Become the “eyes and ears” of your community

I always find it interesting that whilst some people are willing to pay out thousands of euros on sophisticated alarm systems, they do not adopt simple measures that are free of charge and can reduce the risk of becoming a victim of crime. These include crime prevention steps such as closing windows and locking car doors to reduce the risk of opportunist crime and, secondly, looking out for and reporting to police suspicious activities in our neighbourhoods.
Effective crime prevention is something where the community, police and private security are fully engaged as shown in the model on this page. This month’s feature deals with just one aspect of this, and that is your role in the community in reporting crime and suspicious activities in order to help keep your neighbourhood safe.

Unreported crime

Once again, when the official crime statistics are released shortly, we will see a decrease in overall crime for the Algarve. Although, of course, this is very welcomed, it does not include that element of crime which goes unreported to police, commonly known as “unreported crime”. Unfortunately in Portugal, unlike some other countries, there are no crime victimisation surveys undertaken, so it is impossible to gauge the overall extent of crime.

Although it is difficult to determine whether unreported crime is increasing or decreasing, the likelihood is, whatever the trend, this mainly applies to less serious crimes. Although less serious, crimes such as theft still have an impact on the quality of life in the neighbourhoods concerned.

Safe Communities Algarve is hearing at present about a number of thefts, particularly metal thefts, which have occurred in some of the more rural areas; but many of these go unreported to police. This appears mainly because they are considered relatively minor and/or the victim does not wish to spend time in a police station making a report. Commonly, this is opportunist theft, i.e. the culprit has been given the opportunity to make it easy to commit crime, for instance windows left open, cars unlocked etc.

Why should we report suspicious activities?

The problem with all this is that unless crimes and suspicious activities are reported, it is difficult for police to obtain those missing parts of the jigsaw that can connect various crimes and lead to the identification of the culprits concerned. This means that these types of crimes continue and areas become less safe as a consequence. Who wishes to live in an area where your belongings and property are at risk?

One answer to this is to become the “eyes and ears” in your community by passing on information to police of anything that appears suspicious, particularly those situations where you feel you or your neighbours are being watched or threatened. As a resident, we all know what is normal and what is not.

Reporting suspicious activities to the GNR

Safe Communities Algarve has taken up these issues both with the GNR and Polícia Judiciária, the latter who are responsible for investigating more serious crimes. In the case of the GNR, there is already the Safe Residence Programme (SRP) with some 6,000 residences in the Algarve registered. In these cases, it is a simple matter of picking up the phone and calling the team reporting the suspicious activity. They will be pleased to hear from you.

In addition, we have on our Safe Communities Algarve website an online facility for reporting suspicious activities – simply type in your message and email it to the GNR at the address provided. You may not always get a response but at least it has been brought to their attention for them to act upon.

We are continuing to work with the GNR in trying to make it easier to report suspicious activities, but the process is only one part; in the end it depends on you.

Serious crime

I recently met with the Polícia Judiciária and, given their remit in investigating serious crime, they are always pleased to receive any information that can help with their existing investigations, thus helping to bring culprits to justice, or indeed can prevent a crime taking place in the first place.

Their responsibilities are wide-ranging from the investigation of money laundering, crimes involving the carrying/use of firearms, corruption, cybercrime and organised gangs. They collaborate closely with overseas law enforcement agencies including those in Spain and northern Europe.

As a result of these discussions, Safe Communities Algarve has created a page on its website, accessible directly from the “Report Suspicious Activities” button on the home page, where you can report suspicious activities directly to their office in Faro.

Their standard of English is good and such reports can be made 24/7. In addition you can call at any time on 289 884 522 with the information concerned.

Importantly in the case of the Polícia Judiciária, information can, if you wish, be passed to them anonymously, thus protecting your identity. Of course if you are making an actual crime complaint then you will be required to identify yourself.

The Polícia Judiciária are a very professional law enforcement agency as evidenced by the bringing to justice of senior figures involved in the Golden Visa Scheme and, of course, the arrest of the former Prime Minister José Socrates.

So if you have actual information regarding corrupt practices or cybercrime, they are the people to contact. In respect of cybercrime, examples would be where there is evidence of “trolling”, online fraud or an illegal activity surfacing on social media such as Facebook.

Finally, establishing communities of information sharing is important. This helps build good relationships in a community, including neighbourly support, and makes it easier to tackle local crime and other issues before they get worse. Sharing information regarding suspicious activities and persons with police can only help in keeping your neighbourhood safe and secure.