Rio police show new face in battle-hardened slums

Thu Jan 15, 2009 9:14am EST
 
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By Stuart Grudgings

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Bouncing a small boy on her knee and listening attentively to residents' complaints, Capt. Pricilla de Oliveira Azevedo is the new face of policing in Rio de Janeiro.

"The police are entering houses that have doors open with their guns pointed," complained Marcelo Andrade, a 38-year-old resident of the Santa Marta slum.

"They aren't invading houses, but they need to check when there's an open door," de Oliveira replied, dark hair tied back above her bullet-proof vest. "When you have something new there will be changes for the better and worse."

In their long, bloody battle to take back control of hundreds of slums from drug gangs, Rio's police are trying a new tactic -- staying in place and talking to people.

After invading this community of about 10,000 people in November and driving out the Red Command drug gang, the police surprised residents by staying, starting an experiment they plan to expand to other slums scarred by gang warfare and the usual police tactic of "invade, shoot, and leave."

Santa Marta, a steep maze of shacks under the gaze of Rio's Christ the Redeemer statue, now has three police posts staffed by 120 mostly young officers trained in "community policing." New recruits, they are relatively unmarked by the brutality and corruption elsewhere in the force. Paid about $220 more a month than their peers, they also have different orders -- to get to know residents rather than just arresting them.

The new policy combined with an influx of public works is being backed by President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, in an attempt after six years in power to tackle the chronic problem of violent slums in Rio and other big Brazilian cities.

"We don't want police anymore who enter from time to time without knowing who is good and who is bad, treating everyone as if they were the enemy," Lula told residents last month at German, a much bigger slum complex that is also due for new police posts.   Continued...

 
<p>A view of Santa Marta slum in Rio de Janeiro January 14, 2009. In their long, bloody battle to take back control of hundreds of slums from drug gangs, Rio's police are trying a new tactic -- staying in place and talking to people. To match feature BRAZIL-FAVELAS/ REUTERS/Bruno Domingos</p>