Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Police(s) in Portugal

Guarda Nacional Republicana, Soldiers

I seem to have a vague memory of more types of armed police in Portugal than currently. But even so we are exceptionally well served:

Ministry of Justice:

Ministry of Internal Administration:

Ministry of Defense:

Ministry of Economy and Innovation:

Also included could be the secret service. But let us leave them out of it for now.

All in all there is a little bit less than an approximate 58000 police in Portugal (it is quite difficult to find current numbers - are they a secret?)  - excluding pure military police, i.e. police that does not interact with civilians. To compare with other countries that gives Portugal a ratio of less than 200 citizens per police person.

To this number of around 60000 comes a unknown number of civil servants working for/with the police.  Probably more than 10000.

The EU average ratio is 350 according to this source. However, check this, albeit older source indicating these numbers:

Sweden          328
Canada          358
United Kingdom  400
United States   459
Netherlands     553
Japan           556
Denmark         594
France          632
Finland         643
Norway          661

Update:  According to this EU Report, Portugal is the country in Europe (but for Cypres) with the most police (see page 89).  However, the number of police is stated to be "only" 51000.  I think my numbers are more correct.

May I suggest the following:

  1. Let there be one police corps. One basic police education (in one location!) equivalent to a low level university education (3-4 years). Everybody wishing to join the police will start the same way.   Then there later will be specialization to traffic, criminal investigation, economic crimes, border control, military law etc.   This would give "esprit de corps" to all policemen - police with different areas of responsibility might even start to co-operate. It will also give a lot of career possibilities. It might even lead to less fat in the form of levels of managers and bureaucracy.
  2. Abolish the Autoridade de Segurança Alimentar e Económica policemen. I am sure the bureaucrats can manage to inspect a restaurant or bakery all by themselves. If need be, they can ask for assistance. 
  3. Abolish the Polícia Judiciária Militar, military police for criminal investigation. Surely this job can be taken over by the civilian police. They just have to study a few extra laws.
  4. Join the Polícia do ExércitoPolícia Aérea and Polícia Naval into one unified military police. Surely that is sufficient and more cost effective. But let them stay somewhat apart from the normal police. All should, nevertheless, complete the basic police education in addition to military education.
  5. Consider whether the prison guards should be armed. If so they should be police. Otherwise disarm them and make them prison guards only with statute lower than police.
  6. Abolish the Guarda Nacional Republicana. Military have no business policing civilians. It is a leftover from old dictatorial times!
  7. Abolish the Polícias municipais
  8. Move all the police to the justice department. Alternatively to the Ministry of Internal Affairs as the Ministry of Justice is maybe the least efficient ministry.
According to statistics of serious crime, Portugal is one of the safest countries in the OECD. Lower the number of police to at least the European average. That is at minimum 20000 police less. There be money to be saved here even if raising salaries a bit. Also, I expect the efficiency will be higher with a smaller police force.

BTW, many people in Portugal complain about the police and horrific stories are told. I have personally always found them polite, efficient and helpful.

Curiously, the Portuguese in spite of comparatively low levels of crime, are one of the people in the Western World that feel most insecure. It is common a front door of a dwelling be more related to a bank vault than a house. It will more often than not be reinforced by steel and have at least three locks. To insure that a smaller police force does not make the population pee in their collective pants I suggest an unarmed voluntary reserve police force based on the fantastic system of the voluntary firemen in Portugal. It will be nearly free and it would be a great help to combat petty crime - petty crime by youngsters is nearly always on the road to serious crime.

Update 17.11.2011
Guarda Nacional Republicana does principally belong to the Ministry of Internal Administration (as a reader has corrected me - thanks) concerning civil matters (including policing).  But they are related to the Ministry of Defense in military matters, when considered soldiers.   See Wikipedia article.  I still do not feel comfortable with a police force based on a military organisation.  There is a strong connection with the officers of GNR and the armed forces as well.  This being said, the GNR seem very efficient and a unified police force could very well learn much from it.


  1. Guarda Nacional Republicana is Internal Administration not Defense

  2. You are nearly correct. In police matters they relate to the ministry of internal administration. But they are considered soldiers and are in that capacity also related to the ministry of defense. Quite confusing. See the wikipedia link:

  3. You are a bit confused. You talk about police, and you even put PE, PA and PN in the same bag, when they don't even belong to the same branch. There is no logic in making one only military police for the three branches when their needs are different and specific, and their numbers are in match for their needs. If you don't even know their numbers and specifications, don't talk about them. It is not efficient to have one military police to three different branches.

    And the GNR has some differences from the PSP, even more to respond to different crisis. In France, for exemple, you have the Police Nationale and the Gendarmerie, that works in the same logic that GNR and PSP and it works very well if well managed. GNR and Gendarmerie have military basis because of the nature of some of their missions.

    At last, you say that "Portugal a ratio of less than 200 citizens per police person" but in the source you give it is writen that Portugal has one policeman to 488,5 citizens and has, in fact, one of the worst ratio. If you want to put a source at least make sure it supports what you say and not the opposite. It is well known that Portugal lacks of policemen.
    And I don't know why your "guessing" numbers would be more accurate than an official document. In your numbers you say there are 48.000 PSP and GNR. PJ and GP should never be counted as "policemen" because they are not such thing and do not contribute to the direct safety.

  4. Thank you for comments.
    I am in fact confused with the large number of police and types of police in Portugal. I admit I am being a being provocative when I add GP (prisoner guards) as part of the police. However they are armed and they often move around among us as guards on transports and hospitals.

    It was even more provocative to add military police. But I continue to think the Policia Judiciaria Militar should be abolished/absorbed. A few number of military lawyers would be sufficient. Also as ex-military myself and knowing the most likely military assignments of the future are abroad in war/insurgent like situations, I cannot see the purpose of a separate military police for each of the armed branches. Considering that everybody in Portugal must save, the armed forces have to become not only meaner but also leaner.

    France is a much bigger country than Portugal, and on top of that is not exactly an example of efficiency. Perhaps you should look a bit further north and compare with other small countries. Soldiers, or police trained as soldiers have no business amongst civilians.

    Perhaps I have made and error and linked to a wrong source. I am unable to find the 488,5 citizens per police in Portugal you refer to?

    Anyway even taking into account your even lower number of 48000 instead of Eurostat's 51000 the average is still the highest (excluding Cyprus for obvious reasons) in Europe. Portugal has the highest number of police officers of any country in Europe.
    1) Not exactly a indicator of efficiency - is it?
    2) It seems in fact to be "well known that Portugal needs more police". The numbers say otherwise - in other words it is a urban myth.

    One unified police, a lot better educated and better paid would IMHO both give both a better and more satisfied police. Furthermore, it is the only correct thing to do with the poverty in Portugal combined with the severe austerity measures.

    Finally, to say the Policia Judiciaria should not be counted as police is at least as provocative as my article. How can they be countered as anything else? They are in most countries of course. I fail to see that their form for policing is indirect. Perhaps it is here my confusion arise. In Portugal the regular police like PSP is not supposed to catch offenders? Or prevent crime?

    As an aside, even the Romans knew not to let soldiers act as an occupying force (see what happened in Iraq). They used a special constabulary force. The Military Police could be the backbone of such a force. However, Portugal is too small to make difference, and the US military seem not to study history.