RIO DE JANEIRO – Top officials from Rio de Janeiro said Friday they want elite federal police and possibly army troops sent to the city to help quell a wave of violence in so-called "pacified" slums.
The announcement came hours after suspected drug gang members attacked three police shantytown outposts, injuring three officers and burning one of the metal shipping containers they use as offices in slums. The violence hit an area near the slum that Pope Francis visited during his visit to Brazil last year.
The attacks raise concerns about an ambitious security program that began in 2008, in part to secure the city ahead of this year's World Cup and the 2016 Olympics. The effort sees police and at times army troops invade slums, push out drug gangs and set up permanent posts in areas where traffickers held sway for decades.
"It's the criminals who want this war," Rio Gov. Sergio Cabral said after he met with President Dilma Rousseff for two hours Friday. "We want peace in our communities. This is a time that the pacification units are being checked, being provoked. It's a clear attempt to demoralize the pacification units."
Cabral provided no details about what the increased security arrangement with the federal government would entail, but he indicated that a mixture of federal police and army soldiers could soon be sent to Rio to help patrol slums.
The army helped in the past as Rio's police took the Alemao complex of slums that straddle the road leading to the international airport, an area where police have recently come under multiple attacks.
Jose Beltrame, Rio's top security official and the architect of the pacification program, said the recent attacks on police were ordered by imprisoned drug gang leaders in an effort to disrupt expansion of the program, which would further restrict the area held by the gangs.
Since the inception of the security program, police have created 37 permanent "pacification units" that they say covers an area with a population of 1.5 million. Murders are down in those areas and the number of shootouts has dropped.
Yet residents of those slums often have accused police of heavy-handed tactics.
More than 20 police who patrolled Rio's largest slum, Rocinha, are facing charges for the disappearance last year of 42-year-old construction worker Amarildo de Souza. Police investigators say he died while being tortured by officers who were seeking information about where a gang was hiding drugs and guns. His body has yet to be found.
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