by INÊS LOPES
A proposal to change the law to allow hotel security guards to be armed in order to deter criminals has divided the leaders of the two main tourism entities in the Algarve.
Elidérico Viegas, president of the Algarve hotels and resorts association AHETA, says that security guards at hotels should carry firearms because the means used by those establishments to ensure the safety of people and property in the face of potential crime are insufficient.
But the president of the Algarve tourism board, António Pina, disagrees and says AHETA president’s suggestion is no solution to the recent increase in hotel crime, “a phenomenon that is not exclusive to the Algarve but the world”.
The controversial issue, which has been making the headlines in Portugal this week, follows a recent raid by criminals at the Four Seasons Hotel in Vilamoura in the early hours on Saturday.
The reception area of the four-star hotel was targeted at 3am by two masked men, who, carrying rifles, violently hit the security guard to gain access to the hotel grounds and then forced the receptionist to hand over money from the till before fleeing the scene on foot.
Police, who are now investigating the incident, have not disclosed the amount of money stolen.
The 26-year-old security guard was taken to Faro Hospital to be treated for injuries to his face but was released soon after.
Elidérico Viegas is confident that improving “crime deterrent equipment” at hotels and tourist resorts as well as arming private security guards would help to keep criminals away.
“Hotel criminals nowadays are organised and violent. Altering the law to allow private security guards to be trained to use firearms at work has become a necessity,” he said, referring to the US example where “an armed security guard has the same type of training as a police officer”.
Also making allusions to the “American way of life”, António Pina fears the opposite will happen in Portugal if “civil forces” start carrying arms.
The president of the tourism board told the Algarve Resident: “If we are not careful, Portugal could resemble something out of a Western movie.
“As a tourist, I admit I would not feel a sense of security if I saw hotel security guards carrying firearms.”
He suggested the law could be altered to allow security guards to carry pepper spray as “that is a weapon for self-protection not aggression”.
However, he said he was a “great defender” of video surveillance systems for the protection of citizens in public spaces, particularly if combined with “more effective police forces boosted not only by numbers but also by equipment”.
“I would also rather see more municipal police than armed civil forces,” he said.
When asked if the country’s financial crisis could be a hindrance to his proposed plans for more effective policing, the tourism chief admitted that there was a lot of work that needed to be done.
“I will be passing on my views to the Secretary of State for Tourism, Cecília Meireles, who will then be responsible for taking them to the government,” he said.
Improved management of police forces was also defended by Elidérico Viegas, who said it wasn’t beneficial to have police officers who felt they were “victims” of a justice system that failed them.
“Our penal laws need serious reviewing,” he said, adding that, in many cases, the criminals were the first to leave the courthouse, “even before the police officers”.
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