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Barcelona becomes Spain’s leader in rising crime rates

The number of criminal infractions, which began to skyrocket in early 2018, underscore theft as one of the city’s main problems

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A youth being detained in Barcelona.

Barcelona has entered the New Year without resolving one of its most pressing issues: rising crime rates. According to the Spanish Interior Ministry, criminal infractions increased by 17.2% in 2018, making the Catalan capital Spain’s leader in rising crime rates.

This increase is one of the weapons being used by the opposition against Mayor Ada Colau, who is heading for the May 26 municipal elections with the odds stacked against her.

Apart from petty crimes, there has also been a rise in sex crimes

The numbers, which began to skyrocket in early 2018, underscore theft as one of the city’s main problems. Violent robberies have increased by 19.4% with an average of 33 occurring each day. Those in which force is used on objects and not people have increased by 20.1% with 25 cases happening daily. Despite the negative statistics, these nevertheless reflect a slight containment of the problem, as at the beginning of the year violent robberies had increased by 24.5% and break-ins by 30.3%.

Most of the crimes committed in the city are robberies, which experts say tend not to be violent. Last year the city witnessed 299 daily robberies, or 12 every hour, the majority of which took place in Ciutat Vella, Barcelona’s historic neighborhood. Although petty crime is high, numbers for more serious crimes such as murder and homicide are very low: 10 in Barcelona and 45 across all of Catalonia.

In order to tackle the climbing crime rates, the Mossos D’Esquadra, Catalonia’s police force, changed their tactics in Barcelona in October 2018, using a strategy they called Ubiq. As they could not allocate more officers to the capital, they used agents from public order and citizen security units (ARRO), who usually work in teams of six, and divided them into groups of two to patrol the city. According to figures published by the Interior Ministry, which includes data from the Mossos, police efforts have not been sufficient to curb the problem.

A city survey shows that 21% of residents are chiefly worried about public safety

Apart from petty crimes, there has also been a rise in sex crimes comprising rape, abuse, harassment, exhibitionism and sexual exploitation. In 2018, there was an 18.4% increase in these acts (764 cases) in Barcelona. Rape incidents increased by 15.3% (136 cases.)

According to experts, there are a number of reasons for the increase of petty crime rates in Barcelona and Catalonia, such as an increase in tourists (who are the primary victims) and in unaccompanied foreign minors, some of whom engage regularly in theft. In addition, the protests against the trial of Catalan separatist leaders have forced police officers to protect some 60 buildings from pro-independence activists throughout Catalonia.

According to police sources, statistics for Barcelona have improved this past January. However, the most recent municipal opinion survey, conducted over the phone twice a year, shows that lack of security is ranked as citizens’ top concern. The report, based on 800 interviews conducted between November 27 and December 5, shows that 21% of respondents are chiefly worried about public safety. When Colau became mayor in 2015, this percentage was 3.4%.

Mayor Ada Colau has repeatedly asked for help from the Catalan department of internal affairs, which is headed by Miquel Buch, and requested more police officers as citizens complain about robberies and burglaries with more frequency. Buch now has 500 new Mossos at his disposal, and must now decide how many he will send to Barcelona.

But the lack of police officers is a problem that affects all of Catalonia. Unions estimate that 2,000 more officers are needed in order to provide a quality service, up from the current force of 16,500. Alberto Fernández Díaz, the leader of the Popular Party (PP) in the city council, has already taken advantage of the data to attack Colau’s administration. Since she came to to power, says Díaz, crime numbers have increased by 26.6%, from 153,346 crimes in 2015 to 194,212 at the end of 2018.

English version by Asia London Palomba.

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