April 25, 1974 || Overview of policing before and after the Revolution
About a month ago I visited the GNR station in Portimão and saw a group of school children watching the GNR dogs go through their paces. A week or so later I was at the GNR station in Albufeira where children from another school were riding GNR horses. In the summer the PSP hand out plastic coded bracelets to children so that if lost and found they can be reunited with their loved ones. The GNR and PSP have a programme whereby they check your property when on holiday and of course there is the GNR Safe Residence Programme (SRP).
But what does this have to do with events 40 years ago? In fact quite a lot; as these examples illustrate, over a relatively short period of Portugal’s history, just how far the law enforcement agencies have come in adopting modern community policing programmes and engaging more with the public. Such developments have taken some countries much longer to achieve – if in fact they ever did – following transition from dictatorships to democracies. Something I have observed with my previous work with INTERPOL.
Policing prior to the revolution
Although the main duties of the police had always been the prevention, detection, and investigation of crime and the maintenance of public order, the presence of the Polícia Internacional e de Defesa do Estado (PIDE), the national intelligence agency, in suppressing political and labour organisations had left a reservoir of fear and mistrust among the Portuguese people.
Using a wide network of covert cells, which were spread throughout Portugal and its overseas territories, PIDE had infiltrated agents into almost every underground movement, including the Portuguese Communist Party, as well as the independence movements in Angola and Mozambique. The PIDE encouraged citizens (snitches) – to denounce suspicious activities, through the use of monetary and prestige incentives and was therefore able to fully control almost every aspect of Portuguese daily life. The influence of the PIDE in policing was considerable and its activities feared by many people.
Events of April 25
It started at 12.25am on Thursday April 25, 1974 and by early evening the end of dictatorship was announced. The Movimento das Forças Armadas (MFA), radical mid-ranking officers, had executed the plan devised by Captain Otelo de Carvalho. Troops secured Lisbon and the second city, Porto. Key installations were taken, ministers arrested.
The news of the regime’s downfall spread like wildfire. People flooded the streets. MFA vehicles were mobbed by adoring crowds. Thousands of school students marched, shouting “Down with fascism”. Red carnations, the symbol of the revolution, blossomed in rifle barrels and festooned the streets in this festival of freedom.
The ex-dictator, Marcello Caetano, cowered in National Guard barracks. He was the successor to the fascist regime consolidated in the early 1930s by António Salazar. Paramilitary groups terrorised left-wing and industrial militants. Independent trade unions and the right to strike were illegal.
Key installations were secured: military headquarters occupied, airport closed, leading ministers arrested. Troops sealed off access to Lisbon and secured the second city, Porto. The only resistance came from the PIDE.
In fact the most dramatic moments of the 1974 Carnation Revolution occurred near the PIDE headquarters. Unidentified agents, desperate after being surrounded by rebellious troops and a throng of citizens, opened fire from the top of the building, killing four demonstrators. These were the only victims of the coup d’état which brought down the dictatorship.
Post-Revolution policing developments
The day following the revolution the PIDE was abolished.
It was soon clear that the authority of the police, which was identified with the old regime, had been seriously compromised by the Revolution of 1974.
During the months after the revolution, there was a sharp rise in crime and disorder owing to the virtual disappearance of social and moral constraints imposed by tradition and reinforced by the authoritarian regime. Until the civilian police forces, disarmed after the revolution, could be reorganised and retrained to operate in Portugal’s new political environment, armed forces security units assumed responsibility for internal security. By 1976, control of the police apparatus was returned to civilian authorities under the Ministry of Internal Administration.
Article 272 of the Constitution of 1976, as revised in 1982, emphasised the responsibility of the police to defend the democratic process and to ensure that they acted within the law and did not exceed their authority. In carrying out their mission of preventing crimes, including crimes against the security of the state, the police were enjoined to observe the rights, freedoms, and safeguards of citizens.
Subsequent restructuring placed the GNR under the Minister of Interior in terms of “day to day policing”, although in wartime it would come under the military authorities. The SEF was created to deal with border security matters and, together with the PSP who are in charge of the policing of the big cities and the Judicial Police, responsible for the investigation, all now come under the Minister of Interior.
In the early 1980s the government became concerned about terrorist attacks overseas, and in 1984 the SIRP was formed reporting directly to the Prime Minister. The SIRP is an intelligence agency coordinating all intelligence work in Portugal. Policing following the revolution was not transformed overnight, but gradually new developments took place.
A major problem at a number of stages in development was the lack of resources available to the law enforcement agencies, particularly in recent years with the impact of recession and the austerity programmes which have been introduced. The consequences of that has been widespread concern among law enforcement agencies regarding reductions in salary and the reductions in police budgets.
Another interesting aspect is that in times of recession there is often an increase in crime, particularly property crime, but this has not happened. Here in the Algarve we have seen successive decreases in recorded crime which now places it the lowest since 2001.
Despite the lack of resources, however, the police have some of the most innovative programmes I have found specifically aimed at various sectors of society. These include the flagship GNR SRP, as well as special programmes run by both the PSP and GNR aimed at ensuring the safety and security of the elderly; commerce; the domestic violence programmes; “Operation Safe Olive” (aimed at protecting olive crops at the time of harvesting) and one of the most extensive school liaison programmes in Europe operated by both the GNR and PSP.
Often I have found that some people here think that because we live in the south of Europe things are not as good compared with our own countries. In terms of policing we need to look objectively. Yes there is more to be done, but in my experience in international policing, Portugal’s police are more effective than many others despite the acute limitation of resources. Credit must be given to the law enforcement agencies for keeping us all safe and for the splendid work they do.
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 Safe Communities Algarve, the first association of its type in Portugal. 913 045 093