One thing that really stands out when you first move to Spain is just how many police officers there are on the streets.
And although it can be very reassuring to know that they are there to protect us, there can be some confusion over the different roles they play in keeping us safe.
There are three main police forces in Spain which are defined by not only the uniforms they wear but also their appearance and the roles they undertake.
Below we explain what each of the three police forces is and how they help to keep the country safe and secure.
Local or Municipal Police - Policía Local (Call 092)
Recognised by their blue uniforms, the Local or Municipal police are a common sight and are attached to and recruited by the local town halls.
In some areas including Madrid and Valladolid, they are referred to as Municipal Police (Policía Municipal), whereas in Barcelona they are called ‘Guardia Urbana’. In the vast majority of cities and towns, they are called the Local police or 'Policía Local'.
You will usually find local police where the municipality has a population of more than 5,000 people.
There are currently around 70,000 local police officers throughout Spain serving the 17 autonomous communities.
Like all police officers in Spain, the local police are armed.
When not walking the beat, they will usually be found driving around in white and blue patrol cars.
Some of their main responsibilities include:-
The Local Police can also be considered guardians of the town and will protect local authorities and their official buildings.
In resort areas, many of the local police officers will speak English.
If you need to report a minor crime (denuncia) such as theft, parking issues, traffic control or bylaw infringements, you can call the Local police on 092
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 which is connected to the 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.
As of 2020, there are over 87,000 Policía Nacional officers 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 20,000.
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 maintain and/or restore public order and security. This means they are often used when larger demonstrations take place.
National police officers in Spain can often be seen at road checkpoints where they can sometimes be heavily armed.
Three of the country’s autonomous communities have their own police forces that are overseen by their own regional governments. These are the Basque Country (Ertzaintza), Catalonia (Mossos d'Esquadra) and Navarre (Policía Foral).
The Civil Guard - Guardia Civil (Call 062)
Spain’s Civil Guard or Guardia Civil is the country’s oldest law enforcement agency which comes under the Directorate General of Police and Civil Guard and under the authority of the State Department of Security in the Ministry of the Interior.
Guardia Civil officers wear a distinctive dark-green uniform and are responsible for patrolling Spain's highways and rural areas (excluding the Basque Country, Catalonia and Navarre) as well as security and border patrol.
You can often see them in pairs riding motorcycles attending serious traffic accidents and security checkpoints.
Founded in 1844, the Guardia Civil is military by nature, which means that officers are usually found in barracks or ‘Casas Cuartel’ rather than in police stations like Spain’s other law enforcement agents.
Their remit is far-reaching. Guardia Civil officers can be highly trained in many aspects of law enforcement including fiscal matters, cybercrime, explosives, surveillance, counterterrorism, mountain search and rescue and criminology to name just a few.
There are currently around 75,000 Guardia officers serving Spain’s rural communities with around 10,000 working within the traffic department monitoring the country’s highways.
If you need to contact the Guardia Civil directly, you can reach them on 062
If you are in any doubt about who to call, you can ring the main emergency number in Spain which is 112
Despite rumours of corruption within the Spanish police forces, you will generally find Spanish police officers to be very polite, helpful and extremely professional.
Unless of course, you give them a reason not to be.
See our other article for a list of emergency numbers in Spain.