Paul Whitelock has become a bit of an expert on the Spanish police over the last decade. Since he and his wife Rita moved house nine years ago they’ve had more contact with the three Spanish equivalents of the Old Bill than either would have wished for! What with threatening behaviour, actual bodily harm, damage to property, animal cruelty, hygiene, noise pollution, removal of a dead horse, speeding and parking fines, a lost passport, a stolen purse, a lost wallet and applying for a TIE (Tarjeta de Identidad de Extranjero) he reckons he knows more than most about the way this tripartite system operates.

Having had more than our fair share of issues requiring police attention since we moved from our village to the campo nine years ago, I think I now have a fair idea of how the sometimes confusing police system in Spain works.

Spain has three forces: the Cuerpo Nacional de Policía, run by the Ministry of the Interior (Home Office); the Guardia Civil, a force run on military lines; and the Policía Local, responsible to the local Town Hall.

Policía Nacional

The tall, fit, jackbooted criminal police wear dark blue uniforms and drive around in blue and white cars. Some of them are so young they look like sixth formers on work experience!

Among other things they deal with crime, so for our issues relating to being threatened with violence, actual bodily harm and criminal damage to two cars and our garden gates, this was the police force we needed. Also when I lost my passport, when Rita had her purse stolen twice and when I lost my wallet last month (actually it was stolen) I had to make the denuncia at the Comisaría de Policía.

Their official duties, as regulated by the Organic law 2/1986 of March 13, 1986 are:

  • The issuing of identity documents – ID cards and passports;
  • To control receipts and outgoings of the foreign people and Spaniards;
  • Immigration law, refuge and asylum, extradition and expulsion;
  • Gaming enforcement;
  • Drug enforcement;
  • Collaboration with Interpol and Europol;
  • Control of private security companies;
  • General law enforcement.

Guardia Civil

The green-clad civil guard has had something of a makeover since Franco’s day, when their officers were nothing short of the dictator’s brutal paramilitary stormtroopers. Nowadays, they are responsible for borders and rural areas. A specialist branch, Seprona, is responsible for the environment and animal welfare, so these were who we turned to when we needed assistance with an issue of severe animal cruelty locally. They also have a Tráfico section, responsible for rural roads.

Today, they are primarily responsible for policing and/or safety regarding the following areas:

  • Highway patrol
  • Protection of the Royal Family and the King of Spain, military police
  • Counter-drugs operations, anti-smuggling operations
  • Customs and ports of entry control
  • Safety of prisons and safeguarding of prisoners, weapons licenses and arms control
  • Security of border areas
  • Bomb squad and explosives, security in rural areas
  • Anti-terrorism, coast guard
  • Police deployments abroad (embassies)
  • Intelligence and counter-intelligence gathering, cyber- and internet crime
  • Hunting permits and environmental law enforcement

Policía Local / Municipal 

This is the local police force, which seems to deal with everything else. From traffic control to parking, from noise pollution control to marshalling at public events, they are also responsible for attending incidents involving other emergency services, such as the Fire Brigade, Ambulance, Mountain Rescue, etc. They even read the electricity and water meters in the villages! I’ve seen them!

Officially, the Policía Municipal, which answers to and is paid for by the Town Hall, performs functions such as:

  • Protecting local government authorities, and supervision or custody of their buildings and facilities;
  • Managing urban traffic, in accordance with the rules of the road;
  • Dealing with traffic accidents within the town;
  • Enforcing ordinances, edicts and other municipal regulations;
  • Participating in the functions of judicial police in the manner provided in Article 29.2 of the Act
  • Providing assistance in cases of accident, disaster or public calamity, and the execution of civil protection plans.
  • Carrying out preventive measures against criminal acts;
  • Monitoring public spaces and working with the Forces of State Security and the national police to maintain public order in large concentrations of people, when required to do so;
  • Assist in the resolution of private disputes when requested to do so.


So, all in all, with three forces, all with different roles and responsibilities, it can be pretty confusing for your average citizen, especially if he or she is a foreigner.

In an emergency and if in doubt it’s best to ring the emergency numbers as follows:

  112 – police, fire, ambulance (999 equivalent)
 091 – Policía Nacional
062 – Guardia Civil
092 – Policía Local

However, just a tip, we’ve discovered that if you ring the local number of the appropriate force rather than the emergency numbers, which go via Madrid or Málaga, the response may well be quicker.

Tags: europol, guardia civil, interpol, local police, national police, police, policia local, policia nacional, seprona, spain, trafico

Spanish Police Check - What are they like?

Saturday, 23 April 2022

Paul Whitelock has had dealings with all three Spanish police forces over the years. Here is his assessment of their relative strengths and weaknesses and their level of ‘niceness’ or charm.

I was stopped by the tráfico section of the Guardia Civil on my way into Ronda the other day. Not sure what I’d done, but they asked me for my car documents anyway and my ID.

While one of them was checking me out on his handheld computer, his colleague asked me if I had a police record.

Without hesitation, I replied: “Yes, sir, several in fact. ‘Walking on the Moon’, ‘Roxanne’, ‘Message in a Bottle’ …”


Three police forces

There are three different police bodies in Spain, which I have written about in detail previously.

Each force has its own responsibilities, but there is sometimes an overlap, which is confusing for Spaniards as well as foreigners.

Which one do you go to to report a crime, for example? Depends on whether the crime took place in the town or in the country.


Guardia Civil

My first memories of the Spanish police date from the 1970s when I was in my early 20s studying Spanish in San Sebastián (Guipúzcoa).

These were the, at that time, dreaded Guardia Civil, General Franco’s ‘stormtroopers’. They had a reputation for fierceness and brutality and for being uncompromising.

Their patent-leather tricorn hats were a symbol of these quasi-military types and they struck fear into the hearts and minds of the locals, especially in the Basque country where Franco was ‘waging war’ on the Basque identity and their language euskera, which was prohibited. 

In San Sebastián every August there was a machine-gun-toting guardia civil on every street corner. General Franco liked to spend his summer hols in the elegant Basque resort and the security had to be tight.

Franco died in November 1975 and the process of Spain becoming a parliamentary democracy began in earnest, aided and abetted by Franco’s nominated heir as head of state, King Juan Carlos I. 

One thing that had to change was the Guardia CivilThe force was subjected to a root and branch makeover. They began a charm offensive; out went the military-style uniforms and the tricorn hats, the latter to be replaced by soft berets. They were trained to be respectful and pleasant towards the public.

So, 45 years on, most Guardia Civil officers are polite and friendly and, above all, human and flexible in their approach to law enforcement.

Policía Local

The same cannot be said of some officers of the Policía Local or los municipales, as they are known. My recent dealings with members of this force have left me flabbergasted and much worse off financially.

I have been fined for parking infringements four times in Montejaque and twice elsewhere – that amounts to 600€ if you pay quickly and claim the 50% discount.

The way the system works is that if you pay within 20 working days and waive your right to challenge the fine, you pay only 100€ instead of 200€.

That’s unfair as it discourages motorists with a legitimate challenge from following it through. You never win against the cops anyway; I’ve been told so by many a Spaniard. So, best to pay up sharpish, bite your tongue and get the discount.

Gone are the days when the local bobbies read the meters, monitored mums and dads outside schools at the start and end of the school day and delivered important official post.

Back then if they caught you parked wrongly, they’d just ask you to move on.

Not any longer!


Policía Nacional

As for the Cuerpo Nacional de Policía I have had little to do with them in recent years, as they are responsible for combating crime, which I am not involved in (Honest, guv!).

We had some problems over 10 years ago involving threatening behaviour, actual bodily harm and damage to property. The CNP officers were quick to respond to our emergency calls and to deal with the problems. Out of interest the perpetrator of these ‘crimes’, José O., is currently behind bars in Alhaurín de la Torre penitentiary. Best place for him and long overdue! 

I have had to present a few denuncias in my time – theft of wife’s handbag (twice!), my wallet (once), loss of passport, ill-treatment of animals, vandalism of two vehicles. That kind of thing.

On these occasions I found the officers to be slow and quite inefficient, yet polite and respectful nevertheless.

Police check

So, in conclusion, my rank order of ‘niceness’ is:


1stGuardia Civil

2ndPolicía Nacional

and a distant 3rd – Policía Local.


And, guess which force earns the most?


You’ll be surprised!!