Paes aims to change that with a wide-ranging zero-tolerance strategy. Like Rudy Giuliani, former mayor of New York City who employed the "broken window" theory of urban crime fighting to clean up the city, Paes says that petty crime and urban neglect created a downward spiral. By addressing the small, but most evident, crimes, attitudes shift and crime rates can drop. Significantly, Paes is working closely with state and federal authorities to clean up the city.
Experts say that community involvement is key to success in such strategies.
Joseph Ryan, professor and chair of criminal justice at Pace University in New York, helped develop the New York City Police Department's community policing program in 1984. Focusing on combating smaller crimes and community involvement can make a radical difference in crime-ridden neighborhoods, he says.
"If you get people involved, you can turn around the community," he says. "I absolutely believe that when the neighborhood's going downhill and no one cares about it, it sends a loud message that people can get away with whatever they want. No one is watching it, no one cares about the neighborhood."
Almost every day, city officials in Rio fan out and detain unlicensed vendors on beaches, tow off vehicles lacking the proper registrations, and remove street children and homeless adults from main thoroughfares.
Illegally constructed buildings are being bulldozed and unlicensed billboards have been torn down. Hundreds of tons of pirated merchandise has been seized.