YOU may have noticed just how many police officers there are patrolling the streets in Spain but who is in charge of what and who you should call to report a crime?
From the green uniformed officers of the Guardia Civil, to the heavily armed Policia Nacional, you’ll also see Policia Local and Policia Municipal patrolling urban areas as well as regional police forces depending on where you are in Spain.
The different roles and duties undertaken by each force can be confusing to the outsider.
Broadly speaking there are three different police forces operating in Spain; : the Guardia Civil, the Policia Nacional and the Policia Local.
But within those bodies there are different departments that take on specialist duties as well as regional police forces and there can be a crossover between them all.
Local or Municipal Police – Policía Local (Call 092)
Recognised by their blue uniforms, the Local or Municipal police are found everywhere in urban areas with a population above 5,000 people and are attached to and recruited by the local town halls.
In some cities, such as Madrid, they are known as Municipal Police while in Barcelona they are called Guardia Urbana.
You’ll find them ‘on the beat’ walking the streets, zipping around on scooters or driving around in white and blue patrol cars.
They carry guns in their holsters.
These are the police officers that will most likely be first on the scene if an incident is reported within an urban environment such as a traffic accident, a domestic disturbance, a burglary or if a denuncia has been made.
Their main responsibilities include:
- Order and control of traffic in urban areas including parking tickets
- Reporting of traffic accidents in urban areas
- Protection of property
- Dealing with civil disturbances
- Cooperating in the resolution of private conflicts
- Monitoring and safety in public spaces and special events such as fiestas and demonstrations.
- Liaising with other agencies and security forces when required.
If you need to report a minor crime – called a denuncia in Spain – such as theft, parking issues, traffic control or bylaw infringements, this is where you start.
National Police – Policía Nacional (Call 091)
Spain’s national police (Policía Nacional) is an armed civil force that deals with more serious crimes.
Unlike the Local police who are overseen by town halls, the national police are managed by the Directorate General of Police and Civil Guard.
This means that they are under the authority of the State Department of Security in the Ministry of the Interior.
There are over 87,000 Policía Nacional officers according to 2020 data who operate in all the capital cities of Spain’s 50 provinces and others as designated by the national Government.
They can be identified by their black uniforms and are normally stationed in larger towns and cities with a population of over 10,000.
The type of crimes they deal with includes sexual assaults, muggings, violent crime and drug offences as well as organised crime, border control and terrorism.
They are also called in to maintain and restore public order and security at special events such as demonstrations. This means they are often called in when protests take place and have special riot units.
The Policia Nacional are the force responsible for issuing national identity documents such as NIE, TIE, DNI and passports.
National police officers in Spain can often be seen at road checkpoints and border control.
They also have dedicated units charged with:
- TEDAX (Explosives Unit): Team of specialists in the neutralisation, deactivation and intervention of explosive devices.
- Special Operations Group (G.E.O.): Elite unit specialising in high-risk operations.
- Canine Guides Unit (U.E.G.C.): Teams that use police dogs
However, in certain regions of Spain, the autonomous communities have their own regional police forces that operate as Policia Nacional. These are the Ertzaintza in the Basque Country, the Mossos d’Esquadra in Cataluña and the Policia Foral in Navarra.
In the Canary Islands you will also find the Policia Canaria, which works alongside the National Police as an additional police force on the islands.
The Civil Guard – Guardia Civil (Call 062)
Spain’s Guardia Civil is the country’s oldest law enforcement agency and is a military force (with military ranks) however in peacetime it operates in the same way as the Policia Nacional under the civil authority of the Directorate General of Police and Civil Guard at the State Department of Security in the Ministry of the Interior and has no extraordinary powers.
But it also falls under the remit of the Ministry of Defence and in war time or if the country declares a “state of siege” it reports exclusively to it.
Officers from the Guardia Civil wear a distinctive dark-green uniform and are responsible for patrolling Spain’s highways as well as rural areas where there is no local police force.
A Guardia Civil team from Trafico is the most likely to arrive on the scene if you have an accident on a main highway outside of urban areas.
They also operate specialist departments including:
- Nature Protection Service (SEPRONA): responsible for the conservation of nature and water resources, hunting, fishing, forestry and any other nature-related wealth.
- Special Intervention Unit (Unidad Especial de Intervención): teams brought for cases of hostage-taking, counter-terrorism, detention of criminals considered particularly violent and dangerous, riots and the protection of VIPs.
Their remit is far-reaching and they regularly work on joint operations with the Policia Nacional.
Guardia Civil has units of officers that are specially trained in fiscal crimes, cybercrime, explosives, surveillance, counterterrorism, mountain search and rescue, and criminology.
Who you gonna call?
If you are in any doubt about who to call in an emergency you should always ring the main number in Spain which is 112.