Representatives from various villages joined in an event hosted by GNR Loulé on January 25 to celebrate the third anniversary of the Safe Residence Programme (SRP).
The event was held at the Fundação Manuel Viegas Guerreiro in Querença, one of the last areas to register with the programme. Around 25 village representatives attended, and following a welcome speech by Manuel Viegas dos Santos, Presidente of Querença Parish Council, presentations were given by Captain Adriano, Commander of the GNR Loulé and David Thomas, President of Associação Safe Communities Algarve.
‘Guarda’ Freddie Fragoso, who was involved from the outset in this programme and has provided the focal point as the contact person for many residents over the last three years, was present at the meeting together with other team members including the current team leader Cabo Dias.
During his address, Manuel Viegas dos Santos gave full support for the work of the GNR, in particular the SRP, and how this had helped communities. He was pleased to have become involved in this as it would greatly benefit those living in the parish. He added that he strongly supported the new house signage programme launched by the Loulé Council, and this would help improve the appearance of signs in rural areas such as Querença (see story in last week’s edition).
In his presentation, Captain Adriano mentioned that the number of householders registered with the programme in Loulé had grown by around 1,000 during the last year and now stood at 2,138. There were currently 28 villages registered, an increase of 12 over the last year. One of the latest of these was Querença, which was the first area where the parish itself had coordinated the programme involving the registration of 337 households, the largest in the programme.
Captain Adriano outlined the main aims of the programme and how it had developed over the last three years. He added that although there had been no residential robberies during 2011 in the SRP areas in Loulé, three had occurred in the last three months of 2012. He explained that there had been a marginal increase in reported crime, including cases solved, in the Loulé Municipality during 2012, although property crime was lower. He outlined the challenges likely to be faced during 2013, in particular those due to the economic situation which could result in an increase in crime.
He stressed therefore the importance of all residents being alert for suspicious activities and reporting these to the GNR. The GNR won’t mind if it turns out to be nothing, but would rather residents call if they are at all worried.
He added that the GNR has been very successful in making arrests over recent months and that there are a number of people behind bars for crimes committed over the last couple of years in the Loulé area.
Captain Adriano went on to thank Safe Communities Algarve for its active support during the year and encouraged people to make full use of its services.
David Thomas then gave a presentation on the work of his association in supporting and promoting the SRP. He explained that the SRP now covered 4,682 households throughout the Algarve, operating slightly differently in various GNR areas.
He commented on the benefits of the Loulé SRP as it enshrined the spirit of Neighbourhood Watch. SCA had dealt with over 300 online enquiries concerning the SRP alone during 2012 and that it had helped a number of villages in the early stage of setting up the programme.
Lastly he thanked the villages of Alfeição and others who had had the foresight to set up the programme with the GNR in January 2010 and the GNR itself, in particular the SRP team, for their professionalism in developing and implementing this scheme, which, in his experience, would be envied by many other police forces overseas.
During the meeting, concern was expressed that, on occasions, the information being passed by the private alarm companies to the GNR had not been complete, therefore posing difficulties for the GNR locating properties where the alarm signal had originated. SCA had taken this matter up with a number of private security alarm companies and it was recommended that those residents who had joined the SRP should contact their security alarm company to update their records with the village name, SRP house number and GPS coordinate using the degree, minutes and seconds format which was used by the GNR.
Following the presentation there was an informal gathering to celebrate the occasion.
What the villagers say
Brian Scott, SRP coordinator from the village of Vale D’Éguas, said: “My impression was that the whole programme had grown at an incredible rate after only three years since its inception. The fact that crime figures have been decreasing is probably a result of the enthusiasm shown by the GNR and the increasing awareness of residents in and around the neighbouring communities which now belong to the Safe Residence Programme.”
He added that the need for communication between residents and the GNR was encouraged and the point about exchanging details of residence locations between security companies and the police was emphasised.
Scott stressed that in this time of hardship – unemployment and related poverty – there is likely to be an increase in crime.
“We must all become more aware and keep a neighbourly watch on adjacent properties with willingness to report suspicious acts,” he said. “Communication is most important and the GNR deserve praise for providing us with this valuable service.”
David and Dagmar Davies, SRP coordinators from Cruz da Assumada, one of the first villages to adopt the SRP, said that it was again a very informative and useful meeting. “We certainly endorse the importance of the eyes and ears approach in assisting the GNR in combating crime, whereby all residents are encouraged to report any suspicious incidents or events in their area to their local special GNR team,” said the couple, adding that it was important for residents to quote their residential area and SRP house number when reporting crime and incidents, to ensure a speedier response. “We support Captain Adriano in emphasising the point that we must all work together, with neighbour helping neighbour, to make the Algarve a safe place.”
Jan and Peter Hinz, village coordinators of the SRP from Vale Telheiro, which was the second village to form an SRP, said that the scheme itself is not the answer in solving crimes, “which sadly continue”, but it has enabled the GNR to respond and find isolated properties more quickly. “Whilst we have had our fair share of crime in this valley, crime is on the increase everywhere and we shouldn’t feel too paranoid, but we have to remain vigilant and watch out for each other,” they said.
Mariëlle Bouman, coordinator for Torres d’Apra, said that “the SRP has given me a very positive impression with so many people working on our safety. The way to deal with crime is to approach this problem in a positive way and this sets my mind at rest. The GNR is coming nearer to us – people like me! I also like Captain Adriano’s slogan ‘don’t be afraid, be aware!’”
Barry McCutcheon, village coordinator from Amendoeira, echoed many of these comments by saying that the growth and success of the SRP has been remarkable, and speaks for itself, both locally and nationally. “Apart from achieving the purpose of the SRP, it has incidentally resulted in a blossoming of the relationship between the GNR and the community it serves, as well as a general feeling of ‘we’re all in this together’.”
Lastly Marianne Guerreiro, who helped establish the SRP in Alfontes in June 2010, said: “I think the SRP is an excellent programme; it improves the safety of people, brings communities together and helps us have more faith in our police. We should work to encourage more people to join the programme, which is for the benefit of all residents.”
962 093 196 (Loulé GNR contact)