Spain has three types of police force much to the confusion of visitors to the country. Some autonomous regions, like the Basque Country, will even have a fourth. Each has their own defined policing role, distinctive uniform and training. All three groups are armed.
The Policia Locale, or Municipal Police
Wear navy uniforms with blue shirts and are responsible for enforcing compliance with the local town or village laws. Parking, traffic control, excessive noise, neighbour problems and making sure bars and places of entertainment close on time, comply with gambling laws and similar minor offences.
They are usually accessible and helpful and are your first port of call if you have a grievance against a neighbour or business.
Those British new to Spain will sooner or later come across the word ‘denuncia’ and confuse this with the similar English phrase ‘to denounce’ meaning to make public an accusation.
In Spain the meaning is similar but does not have such strong connotations. If you wish the Policia Locale to assist you in, for instance, a problem with a neighbour’s noisy dog, you will be expected to make a denuncia (complaint) before they will consider taking any action.
The Policia Nacional
Usually wear black uniform with white shirts and are responsible for dealing with most crime and with the overseeing of foreigners (extranjeros).
There will be a Policia Nacional police station in major towns and cities where foreigners needing a resident permit or other documentation will have to apply to obtain the necessary residence card or permit.
As in other countries the Policia Nacional has specialised units to deal with illegal immigration, drugs, fraud, money laundering, murder and organised crime, etc. If you are the victim of a crime you should report it to your local Policia Nacional police station.
The Guardia Civilia
Which, in General Franco’s day, was the force that most foreigner visitors were aware of with their distinctive hats and green formal uniforms.
That has now changed, no longer do they stand guard at little huts a kilometre apart along the Southern coast and beaches making sure that no smuggling took place from Gibraltar and North Africa.
Nowadays you can expect the Guardia Civilia to be present in country areas where there may be a Guardia police station to deal with crimes instead of a Policia Nacional station in the smaller or outlying villages.
Among their responsibilities is to patrol the roads and motorways, mounting speed traps, random breath tests and checking that driving licenses, insurance, ITVs (MOTs) and other motoring documents are in order.
It is an offence not to have your license, insurance, etc. with you when driving. As random checks by the Guardia are fairly common, it is best to keep your motoring papers in your car and your driving licence in your wallet or purse at all times.
You may be unaware that you have committed a motoring offence until you get a fine through the post. Pay up within 10 days and you will get a 30% discount.