Citizens advised to complain about unprofessional GNR

EXCLUSIVE: by INÊS LOPES [email protected]

Over the years, the Algarve Resident has received several complaints from readers who have either found the procedure for filing a police report too complex and language barriers led to a ‘defeated attitude’ or who feel, as foreigners, that they have been treated disrespectfully or with disregard by the police authorities. This week we set about the task of finding out what actions should be taken by a foreign citizen in Portugal in the event of a crime or when interaction with the authorities falls below expectations. Inês Lopes spoke to Lieutenant-Colonel Luís Sequeira from the GNR.

In one of the most recent cases brought to our attention, an Irish citizen, who wishes to remain anonymous, informed us that she had been waiting for nearly three weeks for a police report after she was the victim of a robbery while on holiday in Albufeira.

She told the Algarve Resident: “I returned home recently after my fourth trip to Albufeira. Unfortunately on this occasion, I had my handbag stolen on July 1 from a local cake shop.”

Fearing that she would struggle to communicate with the GNR, she was accompanied by staff from the cake shop to the police station to act as her translators and make a report, which she required for her insurance company.

When the reader contacted us, on July 18, she was still waiting for the police report and had even contacted the Portuguese Embassy in Dublin for help, who assured her they would attempt to acquire it.

She said: “Here in Ireland there has been a huge publicity drive encouraging visitors to report such misfortunes to the authorities in Portugal and the same has been discussed on the national airwaves so I was happy to take their advice.”

The reader needed the police report as evidence that she had reported the crime within 24 hours – “not a lot to ask,” she said. “I feel overwhelmed with despair at the inadequate nature of the police department and would hate to be dealing with a more significant problem.”

The Algarve Resident  can now report that after making contact with the Algarve GNR Headquarters in Faro for an explanation about this case, our reader received the document in due time to present it for insurance purposes.

On July 22, she contacted us to say the Embassy had received the police report and it was finally in her possession. She said: “I am convinced that without your input, I would still be up against the system. Thank you for all your time and assistance.”

Lieutenant-Colonel Luís Sequeira from the Algarve GNR Headquarters told the Algarve Resident: “In this particular case, it appears the complaint procedure had not been formalised, which led to a delay in sending the report. When citizens file a police complaint, it needs to be formalised in order for us to initiate an investigation into the crime and issue the report which details the damages incurred by the victim.

“However, we don’t rule out the possibility that there may have been a communication problem. But in cases when language is a problem, it is the duty of the GNR officer dealing with the case to find a solution, which could be to request the assistance of someone who is fluent in English.”

Over the years, communication problems with the police authorities have been brought to the Algarve Resident’s attention by readers who felt that at times the GNR showed disregard when dealing with their cases.

In March this year, Helga and Larry Hampton wrote to us saying: “The lack-a-daisical treatment you get at the local GNR station while processing your damage report is appallingly discouraging.”

A month earlier, Paul Jones had said in an email: “My friends reported a burglary to the GNR police and the response and support they received was almost nonexistent. The police seem to have either no interest or insufficient training to deal with it.”

These are just two of the most recent examples.

Lieutenant-Colonel Luís Sequeira is aware of the importance of having officers who can communicate in English at GNR stations across the Algarve, the holiday destination of choice of millions of international tourists as well as the home of many foreign residents.

He said: “We attend to many foreign citizens who do not speak Portuguese on a daily basis. They come to us mainly to report crimes of robbery.

“As a norm, a translator is not needed as in all GNR stations there is an officer who has at least basic knowledge of the English language. Exceptionally, in more complex cases, we need to request the assistance of a translator,” he said.

When told of the perception some of our readers have that the GNR are uncaring or unwilling to help, the Lieutenant-Colonel advises citizens to always send a written complaint – “an email would suffice” – to the Algarve GNR Headquarters describing occurrences where they felt they had been dealt with inadequately by GNR officers, “so that the matter can be looked into and measures taken to avoid any repeats in the future”.

“It is the GNR force’s duty to respect the Code of Deontology of Police Service when liaising with citizens, regardless of their nationality, and avoid behaviour that could be detrimental to the police service’s prestige and efficiency.”

Security specialist David Thomas, who has taken part in several meetings with the police authorities, has been working to bridge the gap between the police and the community in the Algarve.

In his new column in the Algarve Resident (see page 29), he says: “The spate of indoor armed robberies targeted against foreign householders at the end of 2009 sent shock waves through the foreign community and was a wake-up call to the police and civil authorities that new ways were needed to tackle crime. With the initiative of the some civic minded residents and through engagement with the GNR, the Safe Residents Programme was born – community policing had at long last arrived. Here in Portugal, only more recently has there been a move towards closer police/community engagement.”

Although foreign residents and visitors in the Algarve will more than likely continue to have reasons to complain about our police forces, the resources seem to exist for citizens to act to help improve the system in their benefit.

Police reports for insurance purposes can be requested on the spot by the crime victim after a complaint has been formalised, at a cost of €11.

To make a complaint about an occurrence involving the GNR, please send a written complaint by post to Comando Territorial de Faro da GNR,  Largo São Sebastião, nº 18, 8000-155 Faro, by email to [email protected] or by fax to 289 887 618. For more information, please telephone 289 887 600 and request to speak to an officer in English.

Do you have a view on this story? Please email Editor Inês Lopes at [email protected].