The Portuguese social sciences literature has recently begun to make references to so-called “sensitive urban zones” (SUZs), described as vulnerable zones on the outskirts of big cities (e.g., Lisbon and Setúbal) where the population suffers from poor socioeconomic conditions. The same literature has also described these zones as being areas where migrants, especially people from Portuguese-speaking African countries (PALOP), and the unemployed tend to congregate. Since the beginning of the century, these areas have seen the number of foreigners of certain ethnicities rising, especially after the last mass regularization of migrants. At the same time, police forces describe these zones as being primary intervention areas, leading to the targeting of SUZ residents. Moreover, certain new migrant groups to Portugal (and to these SUZs) are over-represented in Portuguese prisons, suggesting some bias on the part of the judicial system, who have historically described SUZs as areas of growing criminality and drug trafficking. As such, SUZ residents are thought to need greater social control, and more visible and selective policing. Within this framework, police have institutionalized a perception of SUZs as crime ghettos in need of targeting, these perceptions being reinforced by documentation concerning the “rise” of new forms of violent crime from abroad. Therefore, it is important to study these perceptions of crime as contributing to the characterization of SUZs as being areas of criminality, and how such perceptions are reinforced by the legislature’s designation of SUZs as being areas requiring “special policing strategies”. This article will focus on the balance between the selectivity of police and the justice system in Lisbon’s SUZs, with an emphasis on issues pertaining to immigration and crime. Moreover, we consider wider societal perceptions of crime, where stereotypes are constructed around a vulnerable population as needing social policies.
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