The early years – Part 1
It doesn’t seem like it was 10 years ago that I formed Safe Communities Algarve as it was then.
Some of you have followed our work since the beginning and I thank you for your support. However, there may be others who more recently moved to the Algarve and who may not be aware of our work.
In 2010, the crime situation in the Algarve was very different to what it is now. Some eastern European gangs had broken into the residences of mainly foreigners living in rural areas and used violence to steal property, sending shock waves through the community, police and politicians.
This situation led to the forming of Safe Communities Algarve (now Safe Communities Portugal).
Safe Communities Algarve
The concept of Safe Communities Algarve (SCA) was, and always has been, to promote safer communities, enhance public safety and security awareness and reduce the risk of becoming a victim of disasters or crime. In our early years, the focus was very much on crime prevention, but, after the fires in the eastern Algarve in 2012, a high priority became rural fire prevention and self-protection.
The earliest stages of my work had been to establish, in liaison with the GNR, the GNR Safe Residents Programme (SRP) for Alfontes and to assist other villages where needed in forming their own schemes.
The first police officer I met was then Guarda Frederico Sousa Fragosa, member of the GNR Loulé Safe Residents Programme, which had earlier been formed in Alfeição. We went on to establish the SRP in Alfontes and we worked closely together not only promoting the SRP but also at joint displays we conducted, including the one in the photo at Apolónia in Almancil.
“Freddie”, as he was known, had previously worked on board cruise liners and to this day is one of the most community-minded police officers I have had the pleasure to deal with.
Having just finished my work with INTERPOL and the UNODC, I was developing the idea of forming a community association to assist the police, which I proposed to the then Civil Governor for the Algarve, Isilda Gomes, currently the Mayor of Portimão, together with ideas aimed at creating safer communities in the region.
The GNR District Commander Coronel Francisco Matos de Sousa at the time and the Civil Governor were very supportive, and this led to further discussions with the Deputy Civil Governor Silva Gomes, who was seconded from the GNR and later became GNR Faro Territorial District Commander.
The need for closer engagement between the police and the foreign community was paramount. There were many foreigners who had little knowledge about the work of the police and the police themselves who had little contact with the foreign community.
In the early 2011, SCA functioned with just a handful of volunteers. Our work was mainly portrayed through our first website, kindly created by Dan Birch, a volunteer, and we also started to hold seminars and displays, bringing together the GNR, PSP, Turismo do Algarve and later SEF and the ANPC.
These proved popular, dealing with subjects such as crime prevention, the GNR Safe Residents Programme and explaining the work of the authorities concerned. For the first time, foreign residents were able to connect directly with the divisional commanders, who made the presentations in English, which was greatly appreciated and very well received.
It was in 2011 that Clive Jewell, Vice Consul, was holding outreach programmes, one of which in Albufeira was officiated by the then British Ambassador to Portugal, Gill Gallard. Safe Communities was invited to attend and made a presentation of our work. I thank Clive most sincerely for this initiative and all the tremendous support he has given us to this present day.
We started laying the foundation stones for Safe Communities, bringing together the founding members, Dan Birch, Marianne Guerreiro, my wife Jane, daughter Sophie Thomas and myself, and undertaking the various steps necessary to become a non-profit crime prevention organisation. Our main challenge was that there were no other crime prevention associations, so we had to develop various building blocks from scratch. This included entering into written agreements, known as protocols, with the GNR, PSP, SEF and ANPC.
This, however, was not only about written protocols, but it was also close engagement with many officials, several of whom have become close friends over the years.
I am very grateful to the Algarve tourism board, previously headed by Desidério Silva and more recently by João Fernandes, for their support and involvement in various crime prevention projects we have developed over the years.
We had also developed close contacts with the media who gave us great support in getting our key messages across to the public. I, therefore, thank Inês Lopes, Editor of the Algarve Resident, Brendan de Beer, then Editor of the Portugal News followed by Daisy Sampson, Carrie-Marie Bratley, journalist, and the Algarve Daily News.
However, it was not just printed media that was important in conveying key messages, and very early on we started our ‘Crime Check’ radio feature on Kiss Fm radio with the agreement of Marina Barbosa, programme manager. This moved to Sunday morning under the capable hands of Sir Owen Gee, where we continue some 150 features later, until today. Thank you Kiss Fm and Owen for your support.
In 2012, Raoul Rui Martinez became President of our General Assembly, and we were joined by Natasha Gilbertson who married Dan Birch. By 2013, our committee had expanded with volunteers Jim Litchko (with experience in cyber security) and Lília Martins (previously Chief of Staff to the Mayor of Faro), as well as the help of Clare Kellock in replacing the website.
Over the years, I have often been asked about forming non-profit associations. My advice has always been to: establish a clear aim of what you want to achieve, lay the foundation stones, build up contacts and gain the trust of key officials.
Next time: our transformation from Safe Communities Algarve to Safe Communities Portugal.
By David Thomas
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David Thomas is a former Assistant Commissioner of the Hong Kong Police, consultant to INTERPOL and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
In 2011, he founded Safe Communities Algarve to help the authorities and the community prevent crime. It is now registered as Associação SCP Safe Communities Portugal, the first national association of its type in Portugal.
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