Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Spanish Police

There are, essentially, three main types of Police in Spain - Policia Local, Policia Nacional and the Guardia Civil.

The police that we see most often are the Local Police; they usually dress in blue, often with fluorescent material woven into the design. They are employed by the various Town Halls and work only within the municipality so they usually know which places have the best coffee and snacks.

Policia Local are armed. Their jobs include directing traffic inside the town, safeguarding members of the town administration, upholding bye-laws, assisting in local emergencies, sorting out disputes between neighbours and ensuring the safe running of gatherings of people. It says nothing in the legislation about roaming around pointlessly on scooters but they do that too.

The National Police operate in towns and cities with a population of more than 30,000 people and drive around in cars and vans that have the colours of the Spanish flag woven into their blue and white paintwork. Their uniforms are often a dull, boiler suit blue with highish military boots though their office uniforms in police stations, or comisarias, are usually white shirts and blue trousers.

The Policia Nacional are controlled by the Interior Ministry but because of the way that Spain delegates much of its authority to the Local Communities there are major differences about how they operate in different regions. In the Basque County and Catalonia, for instance, there are equivalent local forces, the Ertzaintza and Mossos d'Esquadra.

If you have an NIE or a "Residencia", then you got it from the National Police - they deal with identity cards and passports too. They control the entry and exit of people to and from Spain and matters around immigration and they're the ones to look out for if you have your own cannabis farm as they deal with drug issues as well as most other types of criminal activity such as robbery, counterfeiting and the like. They also control private security firms and look after the gaming laws.

The National Guard are a military, rather than civil, unit which mainly police rural areas. They are stationed in barracks, wear olive green uniforms and their vehicles are usually white and green. Nowadays they only wear their tricorn hats on ceremonial occasions.

The Guardia deal with traffic, they're the ones parked beside the roads with the radar guns and breath-test kits. Their motorbike patrols always go around in twos looking for all the world like Zip Nolan with their reflective sunglasses glinting in the sun. On the open road if the Gaurdia are parked up outside a bar the food and coffee will be good.

The Guardia Civil deal with frontier security at ports and airports and so exercise customs and anti terrorist duties. An extension of that is that they operate the coastguard but, more surprisingly, they also police environmental matters whether that be illegal hunting or building without appropriate licences. In fact Guardia seem to be everywhere, they're the sub aqua teams and the helicopter pilots, they transport prisoners and heavy loads and go in search of fraud and tax evasion.

So the next time a man wearing a blue uniform, armed with a pump action shotgun pulls you over at a roadblock you can guess it won't be about the ITV - more likely they're looking for bank robbers!

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