Much has happened during 2015, a year that has been highlighted by forest fires and the flooding in the Algarve. The year has also been marked by some significant crime arrests and drug seizures as well as increasing reports of online fraud. The following is an overview of the highlights of the year and what, in my view, we can look forward to in 2016.
On a positive note, Portugal is rated highly in terms of safety and security, according to a report issued by the World Economic.
In March, the release of the 2014 crime figures for Portugal showed a 6.7 % decrease in overall crime, and in the Algarve a 7% decrease in crime compared to 2013. Violent crime decreased 5.3% in Portugal and 6.1% in the Algarve.
Excellent arrests were made by the PSP Lisbon of pickpockets responsible for some 22 thefts in the city. The GNR dismantled a Romanian gang responsible for a number of robberies. The Polícia Judiciária seized a massive 491kgs of cocaine with five arrests in July, and shortly afterwards they made the largest drug seizure of the year, seizing 1.9 tons of cocaine, with the arrest of 15 people.
In May, the Polícia Judiciária seized, at Lisbon Airport, two suitcases containing about one million euros and 3.5 million yuan (Chinese currency) and arrested two about to fly to Shanghai.
The fifth anniversary of the forming of the GNR Safe Residents Programme was celebrated at a ceremony held in Querença, Loulé. Over 6,000 properties are now registered with the programme in the Algarve.
The death of a burglar in Vilamoura after being subdued by two British occupants raised the issue of the appropriate use of force in dealing with intruders. Advice on this subject has been available on the Safe Communities Algarve website for the last two years.
A boy aged nine who died after being shot by a 12 year old whilst playing “cops and robbers” raised the issue of the safe storage of licensed firearms.
The Polícia Judiciária issued an alert concerning “sextortion” through the use of social media, highlighting the prevalence and serious consequences for this type of practice.
The Anonymous group in Portugal published personal data of judges and lawyers and also emailed addresses of officials, and prevented access to the official website of the Polícia Judiciária.
In July, in the most high profile cyber security attack of the year, a hacking group calling itself the Impact Team threatened to expose the identities of 37.5 million users, including 120,000 in Portugal, of the notorious extramarital dating website, Ashley Madison. This was followed by the hacking of the telecommunications website Talk Talk, where the hackers obtained personal data of the company’s customers.
Fires, floods and earthquakes
The number of wildfires reported in November stood at 14,838, more than double that of 2014. Some 58000 hectares of land were burned.
Reports that 1,942 people died from a heatwave between June 17 and 23 raised concern.
On July 19, an earthquake with a magnitude of 3.2 on the Richter scale was felt in Cascais, Carcavelos, Sintra and Oeiras, and two days later another earthquake measuring 3.4 hit Monchique. No damage was reported.
In November, flash floods reaching a depth of nearly two meters occurred in Albufeira with more than a month’s rain recorded in just a few hours. Over 300 incidents were reported to the emergency services. Massive damage was caused to many properties and vehicles. One person died in the area of Boliqueime.
On the roads
2015 ended on a sour note as far as traffic accidents are concerned. In the period January 1 to December 15, the total number of accidents in Portugal rose to 117,014 compared with 112,151 for the same period last year.
The largest increase in the country was in the Algarve where there were 9,123 accidents, an increase of 13% compared to the same period in 2014.
There were 455 recorded deaths on the roads throughout the country, down slightly from the year before. Against this trend was the Algarve where the number of deaths stood at 35 compared to 29 for the same period last year.
Over 13,000 drivers were arrested since the start of the year for criminal drink driving (1.2 g/l and above). An average of 709 persons a day are caught drink driving.
Acts of bravery
In July, a GNR officer on cycle patrol at Praia do Cantinho in Esmoriz dived into the sea saving a 61-year-old man and a lifeguard from drowning, both of whom were being dragged out to sea in strong currents.
In December, a woman who was caught in a fire that broke out in a building in Ourique was saved by a PSP agent who climbed the wall and rescued her with the help of colleagues and other residents.
In July, the Portuguese government approved a National Strategy for Combating Terrorism with major changes to the terrorism laws.
In December, reports that three terrorists, one of whom was involved in the Paris terrorist incident, may be in Portugal were responded to by the Polícia Judiciária stating that these types of movements should give no rise for alarm.
Following this, SEF arrested an alleged terrorist in an Albufeira hotel. He is wanted by the Indian authorities for murder and bombing.
My forecast for 2016
Overall, crime has been steadily decreasing since 2008 and, although 2015 is likely to see further decreases, there are some indications that in terms of property crime this may be levelling off. In 2016, based on current trends, the fact that several criminal networks have been dismantled and a slightly improving economy, it is likely that overall crime will continue to decrease.
An area to watch out for, however, is opportunist crime. It could increase, especially theft from properties. Much of this is preventable, so it is wise to follow crime prevention advice.
Another area to be aware of is deception crime targeted against elderly people, especially door to door callers, as well as distraction crime in car parks. Much work has been undertaken in tackling thefts from vehicles, the highest reported crime in 2014, but more needs to be done in further reducing this crime.
There is an element of unreported crime, but the level is unknown as no crime victimisation surveys are conducted here. Some police commanders consider that, in respect of minor crime, the level of unreported crime is increasing.
With regards to cybercrime, the world’s largest increasing crime, there is nothing to suggest that this trend will change in 2016. This will likely continue to target large companies, but all of us are just as vulnerable. People need to become more security conscious in the use of the internet and social media, especially issues such as the choice and use of passwords, and protecting personal details.
In respect of terrorism, Portugal is surrounded by countries where the risk is high. In Portugal, the risk is low and there is nothing to suggest at present, based on the type of ingredients that ferment terrorism, that this is likely to change.
With the increasing threat of IS, the borders of external EU countries are being strengthened and heightened border security measures have been introduced where needed. The migrant issue is a major challenge for the EU, although at this stage Portugal has been far less affected than others more exposed.
Safe Communities Portugal wishes you all a very happy and safe New Year.
|| [email protected]
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