GNR Safe Residence Programme leads the way in community policing

It seems just a moment ago that I was writing about the then newly-launched GNR Programa Residência Segura (Safe Residence Programme), or SRP as it is commonly known. In fact, during the four years this highly innovative programme, run by the GNR, has helped reduce their emergency response times for people living in rural areas in the Algarve, and has reduced the fear of crime in areas where it has been implemented.
It has facilitated closer communication between the GNR and residents through the passing of information about crime and has improved the dissemination of security advice to residents. Lastly and more importantly, it appears also to have helped reduce crime in the areas where it has been implemented.
Although many residents living in rural areas have benefited from the programme, there are others who may be new to the Algarve or those who have lived here for some time but who may not be aware of the programme and how to join it. This is evident by the number of people who contact Associação Safe Communities Algarve (SCA) asking for information about it.

Dow does SRP benefit those living in rural areas?

The SRP was launch in Alfeição, Loulé, in January 2010 following a number of violent indoor residential robberies, targeted mainly against foreign householders in the area. The idea arose from discussions held between village residents and the GNR on how best to respond to this rise in crime through closer engagement between the community and the GNR.
Following these discussions, the GNR in Loulé took the initiative to form a dedicated team with English-speaking personnel exclusively to develop the programme. Despite limited resources, this was accorded a high priority with officers specially selected for this role. One of the first actions taken by the team was to visit residents in the area in order to promote closer engagement and provide a direct contact number in case assistance was required.
The aim of the programme was initially, and still is, to provide a faster means of response to emergencies by the GNR through using maps, GPS coordinates and through the numbering of households in the villages concerned.
Residents in other villages also volunteered their services and within the first few months of operation other villages, including Vale de Telheiro, Poço Geraldo, Cruz da Assumada and Alfontes, had joined the scheme.
This involved a considerable amount of hard work by those concerned, in drawing maps, downloading GPS coordinates, and other work in support of the GNR. Those involved in the initial stages of the programme subsequently developed a forum aimed at exchanging information and best practices between the various villages which had joined the programme in Loulé. The coming together of “villagers” and “villages” to help one another through crime prevention was one of the most positive outcomes of this programme.
The outcome of the Loulé “experiment” proved very positive, resulting in a greater sense of security among residents, much faster response times to emergencies and a decrease in household crime in the areas concerned.

Setting up the programme

Given its success, the programme was further developed and now operates throughout all six GNR divisions in the Algarve, namely Portimão, Albufeira, Silves, Loulé, Faro and Tavira, under the coordination of the regional GNR headquarters in Faro.
Currently there are some 5,500 households registered with the programme in the Algarve and this is growing daily. Due to the difference in demographics of various areas the approach adopted by the GNR in establishing the programme has had to be tailored to the areas concerned.
In Faro and Loulé, the programme relies on a significant input from various villages in the initial stages and works on a village by village basis, whereas in other areas it is on an individual basis. Another difference is that the launch of the programme in Loulé took place at local gatherings held between the GNR and the community, whereas in some other areas residents became part of the programme when the GNR visit their home as a follow up to an individual application for registration.
Regardless of which method is adopted, residents are invited by the GNR to complete a simple pro-forma in order that they have more details of the household concerned. This is important in helping them respond quickly and effectively to emergencies and provide greater attention when the property is empty.
All property locations are based on GPS referencing. Since mid 2013 the GNR teams have been busy updating this data and have been visiting householders in order to do this. From 2012, the SRP is being rolled out in other areas of Portugal as part of the GNR’s special programmes development.

How does the programme operate in an emergency?

In emergencies, the process is standardised – the householder concerned simply dials an emergency number, provides their name, that of the village and number of the house (only if it has been allocated a house number by the GNR) and states it is an emergency. As the GNR know the location of each property through geo-referencing, their emergency services can locate the property far quicker than before. Each team has at least one English-speaking officer, and some also have German- and French-speaking officers.

Is it worth joining the SRP?

First of all, it is important to remember that the SRP is designed for more rural properties which the GNR would have difficulty finding in an emergency. Secondly, it is a free programme and the only cost involved for those living in areas where house numbers are used is the cost of the number plate (about €8), which is available from local printing companies. Although crime has been consistently decreasing in the Algarve over the last four years, it is still a good idea to register your property in order to achieve the benefits of the programme outlined in this article.

Supporting the SRP

In early 2013, SCA signed a protocol with the GNR, included in which was a provision that the association would help support and promote the SRP. It does this in a number of ways, through its website www.safecommunitiesalgarve.com, through seminars and displays (some 15 held in 2013) and through dealing with public enquiries. The new SCA website, which will be launched soon, will have extensive information about the SRP together with new related features.
If you wish to join the SRP or require further information, please visit the Safe Communities Algarve website or contact the GNR directly at the contact points below. This table shows the name of the GNR division and the areas each division covers. Not all of these areas include properties registered with the SRP which serves mainly rural areas. So it is best to check with the GNR if your property is eligible. It is normally easier to use the email address for general enquiries.
SCA maintains close contact with the GNR regarding the future development of the SRP. Updates will become available from time to time and are published on the SCA website.
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 | www.facebook.com/scalgarve