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Spanish government admits to chronic police shortage

Country needs 20,800 National Police and Civil Guard officers; deficit clearest in Catalan and Basque regions

Interior Minister Juan Ignacio Zoido greets Civil Guard and National Police members.
Interior Minister Juan Ignacio Zoido greets Civil Guard and National Police members. EFE

Spain’s national law enforcement agencies are low on manpower. On October 31, the National Police and Civil Guard were 20,800 officers short: of the 163,491 who should have been in active service, the real figure was 142,691, and that included recruits at training academies, according to Interior Ministry data.

Recruiting is particularly difficult in the Catalan provinces of Girona and Lleida, where separatist sentiment is strongest: only 30% of positions are being filled. And in the Basque Country, the province of Gipuzkoa has the lowest presence of Civil Guard officers on duty.

They are transit zones for officers. They go there for a while, but as soon as they can they go to other locations

Civil Guard union spokesman

These two regions also have their own police forces, which were not included in these figures: the Mossos d’Esquadra in Catalonia, and the Ertzaintza in the Basque Country. The region of Navarre, where Basque separatists also have a presence, has a marked shortage of national law enforcement officers as well. In October 2016, two off-duty Civil Guard officers were attacked by a mob outside a bar in a small Navarrese town, raising concerns about safety for police officers in the region.

National Police and Civil Guard representatives talk about “the singularity” of Catalonia and the Basque Country. The Civil Guard union AUGC underscores that “officers stationed there have trouble integrating into society” and even talks about “hostile regions” that officers avoid altogether.

“They are transit zones for officers. They go there for a while, but as soon as they can they go to other locations,” said a AUGC spokesman.

The shortage was clearly visible during the Catalan separatist challenge, said Ramón Cosío, a spokesman for the majority Unified Police Union (SUP): “All the positions were not filled, and they had to send in 6,000 more officers from other parts of Spain.”

In May of last year, the SPP police union asked Minister Juan Ignacio Zoido for a bonus for police officers stationed in Catalonia to compensate the “social pressure” they faced from separatists.

In Lleida province, there are 136 national police officers serving out of a target staff of 211, representing a 35.5% shortage. The Civil Guard is short 20% in the same province, where there are 417 officers instead of 524.

Civil Guard barracks in Navarre, another region with a marked shortage of officers.
Civil Guard barracks in Navarre, another region with a marked shortage of officers.

While Lleida may be the most extreme example, the situation extends nationwide. Overall, the National Police needs some additional 13,000 recruits, while the Civil Guard is looking to hire 7,426 more.

Miguel Ángel Heredia, a deputy for the Socialist Party (PSOE) in Congress, said that under the Mariano Rajoy administration there has been a “brutal” cut in officer numbers at both national law enforcement agencies.

Heredia, who had requested the figures from the Popular Party (PP) government, said they prove that “the PP favors private security to the detriment of public security.”

Crisis years

But police unions and Civil Guard associations feel that the shortage is caused by reduced public job offers during the crisis years. Until 2015, there were fewer than 1,000 openings a year.

“It is necessary to establish a fixed turnover rate that is above political and economic ups and downs. Spain cannot afford to make cuts to security,” said Cosío, of SUP.

“For years we fell well short of covering the positions of retiring officers,” added Javier Montes, vice-president of the Union of Officials (UO).

The Interior Ministry blames the economic crisis for the shortage, and insists that the next round of hiring will make up for it. But the police union Sindicato Profesional de Policía (SPP) is not as optimistic: its spokesman, José Ángel Gutiérrez, said that “it will be at least eight years before we minimally make up for the shortage.”

English version by Susana Urra.

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