Rio de Janeiro (AFP) - Brazilian police assumed control over one of Rio's most dangerous neighborhoods Tuesday, replacing the army in a key test for how to suppress crime ahead of next year's Olympic Games.
They took over from some 3,000 army troops who were deployed ahead of last year's World Cup to secure the Complejo de Mare, a crime-ridden mini-city near Rio's international airport.
"We are leaving with the feeling of having contributed a bit more to the security of the region," said army Major Carlos Alberto Neiva Barcellos.
He said the murder rate in the area has dropped from 21 to five per 100,000 inhabitants during the army's deployment in the Mare.
But drug trafficking and crime remain a problem. AFP journalists crossed paths early Tuesday with civilians armed with handguns, presumably drug traffickers, in one of the Mare's shantytowns.
Rio's state security secretary Jose Mariano Beltrame acknowledged that a stronger police presence alone was not enough to bring order to the densely populated area.
"It's not just a police problem. They can't solve everything," he said, emphasizing the need to extend public services like hospitals, schools and garbage collection in the city's famed favelas, or slums.
A spokesman for the state's Military Police, Frederico Caldas, said 400 police will maintain order in Mare until early 2016, when they will be replaced by four police "pacification units" with 1,600 police.
"I felt safer with the armed forces," a 27-year-old woman who would only identify herself as Aparecida told AFP. "Now that it is the military police, the armed bandits will return."