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Putting violent residential robberies into perspective

This month I want to tackle an area that is of concern to many residents – indoor violent residential robberies. I receive more enquiries concerning this than perhaps any other crime. The purpose of this feature is to put this crime into perspective, how serious the problem is, what to look out for, how to reduce the risk and what to do if you are confronted with an intruder in your home.


Many people who contact me do so because they are worried about becoming a victim of this type of crime. When asked why, their main response is because they have heard about these and that they are becoming more frequent.

Some of this fear is a result of local press reporting in a manner which often sensationalises the level of violence used. There are also inaccuracies, one of the most common being to describe “burglaries” as “robberies”. The latter, of course, involves the use of violence whereas burglaries do not. By doing this there is a perception that robberies are higher than they actually are.

Although indoor residential robberies are low in number in Portugal, the most recent increasing trend in the Algarve has created concern. Perception is also influenced more intensely in smaller communities such as the Algarve, where the victims are often well known within that community.

What is reality, of course, is the suffering and distress caused to the unfortunate victims of such robberies, not to mention the impact this may potentially have on the Algarve’s reputation as a safe place to live and the consequential negative effect on tourism. For all these reasons, this type of crime must be dealt with using all means available to the security agencies and through the help of the public where possible.

Some facts and figures

Indoor residential robberies have increased steadily throughout Portugal over the last two to three years. In 2010, there were 733 such crimes throughout the country, compared with 683 in 2009; a 7% increase.

Although a significant increase, this falls well below the staggering 23,000 violent indoor robberies which occurred in England and Wales in 2009. Taking population numbers into account, this means that you are around seven times more likely to be a victim of this crime living in England and Wales than you are here in Portugal.

Such crimes appear in the Algarve to come in waves. There was a spate of such robberies in the eastern Algarve around 2005-2006 resulting in the arrest of three eastern Europeans who are currently serving 22 years in prison, again in the Loulé area in 2009 and more recently over a larger geographical area.

Other gangs responsible for these crimes have also been arrested and imprisoned. There is no doubt that sooner or later those responsible for the recent crimes will be caught and brought to justice.  

Profiles of robberies

In 2010, some 35% of indoor residential robberies occurred between 8pm and 11.59pm; the remainder being spread more evenly throughout the day. In 37% of such robberies, four criminals were involved. A vehicle was used in most robberies and in the majority of cases the culprits were armed. These crimes started to increase in October in line with other property crime.

The gangs that operate clearly select their victims based on a number of factors: perceived wealth which is why foreigners are often targeted; location of the property; opportunity and risk to themselves being caught. In other words, if the risk to them in getting caught is high but the potential takings are low then there is little point to carrying out what is in fact a high risk crime.

There is little doubt in many instances that the gangs know who the victims are in so far that they have observed their movements and the residence beforehand. It is possible in some instances that victims have been targeted because a contractor has either deliberately or inadvertently, through loose talk, directly or indirectly alerted criminals that the occupants are wealthy. There are clearly connections between some of these robberies.

Reducing the risk

Whereas there is always going to be situations whereby it was a case of “being in the wrong place at the wrong time” and nothing that could have been done would have prevented the crime, there are ways in which the risk, which is already low, can be reduced further. I wish to highlight those in the table in this feature as being the most important.

Dealing with an intruder in your home

This is probably the last thing that you wish to think about, but it is worth giving this some thought in the very unlikely event it should happen to you. A number of studies have been undertaken on this topic and a comprehensive guideline taking into account the advice by four police forces is available as a download through the Safe Communities Algarve website. The guideline covers four scenarios: (a) arriving home and you think there is a burglar in your home; (b) you are at home and suspect there is a prowler/intruder in your grounds; (c) waking up and suspecting there is an intruder in your home and (4) finding/coming face to face with an intruder in your home. Please take time to read this.

It is a sad fact that this sort of crime takes place in most countries. The chances of this occurring here are lower than many countries, so there is no need to live in fear – just be alert and use the above guide. Safe Communities Algarve is in regular contact with the GNR concerning the crime situation and is working closely with them and other parties including the British Consulate in order to provide help and assistance.

Reducing the risk of an indoor robbery

• Look out concerning suspicious persons and vehicles in your neighbourhood and report this promptly to the GNR.

• If you sense you are being followed report this promptly to the GNR

• Avoid giving the outward impression of wealth, luxury foreign registered cars in drive ways, talking about money matters, purchases of luxury expensive items in bars etc.

• Try to avoid employing unknown contractors. Use those known to be reliable, with good reputation.

• Do not allow strangers into your house through deception, e.g. asking for water, door step sellers etc

• Join the Safe Residence Programme so the GNR know exactly who you are and where you live so they can respond quickly in an emergency.

• Do not open the door to strangers or go outside the house if you see or hear strangers outside. Immediately call the GNR instead.

• Consider installing and alarm with 24hrs monitoring and remote panic alarm facility

• Store emergency numbers in a speed dial in your mobile phone and written numbers in an easily accessible place.

David Thomas, Director of ISECA – the Independent Security Agency can be contacted at 913 045 093 or by email at [email protected]

More about ISECA is available on its website and on Safe Communities Algarve website