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Crime 2017 – beyond the crystal ball

We end the year on a positive note. The Security Coordination Bureau (Gabinete Coordenador de Segurança – GCS) indicated that overall and violent crime in 2016 has decreased by 6.5% and 10.5% respectively. With the exception of 2015 where overall crime increased by 1.3%, 2016 continues the downward trend started in 2008.

These provisional figures reflect “reported” crime up until the third quarter of 2016. Hopefully the year end results when they are published later will show similar figures. There is, of course, an element of unreported crime which is not known in the absence of crime victimisation surveys in Portugal.

Police, however, are now facing new trends in crime, which no longer take place on streets but rather online. This is evidenced by extortion, mostly committed over the internet, and IT scams which grew significantly by 70% and 20%, respectively.

Extortion, particularly sexual bribery or sextortion as it has become known, and IT crimes, such as illegally accessing bank details, sabotage and swindling, have risen markedly as have cases of blackmail.

Explaining the trends

Firstly, why are crimes such as vehicle theft and street crime continuing to decrease? The down trend started from the heights we experienced around 5-7 years ago. The analysis was that the reduction in major crime such as residential robberies was due to the capture of some of the groups responsible, whereas others had returned to their own countries.

Last week, in explaining the continuing decrease, police chiefs said this could, in large part, be due to a greater police presence on the streets, heavier armed and better equipped forces, police reinforcements in critical areas and greater crime prevention awareness by people.

I certainly agree with the police chief’s assessment in respect of physical crime, be it property crime or crimes against persons. Criminals generally do not want to be caught and if they feel that the risks of doing so are too high, then they will try and find a new way which is less risky.

We can all make it more difficult for criminals by taking crime prevention measures which will have effect in reducing crime, particularly crimes such as theft from vehicles, burglaries and pickpocketing. Often such crimes are the work of opportunists who are looking for the most vulnerable victims and property.

One of the crimes that has concerned me most during 2016 is crimes against the elderly. Apart from the murder of an 83-year-old woman in her home in Faro and the serious assault of two others, there seems to be more reports of scams involving the elderly who are, of course, the more vulnerable in society. Often these involve fraudsters visiting residences, pretending to be from the CTT, EDP, the council or other callers, finding any reason to get the elderly victims to hand over their property.

The police are well aware of this and throughout the year have stepped up action through their “safe elderly programmes”. We can help by keeping a look out for this type of activity and reporting it to the police.

There is little doubt that increasing police visibility and presence on the streets does form a deterrent in reducing some types of crime.

Recently, in the lead up to Christmas, the PSP Lisbon Metropolitan Police Commander took agents away from their desks and put them on the streets, but unfortunately this is not sustainable. Police levels have decreased because of austerity programmes, so it is important to find ways of doing more with less – but there comes a time where this is not always possible.

Another reason for the decrease in the more common crimes, but one not mentioned by police chiefs, is that there is undoubtedly a more efficient and greater exchange of information between the various police forces within the country and with our neighbours than previously. We have seen some excellent cases this year which have resulted in the dismantling of various criminal groups, often based overseas.

Another concern, however, is violence against the police. This year there have been various cases that have become headlines, in particular the death of a GNR agent and the serious wounding of another in Aguiar da Beira. Ensuring that the police are well equipped and trained to deal with violent criminals is vitally important.


So far Portugal has been spared the terrorism onslaught that affected many European countries. Portugal does not have the traditional ingredients that foster terrorism, but unfortunately today’s terrorists are different from the past. We are now seeing terrorists driving trucks into crowds, something that is very difficult to prevent.

Building up intelligence about these people and acting upon it before these atrocities happen is vitally important. Open borders, however, make this very difficult for the intelligence services. Having law enforcement agencies that conduct frequent roadside checks on vehicles, although often criticised as an inconvenience to drivers, helps in detecting serious crime and there has been a number of cases to support this during the year – one being the seizure of six million cigarettes in a vehicle stopped near the border with Spain.


As the police chiefs said, we are now experiencing a significant increase in cybercrime and this is a trend that I expect to continue during 2017. This, of course, is a global problem and not confined to Portugal. Police here have taken some actions to help create awareness of this through programmes run by the GNR and PSP in the education of the young. This is particularly relevant to sextortion and cyberbullying.

The government has also responded through the centralisation of its cybercrime investigations by bringing the various law enforcement agencies and experts together to enable better coordination and improved effectiveness.

On the European front, Europol formed its Cybersecurity Centre to support the work of national law enforcement agencies as well as enabling the better sharing of information, dealing with a trans-national problem.

What can we expect for 2017?

Looking towards 2017, it is not that difficult to guess where we are likely to see the major crime trends. The first of these will undoubtedly be cybercrime and, with a booming tourist industry, online letting fraud will likely feature.

Cybercrime attacks on major institutions have become common place and, again, I expect more of this during 2017. Using strong passwords and not sharing them between different accounts is the best step that we can all take to reduce the risk of becoming a victim of cybercrime. Make this our New Year resolution.

In 2016, arson resulted in over 85 arrests by the Polícia Judiciária. It is hoped that this does not become an increasing trend in 2017.

With the recent law change that animals are no longer treated as “things”, we can expect to see an increase in reported crimes against animals.

Unfortunately another area to watch is domestic violence. This is one of the most reported crimes in Portugal, in part mainly due to greater education in this area.

Opportunist crime will likely feature highly, but with simple crime prevention steps this can be reduced.

I feel we are very lucky in Portugal in having very dedicated and professional police forces. Having worked with INTERPOL, I was privileged to visit many countries and see the work of the police first-hand.

We have what I believe is the best environmental policing anywhere in the world, as well as excellent programmes aimed at protecting the elderly and children. We have the GNR Safe Residence Programme aimed and protecting people living in isolated areas, as well as the many special programmes run by the GNR and PSP.

We also have the fantastic work done by the Polícia Judiciária in dealing with serious crime, in particular corruption, child abuse and money laundering resulting in some major arrests during the year.

The work of SEF should also be praised in helping to protect our borders in the light of greater cross-border threats.

At the end of the day, a safe community involves all of us.

Have a very happy and safe New Year.

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