Praia da Rocha Photo: Inês Lopes/Open Media

Portugal – decreasing serious and violent crime highlighted in 2021 Security Report

The 2021 Internal Security Report (RASI) for Portugal has been published, the main part focusing on the crime situation.

In 2021, 301,394 crimes were reported to the security forces, 0.9% more than in 2020 but the second lowest number in the past 10 years. Both violent and serious crimes, overall, were ​​below the pre-pandemic period of Covid-19, in 2019.

Crimes against property, such as thefts and burglaries for example, continue to be the highest category, accounting for 50.2% of the total. However, theft, in its various forms, continued to decrease with 3,932 fewer occurrences (-4.66%) compared to 2020.

The distribution of crime throughout the mainland is similar to previous years reflecting those areas with higher populations: Lisbon (72,183 crimes), Porto (47,552), Setúbal (28,679), Faro (20,788) and Braga (18,419) are the highest crime areas. Conversely, Portalegre (3,058) and Bragança (3,140) are the lowest crime areas.

Violent and serious crime

Violent and serious crime registered a decline last year, with 11,614 violent and serious crimes, 855 (-6.9%) less than in 2020, and some 47% less compared to 10 years ago! A welcome decline, reflecting good work of the security forces.

Bank robberies, 21 in total (61.5% more), and rape, 397 cases (26% more), were the violent and serious crimes that rose the most. In the case of rape, it is considered the numbers reflect a greater willingness by the victim to report this serious crime, which has, almost certainly, been under-reported in the past due to factors such as embarrassment or fear of retribution, for example, and lack of awareness of victim’s rights, rather than an absolute increase.

Among the crimes that fell the most are residential robberies (-22.5%), robbery by snatching (-20.9%), and kidnapping and hostage-taking (-9.8%). Residential robberies stood at 511 having decreased by some 47% in the last 10 years.

Domestic violence

Regretfully, according to RASI, domestic violence is the most reported crime, with 26,520 complaints, despite having registered a reduction of 4% compared to 2020. Confinement during Covid-19 may have constrained some victims from reporting crime to police, hence the “apparent” decrease, whereas APAV (victim support association) experienced an increase in reports during this period. It is saddening that this remains at this level, given much more education concerning this in recent years and the good work of organisations such as APAV.

Domestic violence against a spouse represented 85% of the complaints. Women continue to be the majority of victims (74.9%), while men are the majority of aggressors (81%).

Computer crimes

Computer crimes reported to the authorities decreased from 1,672 to 1,496 between 2020 and 2021 (-10.5%), but the number of defendants and detainees for this type of crime increased. Banking phishing and ‘online’ scams in investments in virtual currency or through the transaction of goods or services “continue to prevail”. Comparing the last 10 years, computer/communications fraud has increased by 21,374 (+490%).


The threat of cybercrime increased in 2021, highlighting the “highly organised” and worsening international cybercrime against Portuguese digital targets. There has been “continuity in the occurrence of cyberattacks that aimed to compromise public and private targets, in order to extract sensitive or privileged classified information”.

The document also warns of “digital disinformation, in social media platforms, which in 2021 continued to promote dynamics of disinformation and political and social dissidence, driven by a growing myriad of domestic and external authors”.

Drug dealing

Crimes linked to drug trafficking and consumption, in all its types, grew by 12.1% compared to 2020, with more than 5,000 cases of drug trafficking recorded. Portugal is currently a “transit platform for large amounts of hashish from Morocco, and cocaine from Colombia, Peru and Bolivia”, a condition favoured by the country’s geographical position and relations with Latin America, namely Brazil.

The data reveals that, in 2021, 15.5 tons of hashish (-56%), 10 tons of cocaine (-1.3%), 73.6 kilos of heroin (+74.6%) and 9,561 ecstasy pills were seized (-60.6%) and 3,950 people were arrested for drug-related crimes. Seizures included 406 weapons and more than €3.7 million.

Human trafficking

The crime of trafficking in persons gave rise to 98 investigations, with Lisbon, Beja, Santarém and Porto being areas where there were more investigations related to the labour exploitation of foreign citizens who temporarily travel to Portugal to work in the agricultural sector.

Some 273 people were identified as alleged victims of trafficking, which represents an increase of 87 compared to the previous year, mostly from African countries, among which Morocco stands out, being victims of labour, sexual exploitation, forced begging and slavery.

Crime in the Algarve

Crime trends for the Algarve from 2012 to 2021 indicate a decrease in overall reported crime from 26,631 recorded crime complaints in 2012 to 20,788 in 2021, a reduction of 21.9%, the second lowest during this period.

Concerning overall crime in 2021, compared to 2020, there were an additional 288 crimes, representing a 1.4% increase.

In the same period, violent crime decreased by 16.9% and is the lowest recorded in over 10 years, decreasing from 1,347 cases in 2012 to 707 in 2021, a reduction of 47.5%. Very good news reflecting the Algarve as a safe destination.

Loulé is the municipality with the highest crime (3,489 cases), but also with the highest population, followed by Faro and Albufeira. Conversely, Alcoutim has the lowest crime at 77 cases.

The majority of crime has traditionally been in the centre of the region, namely Albufeira, Faro and Loulé, reflecting the higher centres of population and number of visitors. The three municipalities account for around 45% of the total regional crime in 2021.

Overall, the highest crime is theft from motor vehicles at 1,414 cases (which is largely preventable), followed by minor assaults (1,412).

Whereas cybercrime and computer crime are increasing (as it the case globally), violent and more serious crimes continue to drop sharply, reinforcing Portugal’s reputation as a safe place to live and visit.

RASI refers to “reported” crime. There is in Portugal, as in all countries, crimes that are not reported for various reasons. Some countries undertake crime victimisation surveys to try and gauge the level of unreported crimes, but this is not the case in Portugal.

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 2011, he founded Safe Communities 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.
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