Algarve crime – removing the opportunities

The annual crime statistics released by the government in early April showed that overall reported crime in the Algarve increased slightly from 21,505 cases in 2016 to 21,907 last year (1.8%) and Portugal as a whole up 3.3%. Violent crime decreased very slightly by 0.3%, to 994 cases, compared with a national decrease of 8.7%.

Safe Communities Portugal has undertaken an initial analysis of the report and figures provided by Direção-Geral da Política de Justiça to determine the crime situation for the Algarve and to identify crime trends. This is important because knowing the trends enables us to take appropriate crime precautions.

Putting the figures in context

Firstly, it is important to put all this in context – what is happening in Portugal as well as Europe as a whole. In Portugal, over the last 10 years, crime has decreased around 20.8% whereas in the Algarve it has decreased 25% during the same period. This is good news, especially when considering the significant growth in tourism in the last few years. From a European perspective, Portugal has the lowest crime rate.

When comparing European figures for two of the most common crimes – theft and burglary – in 2015 (the latest figures available for Europe), the chances of you being a victim of burglary in Portugal were 54% less than in England and Wales; 50% less than in France; and 48% less than in Germany. For thefts, the figures were 58% less; 50% less; and 55% less, respectively (source: Eurostat).

Algarve – the main trends

The increase in overall crime reverses the general decrease since 2008 when the total of crimes reported stood at 29,248. This is the first increase since 2010.

The highest recorded crimes in the Algarve were again drink-driving, followed by opportunist theft, minor assault and other damage.

In the overall categories, crime against persons stood at 4,819 cases (up 0.6% from 2016) and crime against property at 11,772 cases (up 9.1%). The level of property crime is higher than the national average and crime against persons lower.

The main areas of increased crime compared to 2016 were burglary without break-in, 718 cases (+28.6%); theft from supermarkets, 62 cases (+51.2%); other fraud, 962 cases (+34.5%); opportunist theft, 1,456 cases (+24.4%); street robbery with snatching, 278 cases (+11.1%); drug trafficking, 393 cases (+7.3%); and pickpocketing, 625 cases (+12.6%).

The increase in the number of burglaries without break-in and opportunist theft shows that people are failing to take simple crime prevention measures to protect property. This sort of crime can be reduced, by taking simple measures to protect items such as smartphones and handbags. Often opportunist thefts are not reported if the amount stolen is low, so the true figure is likely to be much higher.

The increase in fraud cases shows a continuing upward trend, not only in the Algarve but Portugal as a whole, as well as other countries. In the Algarve, it represents a threefold increase compared to 2008. These include fraudulent adverts in newspapers; doorstep sellers and other miscellaneous frauds. In addition, computer/communications fraud amounted to 411 cases, compared to just 15 cases in 2008! Such online fraud includes online shopping fraud and villa letting scams.

Areas where crimes decreased included: burglary with break-in, 1,148 (-23.8%); street robberies without snatching, 292 (-12.0%); minor assault, 1,364 (-4.2%); threats and coercion, 892 (-1.7%); other thefts, 713 (-7.5%); theft from motor vehicles, 1,252 (- 14.7%); and theft of motor vehicles, 401 (-10.5%).

The decrease in thefts from motor vehicles is welcomed as this is against the national trend where such crime increased by 5.5% compared to 2016. It appears that the message about leaving valuables in cars is getting across. This is noteworthy as there has been a significant increase in tourism in 2017 and hire cars are often the targets for this type of criminality.

Violent crime

Good news is that during 2017 there were no reported robberies at banks, pharmacies or on public transport in the Algarve. Robberies at commercial establishments were the lowest for 10 years. There were 47 cases of rape recorded and 47 cases of sexual abuse against children, an increase of four compared to 2016. Domestic violence stood at 1,437 cases, a slight increase from 1,366 the previous year.

Residential robberies increased from 35 to 56 cases. Approximately 10% of all residential robberies in Portugal are in the Algarve, which is disproportionate to the number of residents, which is only 4.3% of the population. Although 2016 was a lower year than usual, the increase is obviously a cause for concern and a matter Safe Communities will discuss with police.

Geographical distribution of crime

Compared to 2016, seven municipalities showed a decrease, seven showed an increase and two remained about the same. In terms of the distribution of crime, Loulé had the highest number of reports, 3,755 cases; followed by Albufeira, 3,277 cases; and Faro, 3,118 cases – reflecting generally the areas with the highest population and number of tourists. At the lower end of the scale, Alcoutim had the least number of reported crimes, just 89, followed by Monchique, 157, and Castro Marim, 203.

In 2017, a total of 46.3% of overall crime was concentrated in the central Algarve in the municipalities of Albufeira, Loulé and Faro. In 1993, 53.7% of crimes were concentrated in these three municipalities and in 2001, 49.3%. Although crimes are still lower in the western and eastern Algarve, the distribution over the last 24 years has tended to shift slightly in those directions, probably in line with population expansion.

What we can all do to prevent crime

Although there are ups and downs, many of the ups are crimes which are preventable. We do not live in a perfect world. To commit a crime requires three ingredients: means, motive and opportunity. Therefore, reducing the opportunity for criminals to carry out crime leads to a safer society. This has been demonstrated with the vast reduction in thefts from motor vehicles. Attention now needs to be turned to our homes and by protecting our belongings in the street, in the markets and in crowded areas.

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 October 2011 he founded Safe Communities Algarve an on-line platform here in the 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, with a new website launched in May 2015. He can be contacted at [email protected], or on 913045093 or at