There will be readers who are not aware of the night guard service, but in fact it is one of Portugal’s oldest activities having been around for the last six centuries.
Night guards are civilians selected by city councils (Câmaras) through a competitive process and provide specific safety and security duties in a designated area, supplementing the work of police. One night guard is assigned per area and works traditionally from midnight to 6am, patrolling the area to protect people and property, and detect unusual situations.
The night guard service is in operation throughout Portugal, and in the Algarve there are 14, covering the following areas: Tavira, Almancil, Loulé, Quarteira, Portimão, Lagos, Luz and Faro.
The duties of a night guard are varied, including: carrying out foot or vehicle patrols in a designated area and checking on properties registered with them; responding to alarms activated within subscribed clients’ properties; responding to medical emergencies by obtaining medicine between the hours when the night guard is on duty; exercising the power of arrest; providing general support to the GNR, PSP and Civil Protection; and, lastly, providing a key-holder service to conduct checks on empty premises. They are active all year round.
Night guards wear a regulated uniform and can carry firearms, batons and handcuffs, and use non-lethal weapons, including pepper spray and electric discharge weapon (similar to a taser).
Before commencing their nightly patrols, the night guard checks in with the local GNR or PSP station, and at the end of the shift reports to them again to brief them on any unusual circumstances or incidents.
During the six-hour shift, in the event of any unusual situations or incidents, the night guard can contact the security force for support by radio or by mobile phone.
The night guard from Praia da Luz, Council of Lagos, has announced the launch of a new project on behalf of the Night Guard Association (ASPGN), entitled “More visibility, better security”. This involves the use of a high visibility, fully equipped patrol vehicle, aimed at providing greater deterrence to crime and, therefore, providing reassurance to both visitors and residents in the area. The main goal is to increase the sense of security of the population.
This project was initiated by the ASPGN in 2013 and was presented to the government in power at the time, as well as to Lagos City Hall, the Parish of Luz, the Algarve Tourism Board, the Faro GNR Command and the Safe Communities Algarve association.
After “some” time of waiting and preparation, everything is now set together to launch the project which will take place on June 7 at 10am outside Batista Supermarket in Praia da Luz.
The car, very similar to the one to be used with its new markings, is shown in this feature.
Why are high-visibility patrols important?
Community safety begins with prevention, involving all available resources in order to increase security.
The visibility of the resources used in crime prevention is important as it increases the feeling of security and helps prevent the commission of crimes. Also, importantly, it helps citizens more easily find the elements of State security forces (most common and visible being the GNR and PSP) and auxiliary services, like night guard, allowing more rapid and effective help.
Night guards are faced with various situations throughout their duty period, not only dealing with residents, but also with tourists, especially in the Algarve. This can be for many reasons, ranging from being a victim of crime, sometimes because they have experienced an accident and need medical care, because they are lost or for other reasons. Assistance may be required urgently, which is not always possible because often they do not know who to approach or where to go.
Mobile patrols, in recognisable vehicles, can help in this respect and this is what the night guard service is aiming to achieve with this new initiative.
In Lagos, for example, the PSP usually patrol the public roads with two cars, supplemented with two night guards in the busiest areas of the city. The area includes the vast majority of establishments of nightlife and hotels. This means a total of four cars. Although the PSP cars are highly recognisable, the night guard vehicles are not, so visibility and to some extent the deterrence value and sense of public security, is not as effective as it could be.
In Praia da Luz there is a night guard who patrols the area, where usually there is just one GNR patrol car, so a highly visible additional vehicle is important.
In summer, there are police reinforcements which generally focus on nightlife areas, with the remaining areas patrolled by police and remaining night guards. In winter, this extra resource does not exist. However, there are many visitors who are looking for other attractions apart from the beaches, including golf for example, so once again it is imperative that each visitor has sense of security that the region has to offer.
Mobile patrols, by recognisable vehicles, can help in this respect and this is what the night guard service is aiming to achieve.
Safe Communities Portugal has supported the work of the night guard service, and supports this new project.
The introduction of the project “More visibility, better security” will be closely monitored by ASPGN and, depending on the results, may be considered for use in other parts of the country.
Obtaining the night guard service in your area
The steps to be taken are as follows: 1) First talk to neighbours in your area and ascertain if there is a common interest in obtaining this service. 2) If so, make an application on behalf of the group to the Mayor of the local Câmara requesting this service. 3) If endorsed by the Mayor, the Câmara selects the night guard(s) to cover the designated area. 4) Once selected, the night guard will approach those residents who have requested the service and other residents in the area to introduce himself, explain the service and cost of contributions, which are nominal.
To find out more about the work of the night guard service, email [email protected] Residents of Praia da Luz may also contact Mr. José Santos, the night guard covering that area, by phone 964 542 462 or email [email protected]
The ASPGN website is www.guarda-nocturno.blogspot.com and this includes reports of the various incidents that they dealt with and the excellent work that 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 www.safecommunitiesalgarve.com 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 www.safecommunitiesportugal.com launched in May 2015. He can be contacted at [email protected], or on 913045093 or at www.facebook.com/scalgarve