who ride a cable car to get a view of the slums. The film “Alemao” about the lead-up to its pacification opens today. Military forces or federal police could occupy Alemao, state security secretary Jose Mariano Beltrame told local paper O Globo in a report published March 9.

Perched above the ocean on the hill dividing Copacabana and Ipanema is the Pavao-Pavaozinho favela, where gunfights have broken out in recent weeks. An established trafficker recently released from jail has regrouped and started battling police, Beltrame said in a television interview last week.

“The state will not recoil in the face of criminal groups returning to the areas they dominated for decades,” Beltrame said last month. His statement followed confrontations in another pacified favela, Rocinha, where accommodations are on offer for the World Cup, including a home for $500 per night on website

Vila Kennedy

Vila Kennedy was the scene last month of a bus burning and shootouts. The housing project established 50 years ago was named for the U.S. president assassinated the year before, and features a small replica of the Statue of Liberty.

“We are occupying these communities so the state of Rio de Janeiro can turn a new page on crime,” Beltrame said today on the secretariat’s Twitter account.

While the pacification program has improved city safety, it has focused on seizing firearms rather than combating drug trafficking, which was driven underground, according to Zaluar, who has specialized in urban poverty, violence and crime.

Security forces killed six, including one minor, and arrested 80 people in parallel operations since March 7 aimed at supporting today’s incursion into Vila Kennedy, according to a statement. Police seized 9.5 kilos of cocaine, 142 kilos of marijuana, 39 firearms and 10 grenades in the 22 operations.

Murder Rate

The murder rate in Rio de Janeiro is 21 per 100,000 inhabitants, versus 38 in 2007 when Governor Sergio Cabral took office, according to the security secretariat. Three South African cities that hosted 2010 World Cup games have murder rates from 32 to 51 per 100,000 residents, according to the Citizen Council for Public Safety and Criminal Justice, a Mexican organization that studies urban crime.

Brazil’s security secretariat expects the training of 600 military police and deployment of 10 police units will reduce criminal activity, according to a statement from its press office. More than 1,100 civil police detectives finished their training in December.

To keep the peace after interventions such as today’s in Vila Kennedy, security institutions need to improve relationships with the communities, said Ignacio Cano, a sociology professor at UERJ.

“The project was sort of on automatic pilot mode, no corrections were made,” Cano, who specializes in violence, human rights and public security, said by phone. “2013 was a year in which we went backward, there’s no doubt about that. And 2014 doesn’t look very promising.”

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.