UPPs: What Do the Police Officers Think?

Clique aqui para Português

For the original article in Portuguese published by Redes da Maré click here.

The stopping and searching of suspects, reports of incidents in the police stations, seizures of drugs and arms, arrests and clashes with traffickers. More and more common among the Pacifying Police Units (UPPs), these actions demonstrate that the project—created to change the paradigm of policing favelas, especially in terms of relating to and connecting with residents—is increasingly approaching the conventional modus operandi of the Military Police.

This conclusion, based on research carried out in 2014 with the participation of 2,002 police commanders and soldiers across 36 UPPs in Rio de Janeiro, raises doubts about the course of the UPP program first implemented in 2008.

“We have noticed a drastic change from the first round of research, conducted in 2010, when there were big expectations and hope attached to the UPPs,” explained Leonarda Musumeci, one of the research coordinators. “The results from the third round point to a deterioration of the project’s initial proposal and generate a series of concerns and doubts about its future.”

One part of the data that is particularly noteworthy is the perception among police officers that today there is a high level of hostility from residents towards UPPs, directly affecting the soldiers and commanders working to police the favelas.

Almost 56% of those interviewed said they had been targets of objects thrown at them by members of the local community, while around 66% had received insults and 62% reported not receiving any responses from residents on greeting them.

According to police officers, these attitudes are expressions of the residents’ negative feelings towards them (anger, distrust, fear, aversion, disrespect, contempt, etc.). For 28% of those interviewed, this is the worst thing about being part of a UPP, followed by bad working conditions (18.5%), and lack of safety and risks during confrontations (17.6%).

The percentage of officers who report perceiving positive sentiments from residents towards the UPPs has fallen from 43.7% (in 2012) to 23.8% (in 2014). It is worth noting that during the first round of research, conducted in 2010, this percentage was 66.5%.

This shift in police officers’ perceptions is accompanied by a drop in positive assessments of their own work in relation to UPPs: in 2012, 60.2% of those interviewed gave a positive assessment of the initiative. In 2014, the percentage fell to 41.3%. At the same time, the percentage of officers who said they were satisfied, most of the time, with working in a UPP fell from 46.2% in 2012 to 28.3% in the third round of the research.

The reasons for the drop in positive opinions are varied, but working conditions appear to be top concerns for officers: only 31.9% consider the conditions in their UPP base to be good; 30.9% find the work schedule to be adequate; 21.5% approve of their salary; 18.6% are happy with the area and eating conditions; 16.1% are satisfied with the level of psychological support they receive; 15.6% are happy with the rooms they have; and 2.7% are satisfied with their travel allowance.

Distance from the community

Typical community policing activities—one of the pillars of the initial proposal for UPPs—aren’t part of routine work for the soldiers and chiefs that work in pacified communities.

Only 26% report regularly attempting to get closer to the local population, while 14% say they [regularly] mediate conflicts and only 5.3% meet regularly with residents. However, 36.7% say they try to get close to the local population on a sporadic basis, and 35.4% occasionally do conflict mediation.

Also low are the percentages of police officers who affirm that they maintain contact with organizations working within the UPP areas, like Residents Associations (30.3%), churches (18.3%), NGOs (8.1%) and community businesses (4.5%).

At the same time, 56.4% of police report frequently stopping and searching suspects in their communities, while 32.3% report incidents in police stations, and 29% make arrests and seizures.

“It is, without a doubt, a demonstration of the fragility of community policing while there is a reinforcement of conventional practices used in contexts outside of the UPPs. This makes us question whether they are becoming an occupying police force instead of community police,” says Silvia Ramos, coordinator of the study in conjunction with Barbara Musumeci Mourão and Leonarda Musumeci.

More efficient and intensive training in community policing, along with permanent channels of communication with the population and conflict mediation, are just some of the initiatives that could be adopted to reverse the current situation, says Silvia Ramos.

About the research

Carried out by the Cândido Mendes University’s CESeC–Center for Security and Citizenship Studies–along with support from the Open Society Foundation and the Ford Foundation, the ‘UPPs: What The Police Think’ research has been carried out over three rounds so far, examining different moments in the implementation of UPP units in Rio’s favelas.

In 2010, when there were just nine UPPs, 359 police officers were interviewed. In 2012, 775 police officers from the 20 UPPs were interviewed. And, in the third round in 2014, there were 36 functioning UPPs and the total sample size was 2,002 officers (1,896 soldiers and 106 non-commissioned officers). In all three rounds, the samples represented the whole UPP police force rather than each UPP individually. The margin of error in the results is 4%.