I have lived in the delightful town of Loulé for many years and have always felt comfortable with the calm atmosphere and almost complete absence of crime, most particularly serious offences. However, of late matters have taken a turn for the worse, fuelled by illegal drugs, or more correctly the need for them.
There is a significant cadre of drug-dependant young men resident in and around the town, most of whom appear to have been moved on by the authorities from the seaside resorts. In the past, they made money through assisting people to park by finding parking spaces. They rarely, if ever, demanded any amount of money and were grateful for whatever they were given. Now, however, these activities have taken a much more serious turn for the worse.
The gangs have taken over areas of spare land released by the Câmara for off-street parking and insisting to motorists that they own them. If you park there, they insist on a payment of three euros, whether they help you park or not, and they threaten to damage your car if you do not pay. They particularly target lone women and will form a menacing circle around them in order to extract money.
One lady whom I know had this experience and was so frightened she threw all the change in her purse on the ground and ran away. She was so frightened that she came to find me to escort her back to the car to go home, being afraid to go back alone – even though it was broad daylight in the busy centre of the town.
I have some personal experience of these nefarious activities. On one occasion, having parked my van overnight, I returned to find it broken into, with used syringes littering both the front and rear areas and burned out cigarettes scattered all over the vehicle. At another time, I was sitting in a busy café when one of these characters came in and grabbed my glasses from the table, demanding I give him my tobacco in return. Fortunately, I am able to defend myself and also had friends in the café – the offender was very quickly and unceremoniously ejected!
The rather more worrying development of late is that they have now expanded their activities into the public parking section. Not long ago, a friend of mine was parking his car at Pingo Doce, on a Sunday morning, in a street of empty parking bays. A character suddenly appeared, waving his arms and shouting to indicate my friend was properly aligned with the blue line – totally unnecessary. As my friend got out of his car, this character approached asking for money for his assistance, which was refused. The character then followed him into the supermarket and around the aisles, nudging him with his shoulder demanding money. My friend was obliged to call the security guard and have him thrown out.
I know this particular man who readily offers violence if money is not given. At a later date, he had his right arm chopped off at the elbow in a fight over begging territory and has subsequently disappeared. It is worthy of note that my friend is a man over six feet tall and quite fit, so it is not only women who are in danger here. The most alarming development is that now they do not restrict their efforts to assistance with parking, but have moved on to extorting money by threatening damage to the vehicle if you do not give them money.
I saw an example of this only recently. A Portuguese man had parked his car in a legal parking bay in a main street in town, in front of the old Portugal Telecom office, now closed, where all the junkies congregate. He was asked for money to ensure his car was safe and naturally refused. Within half-an-hour, all his tyres had been slashed. This in broad daylight on the Avenida 25 de Abril in the centre of town!
What are the police doing about this? It is rare to see the GNR on foot, patrolling during the day – thankfully, until now, not a necessity. They are never seen at night except very occasionally in a car. I, for one, would be very happy to see a stronger and more visible police presence, day and night, plus some action.
John Robertson, Loulé