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Rise of militias boost security policy calls for Rio shantytowns

November 10th, 2009

Photo: Gang'Star, flickr

The growth of militias in Rio de Janiero’s shantytowns is cited as the most alarming aspect of a study into serious levels of violence released by Rio de Janeiro State University.

“The army, federal, state and city police must unite around a security policy capable of meeting this threat,” Alba Zaluar, a sociologist, who worked on the study in conjunction with the university’s applied statistics department said, according to government news agency Agencia Brasil.

By last year, militias had taken control of 400 slums of the 965 included in the study versus 108 four years ago, researchers found.

In some cases, where there is no official police presence, militias have succeeded in forcing out drug traffickers and criminal gangs, taking over areas previously under their control.

It has led to turf wars between criminal gangs, leading to fears the situation is spiralling out of control.

Militias have not only increasingly taken control of the supply of gas canisters used by slum dwellers to fuel ovens in places that are among the most unlikely to be attended by utility companies, but also the selling and letting of properties in such areas.

“It’s a big business that can bring in even more than drug trafficking,” Zaluar underlined.

Having in place so called ‘police peace keeping units’ (UPPs) are just as important as promoting a spirit of trust between the police and the local communities, which fear ‘the shoot first, ask questions later’ approach adopted in many previous operations, Zaluar said.

“The way police see slum dwellers and how they see the police has to change. There has to be a relationship built on trust,” he added.

The report comes on the day police mount a massive search operation for those linked to militias operating in the western Campo Grande part of the city.

Last month, two weeks after the city was awarded the 2016 Olympic Games, two Brazilian policemen were killed after their helicopter crashed, having been shot at in clashes between Rio de Janeiro police and drug gangs.

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