In this month’s feature, I would like to cover the reasons why crime should be reported to the police, the various categories of crime which determine how that can be reported as well as the reporting of crime regarding a special category of criminals – namely wanted British fugitives who may be in Portugal.
The number of reported crimes is decreasing not only in Portugal but also in many other European countries. There could be many possible reasons for this; for instance, that we may be becoming a more law-abiding society; the shift in crime from physical crime to that involving the internet; the use of social media seen by some as an option to reporting crime (which it is not), or simply because people do not consider it important to report it to police, or it is inconvenient to do so.
To understand all this, it is necessary to determine what exactly a crime is. One definition is:
“A voluntary, or sometimes a negligent behaviour, that violates either the penal code or specific laws. The aim of these laws is to protect and safeguard society’s fundamental legal interests, such as life, freedom, physical and moral integrity, sexual self-determination and property.”
Why should I report a crime?
Reporting a crime is always the first step in criminal proceedings. Only after the complaint is made can authorities know that the crime occurred and start the investigation.
If you are the victim or a witness to a crime, it is very important that you report it to the authorities. If you do so, then it is more likely that the person who committed the crime is caught, made responsible and prevented from doing the same again, either to you or to others. In other words, you have a social responsibility to report crime, in order to help keep your community safe.
It might be necessary to report the crime to claim your rights to insurance or compensation. Reporting the crime is also important for compiling crime statistics, and for crime prevention actions.
It is mandatory for the police authorities to report any crime they become aware of and for their staff as well, either in the exercise of, or because of their duties. Reporting a crime is mandatory for anyone becoming aware of situations that put at risk the life, the physical or psychological integrity or the freedom of a child or young person aged under 18.
Categories of crime
In so far as the types of crime and the reporting process involved in Portugal, there are three classifications, with examples given in the table.
Public crimes – Examples of public crimes are homicide, abduction, sexual abuse of children, domestic violence and theft. It is sufficient that the Public Prosecution Service (Ministério Público) becomes aware of the crime in any way for criminal proceedings to start. That is, the process is initiated regardless of the victim’s will and the crime can be reported by anyone. See table for example. In public crimes, the victim does not have to be the one reporting them. Anyone who knows of the crime can report it and this is enough for the Public Prosecutor to start criminal proceedings, even against the wishes of the victim. If you intend to report a crime but are afraid of retaliation, for example, and do not wish to reveal your identity, then you can report it anonymously. However, it is usually preferable that you identify yourself so that later on you can be requested to collaborate in the investigation.
Another category is Semi-public crimes (see below). Criminal proceedings for these crimes only start after the victim of the crime has reported it. That is, the Public Prosecutor can start criminal proceedings if the victim is willing and makes a complaint within six months after the crime takes place.
In these types of crimes, it has to be the victim presenting the complaint within six months of the crime taking place. Otherwise, the Public Prosecutor will not be able to start criminal proceedings. If the victim cannot do it, because he/she is aged under 16, has died or is unwell, or any other reason, then a close relative such as the husband or wife, father or son, can present the complaint.
Private crimes – are, for example, defamation, libel or slander. Criminal proceedings for private crimes and for semi-public crimes start in the same way: the Public Prosecution Service can only open a process if the victim files a complaint. Then, after the complaint is made, the victim has 10 days to request his/her role as assistant and the intervention of a lawyer.
In general the semi-public crimes, which are committed by direct relatives (example: son against parents, and between husband and wife) are considered private crimes.
Where and to whom crime should be reported
You can present your complaint or report (crime report) to any of these authorities: Public Prosecution Service (Ministério Público), Judiciary Police (Polícia Judiciária), Public Security Police (PSP) and National Republican Guard (GNR).
Any of these authorities has the duty to receive all complaints and reports presented to them, even if the crime hasn’t been committed in their area or, in the case of the police forces, the investigation is not under their responsibility.
In some cases or crimes, complaints and reports can be presented to the Foreign Nationals and Borders Service (SEF), in the delegations of the National Institute of Legal Medicine and Forensic Sciences (Instituto Nacional de Medicina Legal e Ciências Forenses), medico-legal offices and hospitals with medico-legal experts or in the Electronic Complaints Portal of the Home Affairs Ministry (Ministério da Administração Interna). You can present a complaint or report even if you don’t know who committed the crime. It is for the authorities to investigate and determine the perpetrator’s identity.
Wanted British fugitives
For years, Spain has been an appealing hideaway for British criminals evading capture. But this changed in 2004 with European Arrest Warrants, making it easier to bring British criminals back to face justice.
Some of these wanted fugitives may have crossed the border from Spain into Portugal. Since the last launch of Operation Captura in March 2015, nine have been arrested taking the total to 74 over the last nine years. There are 12 still being sought. Your help is needed in tracking them down.
Safe Communities Algarve is working with the National Crime Agency (NCA) and Crimestoppers in the UK. The pictures of the UK’s most wanted fugitives can be found by viewing the Crimestoppers website Captura page. Find the page by visiting www.safecommunitiesalgarve.com and click on the Crimestoppers logo.
If you recognise any of them report them online, following the instructions on the Crimestoppers page. Calls to crime stoppers in the UK can be made on (+) 44 800 555 111.
Reports made to Crimestoppers will be anonymous and you will never have to speak to police or give your details. Help now in bringing to justice some of the UK’s most wanted criminals and keep your neighbourhood safe.
More details about the reporting of crimes can be found on www.safecommunitiesportugal.com
|| Examples of various categories of crime
Robbery – Roubo Art.º 210º do Código Penal
Qualified theft – Furto qualificado Art.º 204º do Código Penal
Domestic violence – Violência doméstica Artº 152º do Código Penal
Murder – Homicídio Artº 131º do Código Penal
Kidnapping – Sequestro Art.º 158º do Código Penal
Qualified swindle – Burla qualificada Artº 218 do Código Penal
Offence to the physical integrity (Assault)
Ofensas à Integridade Física Artº 143º do Código Penal
Theft – Furto Art.º 203º do Código Penal
Swindle – Burla Artº 217 do Código Penal
Threat – Ameaça Artº 153 do Código Penal
Coercion – Coação Artº 154º do Código Penal
Damage – Dano Artº 2012º do Código Penal
Abuse of confidence – Abuso de confiança Artº 207º do Código Penal
Slander – Difamação Artº 180º do Código Penal
Injury – Injuria Artº 181º do Código Penal
By David Thomas
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@example.com, or on 913045093 or at www.facebook.com/scalgarve