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What are Rio's security crackdowns accomplishing?

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Felipe Dana/AP

(Read caption) Police from the Special Operations Battalion patrol as a resident looks on during a security operation in the Manguinhos slum in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, April 11. City officials launched a 'pacification' program in 2009, in which security forces clear heavily armed gangs from slums and establish a police presence with the aim of reducing violence in Rio before the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympic Games.

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• A version of this post ran on the author's blog, Riorealblog.com. The views expressed are the author's own.

How much can a city change? This is the question underlying doubts arising in the last two weeks regarding Rio’s public safety policy.

You may believe that the values, habits, and assumptions of a city and its inhabitants, developed over the course of generations, are static; immutable. In this case, the police and politicians are forever corrupt and criminals are constantly crooked, while innocent citizens are always at the mercy of both. Rio’s 2008 public safety policy is for show, a temporary lockdown until the Olympics are done.

Or you may think that change occurs when systems no longer provide what they were created to do; when new demands crop up that they can’t meet. In this case, police and politicians become enlightened, criminals have fewer options, and innocent citizens find themselves called on to adapt their own values, habits and assumptions. Rio’s 2008 public safety policy is part of a larger socioeconomic turn of the tide and the fabrics of the city’s favelas, or slums, and its formal neighborhoods are turning from patchwork to a single weave.

When the new public safety policy was conceived, officials knew that drug traffickers would flee to other favelas. Police occupation is announced beforehand, after all. Over the last three years we’ve seen criminals run to Complexo do Alemão and Rocinha, among other [favelas]. Now that these have been occupied, the fallout is occurring within a wider radius.

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