For crime prevention to be successful it has to be relevant, timely and well focused. There would be little point, for instance, in writing about the theft of snow shoes here in the Algarve in the middle of summer – because quite frankly it is not a problem!
One crime that fits the above criteria as we approach the summer months, however, is theft of items from vehicles. Although this crime decreased by 9.5 % in 2013 compared to 2012, it still amounts to 29,654 cases or 7.9% of all recorded crime last year. If we add to this thefts of vehicles as well as drink-driving (over 1.2g/l), vehicle-related crime amounted to a significant 18.3% of all recorded crime in Portugal last year. These are, however, the most preventable of all crimes.
This article covers how motorists can be more aware of the ways theft of vehicles and theft of items from vehicles can be prevented.
Portugal of course is not alone in having a significant level of crime involving theft of items from vehicles. In the USA, for instance, there were 1,287,331 recorded thefts from vehicles in 2012. In England and Wales, there were 285,049 cases, making it 7.7% of a total of 3,725,281 crimes recorded in 2012/13. Interestingly, in terms of percentage of total crime, this is about the same as Portugal.
Theft of vehicles
During the last 10 years, this type of crime has been decreasing in Portugal as it has in many other countries. One of the reasons for this is that it has become more common to fit cars with immobilisers and other security technology. As a result of this, there has instead been an increasing tendency for thieves to steal keys for the vehicle first rather than simply break into a car and try and start the engine. It is therefore wise not to have your car registration number on the key fob. This is a problem with rental cars which makes it easier for criminals.
It makes sense to keep the keys in a safe place when a car is not in use.
Cars should always be locked when parked in your driveway or garage at night. An interesting piece of advice I learned some time ago is, if you hear or see an intruder in your driveway, particularly at night time, quickly deactivate and reactivate the alarm using your remote from the safety of your house, which is a clear indicator to the intruder that he has been observed! When parking at night, it also makes sense to only park your car in well-lit areas where possible.
Theft of items from vehicles
Although there are no breakdowns available, I would make a calculated guess that the main areas in Portugal for such crimes are beach car parks, tourist attractions and supermarket car parks.
Although much effort has been made by police, especially during summer months, to step up beach patrols, such crimes still occur. The normal modus operandi adopted is for criminals, often operating in pairs, to observe cars entering the car park and in particular when opening the boot to see what’s inside. When the occupants leave the car, one follows to ensure they are not returning and the other breaks into the vehicle. The best way to help prevent this is to place your bags inside the car at the start of the journey and take them with you to the beach.
Unfortunately many victims of such thefts are tourists, some of whom disregard simple common sense security precautions when coming here on holiday. Regrettably, some car hire companies do not help the situation by conspicuously displaying their company logo and name on their vehicles. This is an open invitation for criminals. Personally, I would never hire a car from a company displaying their logo.
Some of the main causes of theft of items from cars are leaving items on display on seats, doors unlocked and windows left open when the vehicle is unattended. Vehicles parked in areas frequented by tourists or in dimly lit places at night are potentially at greater risk, as are those with foreign number plates. In respect of the latter, care should be taken when parking at car parks adjacent to tourist attractions. Often these car parks are unregulated with no security patrols. It is particularly important to take with you any valuables and again take care you are not being observed.
Another MO occasionally employed by some criminals, usually working in pairs, particularly in supermarket car parks, is to distract you when you are getting into or out of your car. One of them asks you, for example directions to somewhere and whilst engaged in discussing this, the other criminal steals your handbag or other belongings from the seat of your car! Be alert to this!
Advice is that whilst driving and parking keep your handbag on the front floor rather than the seat.
Another distraction tactic that has been reported in the past is to put a notice under your rear windscreen wiper. They wait until you have got into your car and suddenly notice this bit of paper. Upon getting out of your car to remove the paper the thief jumps in and drives off. You have been warned!
Most vehicle crime is preventable so please do your part in keeping the Algarve a safe place to live and visit.
|| Top Ten vehicle crime prevention tips
1. Lock doors and close windows when leaving your car. This includes, if alone, when paying for petrol at petrol stations.
2. Keep your car locked in your driveway and use the garage where possible. Try to avoid leaving foreign-plated cars in driveways.
3. When parking at night use well-lit areas where possible.
4. Keep your vehicle’s keys in a safe place.
5. Do not leave any valuables in vehicles nor other items on display.
6. Always keep photocopies of your vehicle documents separately.
7. If your vehicle does not have an immobiliser, use a good quality steering wheel lock.
8. Do not park anywhere where your vehicle may obstruct others or entrances – as you may find it has been damaged when you return.
9. If hiring a vehicle, try to hire one which does not display the car hire company’s name on the car. Ask beforehand when making the booking.
10. Try not to open the car boot to unload goods when arriving at beach car parks. If you have to, make sure you are not observed.
By David Thomas
|| [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 here in the Algarve to help the authorities and the community prevent crime. It is now registered as Associação Safe Communities Algarve, the first association of its type in Portugal. 913 045 093