The Police in Spain
Spain has a high police officer-to-population ratio and three police forces, each with overlapping and frequently conflicting tasks, despite the government’s plans to merge the three forces to improve coordination and make better use of skills and resources.
Local municipal police (polica municipal/local or guardia urbana), national police (policia nacional), and the civil guard are the principal forces (guardia civil). The Basque Country (where they wear red berets) and Catalonia (the Mosses d’Esquadra) are two autonomous territories that have their own police forces.
Other Spanish Police
In addition to guarding Spanish ambassadors and embassies abroad, Spain has an elite special operations organization (Grupo Especial de Operaciones/GEO) tasked with combating terrorism and coping with other extreme crises. Other ‘police’ forces include armed guards (vigilantes jurados) employed by banks and security corporations, and port police (polica de puerto) in sea ports, whose jurisdiction is limited to the property of the local junta del puerto.
Police Complaints In Spain
If you need to contact the police in an emergency, dial 091 for national police or 062 for the civil guard in select towns. The municipal police are normally reached by dialing a local number, while dialing 092 may connect you to the local police station or relay your message.
Local police station phone numbers are included at the front of telephone directories. If you lose something or are a victim of theft, you must report it to the local police department and file a complaint in person (denuncia). If you wish to file an insurance claim, you must normally do it within 24 hours. The report form may be printed in English or Spanish, and you will receive a copy with an official stamp from your insurance carrier.
If you don’t speak Spanish, you should go with a native Spanish speaker, albeit in some tourist destinations, you can file a complaint in a variety of languages. You can also file a complaint online (http://www.policia.es) or by phone (902-102 112). You’ll be given a number to take to the local police station after 10 a.m. the next day and within 72 hours of filing your complaint. When you arrive, provide the official your phone number and you’ll be handed a signed and stamped copy of the complaint.
Telephone and internet complaints are given priority, which saves you from having to wait in line for hours at the police station. If you’re reporting a violent crime or can identify a culprit by name, you can’t lodge a complaint over the phone or on the internet.
Few things can be more perplexing to newcomers to Spain than the various Spanish police units that exist around the country, each of which wears a distinct uniform and operates in a different area from the others!
Most people recognize the Guardia Civil because of their green uniforms and black tri-corner hats (when on ceremonial duty). What about the other cops? Who are they and what do they do? In fact, you might wonder (as many others do!) if the Guardia Civil is still the fearsome guards of Spain’s Francoist past, ready to knock on your door at any minute and whisk you away to some dark dungeon.
The Guardia Civil, the Policia Nacional, and the Policia Local are the three forces that make up the Spanish police force. I say ‘basically’ because the Basque Country, Catalonia, and Navarra all have their own regional police forces, which all take the role of the Policia Nacional in these areas. The following are the three main forces:
The Guardia Civil
The civil guard patrols Spain’s highways and rural regions, frequently in pairs on motorcycles, and deals with traffic accidents. They also serve as immigration officers and border guards, and they fight crime with helicopters. Instead of a police station, villages frequently have barracks (cuartel). The civic guard is a military group that, in the past, was led by a general, but this is no longer the case. They wear avocado-green uniforms and olive-green caps, which have taken the place of the black patent-leather tricorn hats, which are now exclusively worn on ceremonial occasions. They have a reputation for being one of the most efficient police forces in the world, as well as for being honest and courteous.
To all intents and purposes, the Guardia Civil is a traditional police force that operates in the same manner as any other modern European country’s police force. They have all of the resources, powers, and resources of a regular police force, and they are well-liked in Spain for their high degree of discipline and professionalism. In peacetime, they act under civil authority and have no extraordinary powers, despite the fact that they are a military unit (with military ranks).
Importantly, the Guardia Civil’s mandate is to police rural areas and cities with populations of less than 20,000 people. As a result, they do not function in cities with populations over 20,000 people. If you are the victim of a crime or require police assistance in a rural area of Spain, you must contact the Guardia Civil, who will handle the investigation.
In normal conditions, the Guardia Civil protects roughly 40% of the Spanish population, but this number jumps to around 65 percent during the summer vacation season, when many ‘urbanites’ flee to the seaside and the countryside.
The detested “armed” police ( polica armada) were “replaced” by the national police. The polica armada was once despised and feared, but the national police force is today regarded as “very popular.” They’re stationed in cities with populations of over 20,000 people and deal with major crimes including theft, rape, and muggings, as well as crowd control. When they’re armed with submachine guns, they also guard embassies, railway stations, post offices, and army bases in most towns and cities. A police station ( comisara de polica) houses the national police, and many of them have a foreigners ( extranjeros) department that deals with issues like residency permits. In metropolitan areas, plain clothes police officers (cuerpo superior de polica) are also present.
The Policia Nacional wears black uniforms with white shirts most of the time, but they can also be seen in blue military-style uniforms. They are a traditional police force, similar to the Guardia Civil, except they are entirely civil, with civil (rather than military) ranks. If you are the victim of a crime or require police assistance in a city, you must go to them – and only the Policia Nacional will respond to (or investigate) a crime in a municipality of 20,000 or more people.
The Local Police
Last but not least, there’s the Policia Local. This is a force that is responsible to the elected Mayor and is recruited, paid, and managed by local town halls (Alcalde). The Policia Local responds to minor offences in blue uniforms with white shirts. The Policia Local is primarily responsible for local authority enforcement, as well as urban (city, town, or village) traffic regulation and any accompanying infractions. Crimes are not investigated, and any major situation is passed up to the Guardia Civil or the Policia Nacional, depending on the demographic region.
In towns with a population of more than 5,000 people, the municipal police are affiliated to the local town hall. They patrol in white or blue automobiles and wear blue uniforms with white-chequered bands on their caps and sleeves. Minor crimes such as traffic control, property protection, civil disturbances, and the enforcement of municipal regulations are dealt with by municipal police. Municipal police departments in large cities frequently have multilingual offices, and some towns have mounted police. They are the most empathetic police force in Spain. Local police in resort regions frequently understand English and spend the most of their time dealing with inebriated (mainly British) tourists during the summer. For a variety of offenses, on-the-spot fines are issued. Local police in other places, on the other hand, might be a law unto itself and aren’t afraid to use unlawful means. Almost all Spanish police officers are armed, while village Policia Local officers are not always.
In general, all three Spanish police forces have been efficient, understanding, and accurate. They do, however, appear to adopt a “no nonsense” approach to trouble and should never be addressed violently. However, I have always found them to be kind and willing to help when I needed it. This is especially true of the Policia Local, who always seem to be nice.
In actuality, the Spanish police are a credit to the country and operate in the same manner as any other police force in Western Europe. This is true for both the National Police and the Civil Guard. So, if you wish to relocate to Spain, you can trust the Spanish police and the safety they provide.
Finally, if you are in Spain and require police assistance, you should:
Call 112 in case of a general emergency.
Call 902 102 112 to report a crime.
062 Guardia Civil
National Police: 091
Local police number: 092