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  • Talking Corruption

    Talking Corruption
    Spotlight Interview

    Interview with Col. Robson Rodrigues da Silva

    We spoke to Col. Robson Rodrigues da Silva, head of the Pacifying Police Unit (UPP) about the progress the Unit has made in the favelas and the challenges that still need to be tackled. The UPP is a law enforcement unit which aims to reclaim territory from organized criminals in Rio de Janeiro through social engagement and non-violence.
    The interview was conducted by Stella Borzilo of the Americas Department at Transparency International Secretariat in Berlin.

    How do you assess the positive impact that the UPP has brought to Brazil?

    The design of the UPP is open and evolving but there are already indicators of a positive impact. There are interesting studies that point to the positive reception to the programme by the community and people who live near the community and these can now be considered positive indicators.

    But beyond that, there is a symbolic dimension. The occupation of the favelas in Rio de Janeiro was always done in an aggressive manner that was traumatic for the people and the police. After decades of neglect, these areas have become places where the state would not be fully engaged. Because of this, heavily armed criminal gangs are present and their criminal activities are enabled by two factors: the lack of state presence and the informal network that was constructed for the survival of people living in the slums.

    Because of this (police) practices were shaped by the representation of these places as hazardous locations. There was exaggeration of the criminals and the weapons they had and this made people, especially the conservative middle class, think that the only way to deal with them should be the most repressive.

    This led us (“us”, the police and society) to build a logic of violence and a logic of war. The imaginary representations were that we lived in a war because of the heavily used weaponry – not only in criminal practices, but even by the police as a way of reacting to these criminal actions. Therefore, the slums have become impregnable places in the collective imagination, where all public safety policies are non existent.

    Because of this making a kind of policing totally different from previous practices was emblematic. In a very short space of time, territory has been regained allowing the State to go in- not only with the police face of the state, but also with state services that are able to repay the social debt that has accumulated in these decades of neglect and abandonment.

    With respect to those people who have always lived with no expectations, no hopes and who were much neglected; the media has always shown them in times of pain, trauma, war, injury, suffering but now show these people happy and hopeful – especially the children, who are a fundamental element in this process . To show a police force who realise that a more human way of interacting with them is better and who are building a network of protection in places like the slums is very important. It is very symbolic and has a real impact for all of Brazil.

    Everyone in Brazil knows the UPP. Dilma Rousseff’s presidential campaign highlighted this program as a good example of a public safety program and the government budget has already provided funding for the installation of the UPP 40 Brazil. Today in the state of Bahia there are already two UPPs. Many policymakers from Brazil and abroad have visited Rio de Janeiro to get to know the program.

    As I said, this is an open program. We learn from these new practices and try to systematize this knowledge to transform them into more refined actions. We learn by talking to these communities who have local knowledge and by respecting this partnership.

    Of course it’s a gradual process, of conquers, not only for these populations but for our own police. We are transforming ourselves step by step. I think that for the German people, who may not have a sense of what Rio de Janeiro was like and how Rio de Janeiro is changing, you may not totally understand the progress that is being made.

    What are the biggest challenges for the UPP program and how are you dealing with these challenges?

    There have in the past been some programs that have tried to change police activity, but these programs were low-level and were discontinued. Our investments now are not only in practices but also in transforming views, especially within the system itself. Transforming a system more than 200 years old with rooted structures and in its own conceptions is not so easy. This is a program that starts with a practice and now we are designing the concept.

    The main challenges are: firstly to transform the prejudiced representations and the stigmas attached to these societies which have caused a lot of bad will toward these populations, not just from the police but from society as a whole. What we really need is for society to embrace this idea and it has indeed shown a willingness to embrace this program, helping to turn it into reality.

    There is an interesting expression from the Brazilian reporter journalist Zuenir Ventura, who wrote a book called “The broken city ,” where he speaks of this segregation between populations that are very close in a physical space, but are socially far away and how this creates conflicts and tensions.

    So it is time for local residents of the city and the province to break these stigmas and prejudices to have a more inclusive world view, to understand that social justice and equity are characteristics that we have to strive for.

    The people of Rio, who are seen as very generous and very welcoming, sometimes, especially the conservative middle class still hold these prejudices. These prejudices guide practices – even within my own institution.

    So now my fight is not reduced to the world of practice, it is progressing in the symbolic dimension too, aiming to break paradigms and prejudices. We strive to consolidate, increasingly, not only the world of practice and policy but also social mobilization and the transformation of these representations in all parts- not only within the police, but also in society.

    We now have a media program that shows that the police value and prioritize prevention and equality and that highlights that people have differences, but are equal in their rights.

    Would it be possible to deploy the UPP elsewhere in Latin America?

    Every case is different. The UPP came to help, not to solve the problems of crime and public security in Rio de Janeiro because these issues are very complex and involve a number of factors.

    In Brazil the police have divided their activities. The military police, my section, ostensibly only carries out its own work and is responsible for the intervention work and the research is carried out by the civil police. In addition, there are federal police, dealing with transnational crime. We at the state level [military and civil police] are the tip of the iceberg: we deal with the effects rather than the causes of crime.

    What we do is work on these effects. There are high rates of lethal violence and there is often a very strong correlation with international crime. This international crime often escapes the jurisdiction of the state police.
    So in Brazil we have a domestic problem and we need to solve it. To also act on the causes of crime, we need to have a national actions program. The UPP alone will not solve the issue of violence: we must rely on other federal programs so that they can act on the routes of international drug trafficking, money laundering, arms trafficking, and everything that feeds the market of violence.

    The UPP works with the people of the slums to prevent violence and tries to reduce the space that allows for opportunistic criminal activities. But this action also depends on the other end of the spectrum: the federal police that deals with international crime, which is not the responsibility of the state police.

    The police forces of Latin American countries (and African countries as well) have some similarities: there are police forces that have very strong colonial legacies which results in distance from the population and lack identification with the local population. Considering that, in a sense, the design of the UPP could be adapted, yes.

    Why? Because the UPP prioritizes a police that gets closer to the population and not being remote. It seeks to identify itself with its people and to make a single population which includes both police and society.

    In this respect, I think we have many things in common [with the countries of Latin America and the former colonies]. We were colonies of European countries and our institutions have been created based on the models of the colonial police, consisting of removal and control. These models included the concern with the Republican rights, in the sense of fighting them just to keep the status quo that prevailed in the society.

    So in that sense, the police in Latin America and the countries that were colonies, for the most part, were built as institutions of removal and not as approachable institutions that valued equality. We need to review this. There are some principles of the peacekeeping police that can be adapted, but, of course, each situation has its own characteristics that must be respected.

    How do you think the big events coming to Brazil, such as the World Cup and the Olympics will affect the work of the UPP?

    The UPP is really anticipating these events. Let’s imagine that there was no UPP: most likely the police and army would take war on these communities, and as has happened with all events in Rio de Janeiro, these events would take place in a calm environment. But after these events, everything would go back to what it was like before.

    The UPP has already anticipated this and we are occupying the places with this history and maintaining a human presence. The legacy that the UPP wants to have is to find a solution and think differently.

    The positive impact [of these big events] is to make us think about how we are doing and how we should be doing (in terms of public safety). The military police is not a homogeneous mass- there are groups within who think differently. In the past these groups were not dominant within the military police institution.

    But by this time, society itself calls for a humane and respectful police so we had the chance to be ahead with these programs. This is already an anticipated effect of the major events.

    The events are an opportunity for those people who always believed that to police differently would be much less stressful and less traumatic, not only for society but also for the police. This, of course, would lead to greater confidence and greater legitimacy in police actions and that is what is happening.

    We are still on a journey, but it is an interesting journey. We have never enjoyed legitimacy as we enjoy it today which allows us to carry on our journey. We must also understand that we are not infallible and that there are always things to improve.

    The interesting thing is that those of us who are predisposed to this project, are always open to ideas. Dialogue with the community, with society itself is the best way to understand. So we have a program that gains legitimacy because it is built in partnership, respecting the opinions of those people who have always suffered with these problems.

    In this sense, the games and large events have a very positive effect. It is almost having a direct impact on these concepts and world views in the field of public safety.

    What are the prospects for the UPP when the World Cup and the Olympics are over?

    The UPP wants to establish a state of confidence and restore a normal state so we can have peace of mind and a greater chance to police with less stress and less fear.

    We now have the possibility of investment, and not only investment in the big events but also in the growth of Brazil in the socioeconomic field. There are policies (federal, state and local) which are encouraging, including making distribution of income a little more fair, which would reduce social tensions.

    After the games, the program will continue. It’s what society wants. The games will not mark the end of the program; It’s a legacy for Rio de Janeiro that will stay.

    We hope that alongside this there is a change in the Military Police itself to the point that it also becomes a real proximity and pacification police and contribute to peacekeeping as a whole. We hope that the general population comes around to this new paradigm that we are learning from and building on.

    We are in an interesting process in which we have a very good dialogue with society so we hope that the UPP itself is a springboard to leverage this process of transformation within the military police corps as a whole.

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