Thu, January 15, 2009
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Rio's community police patrol

2009-01-15 09:05:53 GMT2009-01-15 17:05:53 (Beijing Time)  Reuters

In their long battle to take back control of slums from drug gangs, Rio de Janeiro's police are trying a new tactic - staying in place and talking to residents.

120 police officers live among the residents in Brazil's Santa Marta slum. Sarah Irwin reports.


Walking a beat in Rio de Janeiro's Santa Marta slum, a police officer navigates a narrow passage between shacks, climbing staircases to speak with residents, day after day.

Long controlled by drug gangs and periodically raided by police not afraid to use deadly force, the slum perched on the hill below the city's towering Christ the Redeemer statue is now home to a community police force:

120 officers live among the people - trained to greet them with hello's, not handcuffs.

Police Captain Pricilla de Oliveira Azevedo explains:

SOUNDBITE: Police Captain Pricilla de Oliveira Azevedo, saying (Portugese):

"One of the main differences in this community policing is that the police force doesn't arrive, battle and leave. It arrives battles stays and gets to know allof the commmunity's residents."

Combined with an influx of public works funding that helped construct Santa Marta's new soccer field, community policing is the latest tactic in Brazil's long battle against drug traffickers.

And it is a departure from the violence of recent years...In 2007, Rio police shot more than 1300 people dead and are regularly condemned by human rights groups for brutality and even arbitrary killings.

The new softer strategy has many residents optimistic, but many are wary, having witnessed police brutality before.

SOUNDBITE: Laerte Santiago, Santa Marta slum resident, saying (Portugese):

"Things are getting better and now we are where we are today. But the problem is that we don't know what will happen tomorrow."

The idea is to extend community policing tactics to other slums.

But the new approach faces challenges - many of Rio's 1000 slums are bigger and harder to control than Santa Marta and the police lack training and resources.

State security officials also say the new policy doesn't mean raids won't be necessary to seize arms and drugs.

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