Just a few months before Rio de Janeiro welcomes visitors for the World Cup, and two years before it hosts the Olympics, security within the city remains a major issue.
The government currently promotes the policy of “pacification”, where security forces engage in raids, drug busts, and even gunfights with suspected gang members. This pacification policy is supposed to pave the way for the development of long-neglected favelas in Rio, Brazil’s second-biggest city and home to 11 million people.
Rio’s government has established the Pacifying Police Unit, a military police team with the intent of establishing security and diminishing criminality with force.
These police units stand at the centre of Rio Governor Sergio Cabral Filho’s security strategy. They have set up permanent stations in the working class areas or favelas in order to conduct routine patrols and to be able to quickly respond to gang activity, such as Comando Vermelho and Amigos dos Amigos (ADA), two large and often violent criminal organisations. There are now approximately 34 Pacifying Police Units in Rio, controlling more than 100 favelas where hundreds of thousands reside.
However, many of the favelas remain in the hands of an army of drug dealers and criminals who are not willing to step down or be pacified.

Members of the Pacifying Police Unit (UPP) stand guard while children play on top of the Macaco favela in northern Rio de Janeiro.

Marx and Chaves, two UPP patrol leaders, talk to locals about criminial activity in the favelas.


While on patrol, each member of the unit is trained to look for suspicious activity and to provide cover for the other members.

A child watches an UPP unit as they patrol a favela.

Patrol leaders Damaso and Marx observe suspicious activity from a distance. UPP aggresively responds to suspected gang activity, which have led to shootouts.

A gang member, also known asa ‘trafficante’, poses with his weapons in one of the many non-pacified favelas of Rio de Janeiro.

Gang members and drug dealers pose along the perimeter of their turf in order to stop the entry of security officials and members of rival gangs.

A drug dealer with the ADA gang counts money from a drug transaction. Cocaine and crack are the most popular drugs within the favelas.

Chaves, a member of the police unit, pats down a suspect for drugs.

UPP members frisk suspected drug dealers and gang members in the Macaco favela.

Members of a family relax outside their home in Rocinha, a favela that’s home to the ADA gang.

A desolated street in a favela. UPP operates in favelas that have not paid for public utilities. These favelas instead, give money to the controlling criminal organisations, leading to widespread tax evasion.

A view of the Rochinha favela – one of the few pacified communities in Rio de Janeiro.

– Al Jazeera



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